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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday notebook: Haters have a day off

Boy, Saturday must have been a rough day for Miggy and Zito haters.

Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito were central actors in another installment of the feast or famine traveling Freak Show the Giants are on.

Tejada raised his batting average to a season-high .230 (well, he hasn't been at those soaring heights since April 16) with a grand slam home run and a single, while Zito went six shutout innings in the Giants 15-3 route over the Detroit Tigers Saturday.

The Giants have whipsawed their fans with wild swings on this seven-game road stand: from frigid impotency to crazed offensive orgies. They're threatening to confuse their fans, accustomed as they are to simple, honest and straightforward torture.

Three home runs -- of all varieties but the solo shot -- made the big splash, but the undertow came from Zito's remarkable performance, which was good on so many levels.

1) he is still pitching under great skepticism; fans are expecting him to blow up any inning now, and believe he has benefitted from solid defense and an explosive offense behind him, though they can't explain why major league hitters aren't hitting him yet;

2) he took the ball on three days rest -- this after just getting back from a month-long rehab stint in which he had to regain arm strength after staying off his injured foot for weeks;

3) he endured a 2 1/2 hour rain delay to get back on the mound. Pitchers rarely return after delays of any length, but Zito showed a resilience and veteran maturity to keep himself ready to return to the mound.

Of course, what pitcher wouldn't want to come back out with a 6-0 lead and a chance at a win? Zito, maligned justifiably for not living up to his King's Ransom contract, needs whatever statistical backing he can to get the mob off his back. Yes, wins are a bit of an Old World anachronism, but they do shut up a fan once in a while.

One impressive moment: to see him come out for the sixth inning, even after he'd qualified for a win through five. He'd only thrown 69 pitches through the first five, so why not?

Granted the Giants took the Tigers out of it emotionally early with Pablo Sandoval's two-run HR and Brandon Crawford's three-run job, but Zito had it going with that sharp curve of his, a changeup, and he had good command of his fastball, which peaked at 85 MPH.

Zito has given up two runs in 13 innings since his return; rumors abound of the New York Mets' interest in Jonathan Sanchez. Are we developing a storyline here?


But, then news arrives through our lovely carrier owls (we prefer them over those nasty, disease ridden pigeons) that the subject of J. Sanchez talks -- Jose Reyes -- has tweaked a hamstring, throwing utter doubt into the Reyes chatter.

Not that the Giants were even close to pulling the trigger on a deal, but it was interesting to hear speculation coming from the East Coast about the Mets' apparent interest in Sanchez. Wouldn't it be so Brian Sabean to finally consummate a deal for Reyes, only to get damaged goods.


Tejada's grand slam may have been the exclamation point on the Giants' bash -- the second such pre-4th of July explosion in a week -- but his defensive gems in the early innings did as much to kill the Tigers' spirits.

-- The Tigers were threatening to answer right back after the Giants' five run first inning: Runners at first and second with one out and their big clutch RBI man, Miguel Cabrera up. He hit a bullet toward the hole on the left side but Tejada speared it and started an inning ending double play. If that ball goes through, the complexion of the game may have been quite different.

Tejada made a similar grab in the second inning to start another double play off of Jhonny (would someone please correct the spelling on his name?) Peralta, denying another brewing rally.


Mike Krukow, on the hardy Tiger fans who sat through not only a 2 1/2 hour rain delay but a 15-0 drubbing (rewarded with three later runs): "Well, what else do you have to do on a Saturday night in Detroit?"


Even with 10-0 lead, things to find interesting:

-- Aubrey Huff, with bases loaded and one out, fails to cash in, swinging at the first offering of reliever Ryan Perry and popping out to third. I mean, I understand being greedy, but how about letting a guy who has had command troubles this year, to have to work for the out?

Two innings later, Huff made amends with a nice opposite field approach, a two-run single to left. It may have seemed insignificant, but Huff needs to take that approach to get his overall power swing going again.

-- Zito, up 10-0 in the fourth inning, having resumed his work after a 2 1/2 hour delay, got into the kind of trouble that gets you thinking that the delay's effects were getting to him: he gives up a leadoff double and a walk heading into the heart of the order. But he gets Miguel Cabrera to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play -- the second DP he hit into in as many at bats and third that Zito induced-- and a weak ground ball to get out of the inning unscathed.

-- As Krukow said, it's human nature to let down after you've got such a gigantic lead, "and the intensity level starts to leave."

So, I liked the way hitters continued to take good swings even after the 10-0 lead: Brandon Crawford, going the other way off a lefty for his second hit (and up the middle later for his third hit); Tejada stroking a single to load the bases, and Eli Whiteside going the other way with a two-run double to give the Giants a 14-0 lead, the team's high-water mark for runs, soon to be eclipsed on Andres Torres' fielder's choice (too bad Nate Schierholtz tried to advance to third on Torres ground ball in the hole; it would have otherwise been ruled a hit, lifting Torres' sagging spirits a bit).


Sandoval, on the other hand, seemed to squander the rest of his day after a beautifully constructed home run: waiting back on Max Scherzer's 93 MPH fastball, taking it the other way, and with power (405 feet they said, to the opposite field, is monstrous).

In the rest of his at bats, Sandoval went back to his old undisciplined ways, hacking and flailing, striking out the next time on a fastball in his eyes, swinging at pitches in the dirt that should have been easy takes.  It will be interesting to see if he can regroup, or if that last home run has sent him into a deep freeze.

The same question goes for the entire Giants lineup.

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