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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The magic of the unheralded: Would you have it any other way?

Let's say, for argument's sake, Buster Posey had been in the game Sunday.

It's likely he wouldn't have had the brain lock that allowed a strikeout victim to reach first as he was showing the ball in his glove to the umpire, as if that proved he'd caught it.

It is also probably unlikely he would have stolen second in the eighth inning ahead of a game-tying RBI single by Andres Torres.

And it is definitely doubtful Posey would have been called upon to lay down a suicide squeeze in the top of the 11th win one out and a runner on third base.

Let's even say that if Freddy Sanchez was in there at second base, he would have turned that first inning ground ball into a double play rather than kicking it to lead to a first inning run, as Mike Fontenot did.

Maybe Posey would have ended this game a lot earlier with a home run off Mat Latos (curling just inside the right field foul line, let's say), and the Giants would have won in a walk.

I won't go so far as to say Posey wouldn't have made that rifle throw to third on a bunt to start a third to first double play in the bottom of the 11th inning -- remember, he's got a gun. But, there are few catchers with the quickness and arm of Chris Stewart, who did make that play to help bail out the increasingly shaky closer Brian Wilson as the Giants held on for another heart-throttling win, 4-3 over the Padres.

The point is that the resourcefulness of the Giants, the dramatics that they put on display game after game, the gutsy calls, the marginal players who are called upon for big plays, the depths to which they dig to pull out yet another win:

Would you have it any other way?


This wiley version of the Giants, in all its weaknesses and flaws, has been just as thrilling as the Band of Misfits that delivered you that World Championship last year. You might say it has been even more gratifying, given the crushing blows they've withstood, the big-name injuries that could have smashed most other teams' dreams.

For all the talk of bringing in a big bat, you have to wonder if Brian Sabean and Boss Bochy are tempted to just leave well enough alone. Why mess with such an intriguing little thing they've got going here? If they bring in a big bat, do they lose their edge, their esprit de corps? Get a little complacent in waiting for the big blow?


When Eli Whiteside made his gaffe in the bottom of the sixth -- I mean, you just don't argue while the play is still live, especially when you are patently wrong! -- how many of you were cursing his name, demanding a trade RIGHT NOW for a legitimate starting catcher? Especially when the Padres would exploit it with a two-run rally to take a 3-2 lead.

Forget that the prematurely silver headed catcher they call Whitey actually had some big moments lately, raising his average from .164 to .239 since June 8. He's hit .322 since then (19-for-59) with a .412 on base percentage. Who on the market is doing that well? Still, some fans -- and apparently some in the Giants front office -- are clamoring for the fading Pudge Rodriguez.

Whiteside, in his next at bat in the seventh, couldn't provide the dramatics with his bat to make up for the blunder, grounding weakly into a force out at second. But Whiteside took advantage of a brain lapse from Padres starter Mat Latos, who either assumed a catcher wouldn't run on him, or simply put him out of mind as he focused on the hitter. It was an easy steal -- Eli's second in his entire career.

It wouldn't have meant anything, of course, unless Andres Torres -- who has had his own bouts of indecision and misfortune this season, falling well short of the standard he set last year -- came through. Torres had looked overmatched by Latos in his first three at bats, falling prey to Latos' sharp curve in particular. But on this at bat, Latos hung a curve just high enough, and Torres hit a sharp grounder past a diving Orlando Hudson for the game-tying RBI single.


It took another of the Giants unheralded to spark the winning rally: Emmanuel Burriss, who has been relegated to the back bench with the return of Fontenot as the starting second baseman. Burriss entered as a pinch runner in the ninth for Whiteside (I guess the element of surprise was no longer operational) and stole second before being stranded.

But in the 11th, Burriss, he of the .210 batting average, took the count full before lining a one-out single into center field off Chad Qualls. The Giants had been running all day on Padres' catcher Kyle Phillips, and Burriss' easy steal -- on a pitchout, no less -- was the sixth of the day, tying a San Francisco franchise record. The throw nearly decapitated him as he slid into second, but Burriss paid no mind, and, because he slid in feet first -- Class, Are You Paying Attention? -- was able to pop up quickly when the throw went errantly into center field and glide into third base.

The suicide squeeze has to be one of the most difficult tasks in all of baseball; otherwise, you'd see it employed more often with a runner on third with less than two outs. But to do it when everyone in the park -- and outside it, watching, listening, monitoring developments via Twitter, Facebook, ESPN's Game Day, etc -- is looking out for it takes the coolness (madness?) of a Russian Roulette player.

Yet another of the unheralded, the backup to the backup catcher, Chris Stewart, said it himself: he doesn't hit for power, or much at all, so he had to compensate with other skills, like bunting. Funny thing is that in spring training, as Play By Play maestro Jon Miller retold it, Stewart had botched a pair of suicide squeeze plays, leaving Bochy with the impression that he couldn't bunt. Only recently, Stewart bunted for a single, and when Bochy told him he had no idea he could bunt, Stewart said he's always been a good bunter.

All Bochy needed from there was confirmation that Stewart knew the sign.

With a 1-1 count with Burriss on third base, Padres Manager Bud Black ordered a pitchout. Nothing doing. It occurred to me that Black may pitch out a second time. After all, he played for two years under Roger Craig, known to follow his guts on squeeze plays.

Bochy played the odds -- that few managers have the moxie to back up a pitchout with another one. And Black probably convinced himself that he should go after the .190 hitter, with Torres on deck, rather than fall behind with a 3-1 count. Stewart hadn't laid down a squeeze bunt all year -- surely, the Padres' advance scouting had noted that -- though he'd dropped a perfectly executed bunt down only two innings earlier off a tough inside fastball from Heath Bell.

But Black underestimated Bochy's publicly stated position of "needing to be more creative" in the second half to generate offense. Or, maybe he simply felt he was at the mercy of the unheralded, unable to thwart the magic of the backbenchers.


  1. Great takes on the intangibles Steve. You must keep a book during the game; or have a photographic memory for even the most subtle of details and the ability to put them into context of later developments.

    Just 3 days of reading your blog and Joe is quickly becoming un-flummoxed

  2. Thanks, E. I actually take notes. I used to take score but it was too confining. Now, I keep track on every batter, often pitch by pitch because the count is so critical to explaining why a certain pitch was made, or in explaining the wow factor of a play. What a game it was today. Much needed to take home against a Dodger team that will be making a last stand to keep close.