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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pablo channeled the Babe, Tony Gwynn and Brooks Robinson in one night

Cody Ross made a confession of sorts after the Giants' 5-0 win over the Dodgers: he's been pull happy, i.e., he'd forgotten how to use the entire field at AT&T.

"Sometimes I feel like the only time I can get a home run is to left field and it gets into your head and you forget your approach," he said in a post-game interview with Jon Miller and Mike Krukow.

It's kind of disconcerting to hear that a major leaguer is trying to hit a home run. You know the best of them say they don't think about home runs: they just come if you've got the power and you put on a good swing.

Ross wasn't thinking home run in his sixth inning at bat with runners on first and third. "I was just trying to get a fly ball deep enough to score a run. For some reason this year, I haven't been able to get it done. In the past, it's been pretty automatic, getting that run in from third."

On this night, Ross got it done. And he did it with a nice inside out swing that split the gap in right center field for a two-run double -- the biggest blow of the game, the kind of drive that's been so lacking: the one hit that provides "separation," as Krukow puts it, opening up a small lead for a nice cushion.

Ross' drive, which went into triples alley, increased the Giants' lead from 2-0 to 4-0. That is golden for the Giants, who are 36-5 when they score four runs. I can't remember a 4-0 lead that the Giants have relinquished after the seventh inning.

I imagine Ross didn't push it for a triple because he has to watch his freshly recovered quadricep; no mind, he soon scored on a rare Brandon Crawford RBI hit, which capped a four-run sixth.

Often, the Giants mount rallies on the sloppiness of the other team, some fluke play, or what Krukow refers to as their fabled "ground attack": dinks, bunts, little rollers, wild pitches, balks, etc. Monday night, it was an Old World sticking: Well, it started when Mike Fontenot beat out an infield single. But, then there was Pablo Sandoval, running the count full (and showing beautiful discipline in shrugging off some tough, tempting pitches) before singling through the hole on the right side. With Fontenot on the move, the Giants had first and third for their hottest hitter, Nate Schierholtz.

Schierholtz had doubled in the first inning, his ball caroming off the wall so hard that Sandoval, running all the way with two outs, couldn't score. In this at bat, his approach was to take what the pitcher gave him. It was a good pitch, was low and away, but he drove it hard up the middle -- even his ground balls have such force behind them -- and past a diving Aaron Miles at second base for a 2-0 lead.

After Aubrey Huff struck out, (at least he stayed out of his obligatory rollover grounder, which would have been a rally killing double play), Ross did his magic, and Crawford added on with a nice base hit up the middle, only his second hit in his previous 22 at bats.


Crawford was only in there because of the injury to Miguel Tejada, who showed every bit of his age and lack of range when he booted a fairly easy backhander and then pulled an abdominal muscle in the same play in the top of the third. It was a rather undignified departure, as fans cheered Crawford's entry even before Tejada had gotten into the dugout.

Crawford's entry into the game proved critical. He was the keystone to one of the two biggest plays of the game, the pivot man on the first of two stunning double plays that killed the spirit of the Dodgers.

In the top of the fourth in a still scoreless tie, the Dodgers got a pair of two-strike one-out singles to put runners at first and third. When Ryan Vogelsong momentarily juggled James Loney's soft short-hop liner back to the mound, I thought he should have gone home for the out because there was no way he would get a double play.

But Vogelsong's throw to second was a knee-high strike -- right in line with the great control he showed all night (he threw 75 strikes on 111 pitches, a 67 percent ratio) -- and Crawford, in a brilliant piece of ad libbing, flipped the ball quickly and strongly to first. It was a bit wide, but Huff made a great catch, stretching out at full body length, his foot on the edge of the base for the double play.

A shot of Matt Kemp as he crossed home plate had him looking back toward first in utter disbelief that they'd completed the inning-ending double play.


Sandoval made the sting hurt that much more on the very first pitch of the next inning, when he clobbered a shoulder-high Chad Billingsley fastball deep into the Arcade above the 20-foot wall in right field. The flight of the ball was mouth-gaping, but his swing was spine tingling. It was a blow of such brutal force and commensurate quickness that it felt like a swing through the ages, almost as if he was channeling Babe Ruth, had inherited the swing of home run champions of the past.

But his swing is so adaptive, versatile. Remember, his first inning single was a line drive through the 5 1/2 hole off a not-so-bad curve ball, reminiscent of Tony Gwynn or Rod Carew.

And then, there's his defensive prowess. Sandoval has time and again shown that any thought of planting him at first base is misguided and will hopefully be shelved for a time far off in the making.

Pablo's back handed stab of a Rod Barajas third-inning line drive headed for the corner was one example of how much he has solidified the left side of the infield. It went down as just the second out of what was looking to be an easy inning for Vogelsong. But it proved critical when, after a walk to Billingsley, Tejada booted the next one. Who knows how things would have turned out if Pablo hadn't routinely made that difficult play?

But Pablo's coup de grace came in the top of the sixth, when with runners at first and second no outs, the Giants still clinging to a 1-0 lead, Kemp drilled another shot headed down the line. Pablo interceded by pouncing on the line drive as if a soccer goalie saving the game-winning kick. His ability to react to bullets hit at him really are Superman quality. Try standing out there and you'll see how quick that game is at the hot corner.

Not only did he snare the skidding shot on a short hop, he turned and fired a bullet to second -- does he have a gun, or what? Pablo's feed to second baseman Mike Fontenot was so quick that Kemp was doubled up by more than two steps.

At that point, Pablo was channeling Brooks Robinson.


I mentioned earlier that it's Schierholtz who is the Giants' hottest hitter. Well, it could be debated, given Sandoval's great stretch. But here are the numbers:

Dating back to June 25, Schierholtz was hovering at a middling .248 (though, remember, even if his overall numbers were down, he'd been one of the Giants' top clutch performers). Since then, he's hit .379 (30-for-79) with six doubles, three home runs (for a .569 slugging pct) and 14 RBI.

Sandoval, in that same span, is hitting .348 (31-for-89), though his power numbers are even more impressive: 12 doubles, four home runs (for a .617 slugging pct) and 17 RBI.

1 comment:

  1. i like you're Giants blog. good analysis. Pablo and Nate have been hot. Cody has been playing well (not NLCS hot but very productive). One thing that has to be acknowledged is improved play by Whiteside, Tejada and Crawford (Torres is still hot and cold). I believe the numbers for these guys over the past 30 or so days show improvement if you look at Bat. Avg, OBS and OPS. None of these guys are having an All Star 30 days so I don't want to over sell their contributions but i think there is improvement where one of these guys will get on base or contribute an RBI while, Cody is good for a consistent double and RBI and Nate and Pablo stay hot. So if you take the improving guys and the guys on hot streaks all together you have an average offense that wins with the Giants superior pitching talent.

    The Giants seem to be playing more small ball this year with more aggressive base running. Last year the long ball emerged in the 2nd half with Huff, Burrell, Posey, Tejada and later Cody. Huff has gone cold. Burrell while not as cold as Huff has been cold and is on IR, Posey injured, Tejada gone and Cody has cooled into a consistent doubles hitter. Pablo has been a power hitter this year but is still more likely to hit a single or double than homerun. It will be interesting to find out if Huff regains his swing and power. If Burrell can do the same while rehabbing his "injury" in the minors and if Cody can get on a homerun hot streak again as the season gets closer to the playoffs.