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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Isn't water boarding illegal in baseball?

Is there an emotional muscle to exercise to get you through a Giants game? Can you stare into the abyss long enough to dull your fears of falling into it? Isn't water boarding considered illegal in baseball? Can I sue Bill Neukom for intentional infliction of psychological distress, or do I have to wait until I suffer a stroke?

Why do I feel survivor's guilt after a Giants game?

If these questions are too unanswerable, how about: Shouldn't Brian Wilson be forced to shave his beard after blowing two straight saves and getting a win out of one?

Was that the devil that tripped up that ground ball on its way to Manny Burriss in the ninth?

It certainly was a guardian angel that guided that soft line drive into Brandon Crawford's glove and stepped in the path of the other Brandon, Inge, in his mad dash to get back to second base.

Did Jeremy Affeldt know something we didn't? When pitching coach Dave Righetti came out to check to see if he was doing fine after Burriss' error that brought the Tigers to within 4-3 (with the bases still loaded and only one out), you could see Affeldt reassuring his pitching coach: No problem, coach. We got this.

Affeldt, known for passing along spiritual quotations in his tweets, must have asked for and received divine intervention. I'm still waiting for his tweet, though he hasn't been so liberal with them since his season went all serious on us. It wasn't an accident that Bochy turned to Affeldt. The lefty's focus and intensity has returned, as has his lively fastball and roundhouse curve.

When that line drive left the bat of Brennan Boesch, it appeared, from the perspective of the couch, to be heading into center field. Game over, I thought. As it should be, I thought bitterly. It would have been too fitting for the Giants to have blown a third straight on the road in the final at bat.

With the Giants, fatalism comes easy. It comes from the many disappointments they amass during a game.

But, so does a sense of destiny. When the camera angle quickly switched from center field to the camera from behind home plate, that line drive was far less of a threat than it initially appeared. Boesch had not got good wood on the pitch. And there was Crawford dashing quickly to the ball and, in the same motion, to the bag.

I have been in near accidents on the highway, and know the adrenaline rush that comes. Your pulse quickens, you have to remind yourself to breath, and you find yourself trembling at the wheel.

Kinda like how I felt after the Giants pulled out this one.


Talk about survivors' guilt. Wilson (6-1) picked up yet another vulture win after leaving a cut fastball up and over the outer half of the plate to dangerous RBI man Magglio Ordonez, who tied the game, 1-1, in the ninth with a single to right field (check the video and scouting reports: that is what he does).

Maybe Wilson should take a timeout seat next to Andres Torres. He just isn't cutting it, figuratively and literally, likely a victim of fatigue. Wilson's secondary pitches seem ineffective -- his slider and cut fastball don't have the bite; he didn't even try his two-seam fastball -- maybe a bit skittish after watching Aramis Ramirez launch his two-seamer for a HR to win Game 3 of that bewildering Cubs series. And, though his four-seam fastball was timed as high as 96 MPH, doesn't seem to have good command of it.

Wilson's meltdown (not the one in the dugout, where he somehow avoided the disabled list) meant that another brilliant Madison Bumgarner performance would go unrewarded.


Bumgarner came up big all game, mesmerizing the talented Tiger offense with spot-on control, a Steve Carlton-like slider that broke down swings, a curve that nestled softly over the outside corner, and a fastball that seemed to jump at them from behind a bush.

My favorite Bumgarner moment came in the seventh. He disposed of the imposing and threatening Miguel Cabrera by getting a medium depth fly out -- you could see Cabrera never could square up a Bumgarner pitch. Bumgarner then jumped ahead of Victor Martinez, 0-and-2, but gave up a single when he failed to elevate a fastball high enough.

He ran the count full to power hitter Jhonny Peralta, but broke off a beautiful slider to strike him out -- and had a double play in hand when Martinez was caught drifting too far off first base. But, rather than run toward Martinez to force him to commit himself to a bag, catcher Chris Stewart threw immediately behind him at first. Martinez intelligently continued to second, ahead of Aubrey Huff's hurried throw.

