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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rowand's hustle play epitomized heart of Giants

Aaron Rowand lumbers around the bases like a linebacker going for a tackle; it's strange because he roams center field like a cornerback.

But he showed his outfield/cornerback speed on the basepaths in the seventh inning Saturday on Miguel Tejada's sharp single to right field, racing from first to third. He challenged the powerful arm of Carlos Beltran, whose throw on the fly arrived a fraction of a second late.

The look on Rowand's face when he ducked under that tag, dirt flying, helmet ajar, black eye smeared, was one of a gambler who'd just won a high stakes hand. It epitomized the heart of the Giants, who came back with a 3-1 win over the New York Mets after suffering a disheartening loss a night earlier.

It was the kind of aggressive, gutsy play that a team like the Giants must make to win, but, more important, captures the desire and spirit of a World Championship team that is still hungry. The Giants' offense may be on the moribund side but it is not out of apathy or self-satisfaction.

You can rewind the tape on the 10 walk-off wins if you have any doubt about the heart of this team.

Rowand would eventually score a critical insurance run on another hustle play: Pablo Sandoval beating out the relay of a potential double play ground ball -- one of the many offsprings of all that hard work he put into his health and fitness over the winter.

That was the theme of the Giants all night: adding a step with drive, hustling for the last few inches, reaching, striving for a victory like it was something new and special to them.

There was Pat Burrell doing the limbo under a tag between first and second in the first inning, as the speedy Nate Schierholtz raced to first for an infield single to drive in the first run. Then, there was Aubrey Huff, the next batter, huffing and puffing up the line to beat out a throw to avoid a double play and drive in the second run of the first inning -- what proved to be the decisive run of the game.

For a team that doesn't boast much speed, the Giants used their legs to win this one.


The quirky pattern that developed in Tim Lincecum's outing -- in all six of his innings, he allowed a runner after retiring the first two -- was only truly remarkable by how he handled it.

Outside of the first inning, when he gave up a pair of doubles after two were out, the latter driving in the only run, Lincecum put on a clinic on how to snuff out smoldering problems.

2nd inning: After walking Ruben Tejada with two outs, he retired pitcher Chris Capuano on three pitches, a pop out. Ok, not the biggest challenge.

3rd inning: After walking Beltran with two outs, he had to face David Murphy, who'd doubled in Beltran in the first inning with two outs. On a 1-1 count, Lincecum broke Murphy's bat on a diving split finger, getting an easy ground out to first.

4th inning: After walking Josh Thole with two outs, he got Tejada to fly easily to right field on the first pitch.

5th inning:  After giving up a double to Justin Turner, Lincecum lost a 10-pitch battle to Beltran with a walk. Lincecum then put away Murphy, a .305 hitter with this sequence: a 94 MPH fastball at the knees, an 84 MPH splitter fouled at the plate, a 93 MPH fastball wasted high, a 94 MPH fastball in on the hands just fouled off, and then a masterful 84 MPH split finger fastball for the big punch out.

6th inning: After another two-out double, this one by Josh Thole that hit the left field chalk line, Lincecum fell behind Tejada 2-0. He got back in the count with a two-seam 92 MPH fastball, then a slider low fouled at the plate, a 94 MPH fastball fouled back, a 93 MPH fastball up for a full count, then the coup de grace: an 84 MPH split tailing away for strikeout number six.

Lincecum added 29 pitches after giving up the two-out base runners, which meant he could go only six innings. But, it was a gritty performance that matched the hustle of his mates.


Here's hoping Placido Polanco's injury holds up, to open up a spot on the National League All-Star roster. If so, Boss Bochy can do the right thing and name Pablo Sandoval as his replacement.

Not only is Pablo one of the hottest hitters in the game now (a 20-game hitting streak, hitting .324 over that span), but he's one of the most marketable. It would serve the game well to have him on the roster, his smiling face, the energy he brings to the game nothing but an asset. Remember, the nation didn't get much of a glimpse of him in last year's postseason. This would be his first real national unveiling.

Extra: Pablo has hit safely in 24 of the 25 games since his return from his six-week stay on the disabled list, and dating back to before the injury, he's hit safely in 28 of 30.

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