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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Giants are clicking; are they making their move?

Is this when the Giants make their move?

Winners of six of seven, 14 games over .500, 4 1/2 games ahead of the fast-sinking Arizona Diamondbacks. They appear poised to separate from the rest of the pack.

They may be, though I have to remind myself that the Giants don't take the easy route to any destination. Why would they start now? It's early. Too much baseball left, too many cold spells yet to endure.

Yet, things are clicking, feeling right.

It does feel right when Andres Torres sparks the team at the top of the lineup. Friday night was textbook: He reached base four times, spraying hits to all fields for two RBI, scoring three times, including once on the back end of a double steal attempt and once on a wild pitch.

And, if Torres doesn't make that running catch, crashing into the center field wall to save at least two runs in the fourth inning, the game's complexion would have been altered considerably and we're all talking about Tim Lincecum's shaky outing and how Aubrey Huff reverted to the rollover groundout machine that we've come to know and dread.


I detail Torres' day below. First, a word on the end to Pablo Sandoval's 22-game hitting streak. The Padres' decision to intentionally walk him in the seventh -- after already walking him unintentionally in the fifth -- was right at the border of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Padres Manager Bud Black elected to walk him with one out in the seventh, the Giants leading, 5-1, and Torres on second. Black could make the case that he was still playing to win, and the best move was to take the bat out of Sandoval's hands. His managing decisions shouldn't be predicated on what an opponent was trying to accomplish individually.

And yet, it seemed superfluous. Down by four, in a rut where the Padres had scored a total of four runs in the last five games and in the midst of a six-game (now seven) losing streak, Black, down deep, couldn't possibly expect one more run would make much of a difference the way his team was playing.

He should have let Pablo hit, especially so late in a game where there wasn't much hope his offense would come around, whether four or five runs down.

But maybe that's the Giants fan in me speaking here. I don't know if I'd have been too concerned about a 22-game hitting streak of, say, a Matt Kemp, if I saw an opportunity to pass on him and go after Juan Uribe.

As it was, Pablo, who also had a sacrifice fly in the first inning, had only two other chances at getting that hit: He grounded out easily to second in the third, and, in the ninth, he swung at the first pitch he saw, a sharp breaking curve, and tapped easily out.


Lincecum, indeed, was a bit shaky throughout (exhibit 1A: he threw three wild pitches), but he made some good pitches to minimize trouble -- and had some help behind him.

In the first, with runners on first and third, he had to deal with Orlando Hudson, who had a .409 lifetime batting average against him. Hudson took the count full, but Lincecum got him swinging on a beautiful slider at his shoetops to end the threat.

The only other real threat he faced was in the fourth, when he walked light hitting (.203 BA, .252 OBP) Alberto Gonzales (for a second time!), wild pitched him around to third, and conceded the run on a groundout. But after two outs, he doubled his pitch output by giving up a single to Cameron Maybin (he's a better off-field hitter than the Giants give him credit; they keep going away from him and he keeps hitting away) and walking Anthony Rizzo.

On Lincecum's 34th pitch of the inning, catcher Kyle Phillips launched a drive to the center field wall for what would have been a sure double and two runs in. But Torres delivered with yet another of his dazzling over the shoulder catches before banging hard into the wall.

To be fair, Lincecum shut the Padres down with some of his split-finger magic. He finished strong with a one-to-three sixth, striking out Hudson on a slider that nailed the inside corner and another slider that Maybin swung right through.


Torres set the tone from the first inning, working the count full to open the game, then, on the ninth pitch, drilling a changeup into center field for a leadoff single.

Here's how things were clicking: on an 0-2 pitch to Mike Fontenot, with Torres on the move, Fontenot slapped a perfectly placed base hit just over shortstop. Torres, temporarily deeked into sliding, did what a heads up player does: he immediately looked up to third base coach Tim Flannery, who waved him around to third.

He scored on Pablo Sandoval's line drive to left field, a rare Giants' sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

Torres added an RBI double in the fifth, just as TV man Jon Miller was bracing us for the worst: in RBI situations this year, Torres had been pretty bad (11-for-49, a .224 batting average).

Again, he and Fontenot worked together to create havoc on the basepaths: Torres stole second, and then Fontenot, again on two strikes, ripped a single into center field. Torres misread the hit, so was held up at third.

That's when the fun began: With Sandoval up and one out, Fontenot broke for second. As soon as Padres catcher Kyle Phillips let loose his throw, Torres broke for home and scored without a throw. Fontenot was out, but had done his job.

Torres had a hand in both runs in the sixth, driving in Aaron Rowand (who'd doubled in a pinch hit role) with a slicing double into the left-center field gap, and scoring moments later on a wild pitch.


Kudos to Hector Sanchez for drawing a nice walk in his major league debut as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. The 21-year old catcher, just called up Friday to replace the injured Pat Burrell on the roster, took the count full with a couple nice takes before spitting on a fastball in the dirt to reach base.

We'll get a lengthier look at him Saturday when he gets the nod to catch Barry Zito. But at first sight, he looks like he's comfortable in his skin, relaxed at the plate.


  1. Kudos, to you, Steve for the outstanding caliber of your commentary. (Nope, Steve did not pay me to say this.) I look forward to your posts. Your growing readership reveals you're observations resonate with those of us who read this blog.

    Keep up your earnest efforts. I wish you wrote a sports column for one of the local papers.

    Btw, was Zito being the Zito we've come to know and expect, last night? I'm afraid so. It was nice while it lasted. What thinks you? I'm curious as to your take. Shall we see Sanchez return from the shadows of the DL? Pray tell.

  2. thanks, Paul. Do you ever go to Andrew Baggarly's Giants blog on the Merc News website? That's where I got a lot of my readers. But Baggarly is asking me to stop posting my blog link; says it's bad form. But what I'm doing is writing on his blog and posting my website through the link to my name. Hoping enough people can figure out how to get to it.