No mind. Bumgarner, on his 115th pitch, struck out Ryan Raburn with a devastating slider that broke two feet from one end of the strike zone to his back foot. Raburn is no slouch against lefties, and he's got pop, so Bumgarner's ninth and final strikeout should not be underestimated.

I was glad to see Bumgarner come back out in the eighth, getting a quick one-pitch out to start it out. He came within an inch of striking out Inge in an eight-pitch battle ("he didn't miss, he just didn't get the call," said color man Mike Krukow), and that was it for him.

I suppose it was the right move. He was at 124 pitches. But Bumgarner was still dealing. He hit 92 MPH in his last fastball to Inge, and still had great snap on his breaking stuff. But Bochy didn't want to risk pushing Bumgarner any deeper, especially under stress of pitching from the stretch.

The move looked just fine when Sergio Romo got left-handed pinch hitter Andy Dirks, and Javier Lopez was called in to face another lefty pinch-hitter, Brennan Boesch. But on 0-and-2 (again!?), Lopez left a fastball out over the plate and Boesch was able to fight a soft liner into center field to keep the rally alive, sending Inge to third base.

Cue Wilson, and all chaos reigned. A word in defense of Wilson here: at least, after uncorking a wild pitch to send runners to second and third, he broke Cabrera's bat to induce an inning ending pop out to first base.


Before Bumgarner's nightmarish first inning against the Minnesota Twins 10 days ago, I was touting him as an All-Star candidate. I still believe he is worthy, though it is a surety that he disqualified himself with the performance.

But if you took a mulligan on that outing, Bumgarner has been one of the most effective pitchers in the National League.

Here are the numbers on his most recent 12 performances, sans Minnesota:

81 IP
70 H
21 R
17 ER
16 BB
76 SO
1.89 ERA
1.06 WHIP


Chris Stewart had again put on display that whip-like gun of his (turns out that I wasn't too far off in a recent post when I said he had an arm that reminds me of a shortstop -- he started out as one): nailing speedster Austin Jackson trying to steal third in a tremendous game-changing play in the sixth.

Rather than a runner in scoring position with the middle of the order due up, the Tigers now had two outs, and one high fastball later, Ordonez went down chasing to end that threat.

His defense (he's thrown out seven of 13 would-be base thieves) has been a revelation and enough to move him past Eli Whiteside as the regular catcher.

But Stewart also continues to produce with crucial hits, and there he was leading off the ninth with a double into the right center field gap off the tough Tiger closer Jose Valverde.

Indeed, the ninth for the Giants was a collection of contributions from the unlikely (though punctuated by another big RBI from the Giants' emerging leader, Pablo Sandoval).

-- Aaron Rowand, muscled a single just over second base despite shattering his bat (his third hit as Torres' fill in);

-- after Pablo's one-out RBI ground rule double that put the Giants up, 2-1, and a walk to Huff to load the bases, Cody Ross popped out; better than the double play ground out he hit into a day earlier;

-- so that left it up to the bottom of the order: The Late Great Nate Schierholtz, after falling behind 0-and-2, worked a nine-pitch RBI walk, fouling off a slider, a 95 MPH fastball in on his hands and a 94 MPH up and away before spitting on a fastball that drifted outside, Valverde's last pitch;

-- Crawford emulated Nate's patience, and he, too, drew a nine-pitch walk off Bryan Villareal to drive in what turned out to be the decisive run. After the count went full, Crawford fouled off four straight 93-to-94 MPH fastballs. As Duane Kuiper said, "It's so hard to take a pitch after" settling into protect mode. "We may do this til 11 o'clock," Kuiper said, as the foul balls kept coming.

Crawford kept the discipline on the final pitch, a slider away, the Giants led 4-1. Way too comfortable a lead. Time to inject some drama.

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