I have nothing against Carlos Beltran. I hope he leads the Giants to a pennant, and adds to his legend as a down-the-stretch superman. And I certainly hope Beltran comes through this injury scare with no real health impact.
I believe he can be an exciting feature to the Giants lineup, once the team gets past this awkward beginning. If this wrist/hand pain turns out to be serious, it would be seen as a colossal loss, just another in a string of bad fortune that has befallen the world champions.
But the possibility that an injury could force him to the sidelines for an extended period, raises the same question the Giants have faced all season as they've seen so many key components go down: Could they can win without Beltran?
Why wouldn't they? The Giants continued to win when Buster Posey went down. Ditto, with Freddie Sanchez. And they were 16 games over .500 before Beltran joined them.
The driving thrust, the character of this team has never centered around a single star. Getting one, in fact, seemed to upset the natural order of the Giants' plucky, whimsical, even random style of play.
Wouldn't it be ironic if the Giants get back to a place that had worked for them up until the trade deadline? Relying on a bunch of underwhelming yet plucky hitters, a roll call of misfits and castoffs, even less equipped than last year when they had Posey and Sanchez (not to mention Jose Uribe and Edgar Renteria)?
They leaned on the old reliables -- the unheralded, the role players, the little guys -- Sunday in their 3-1 win over the Phillies to avert a sweep and win for only the second time in 10 games.
-- It took Chris Stewart, the backup to the backup catcher with a .220 batting average, to lift the Giants out of their fog with his fourth-inning bases loaded RBI single -- on an 0-2 pitch, no less, a shoulder-high 92 MPH fastball off Roy Oswalt;
-- Light-hitting shortstop Orlando Cabrera provided what proved to be the game-winner in the fifth with his sacrifice fly to center field. It was a real determined at bat: after being knocked down on the first pitch, payment for a ground rule double he'd hit earlier, Cabrera worked the count to 2-and-2 before driving an eye-high 93 MPH fastball deep enough for the run;
-- And Jeff Keppinger, the scrappy second baseman who just keeps on peppering hits all over the place -- four more Sunday -- drove in a critical insurance run with another sacrifice fly ball in the sixth for a 3-1 lead that the Giants never relinquished.
The featured star, Beltran, did contribute to the fifth-inning rally with a scorching line drive single off the right field wall, but continued to have disappointing at bats:
He hit a squibber back to the mound off a first-pitch change up into a double play to end the first inning; he went down on a three-pitch strikeout in the third (after taking a first-pitch 92 MPH fastball right down the middle and fouling another off his hands, he chased a curve down), and left Andres Torres stranded at second by chasing a fastball way out of the strike zone with a swing that broke down half way -- the swing that might have aggravated his wrist.
Let's hope Beltran gets a clean bill of health, but also that he comes back more fully integrated into the Giants' zeitgeist.
In his last start, Tim Lincecum masterered Chase Utley as if he were a schoolboy. Sunday, Lincecum gave up a couple hits to Utley (and took a bat off a knee to boot) but put the Cruciatus spell on Ryan Howard, baffling him with his assortment of pitches to strike him out three times.
Lincecum got Howard on a split finger change up in the dirt in the first inning with a runner on first; put him down with three straight fastballs, the last on a belt-high 91 MPH heater, to end the third with a run already in and a runner on first; and in the fifth on a perfectly placed 83 MPH split below the knees to leave Rollins stranded at first, and for good measure, got a lazy fly out in the eighth, again with a runner on, and again on an 83 MPH split.
On that last at bat, Howard had a two-and-oh hitters count, but still had no chance against Lincecum. I suppose he could claim a moral victory by getting wood on the ball.
Suffice it to say that Lincecum neutralized the middle of the order by taking Howard's bat out of his hands. As a matter of fact, Giants pitchers overall limited him to a measly single in 12 at bats in three starts (he sat against Madison Bumgarner). And Howard came in to San Francisco hot: In the previous six games he'd gone 10-for-26 with four home runs and 10 RBI.
Lincecum also cooled down Hunter Pence, who'd gone 7-for-13 in the first three games of the series, horse collaring him with an 0-fer: a grounder to short (a nice backhand and strong throw by Orlando Cabrera), an easy grounder to third, then a smash down the third base line backhanded brilliantly by Pablo Sandoval, and then a hard hit grounder that went through Aubrey Huff ruled an error.
In all, the top six hitters in the Phillies lineup -- the heart of the order -- went 3-for-22 (.136) against Lincecum.
It's that kind of dominance, on top of the stellar yet unrewarded performances of Bumgarner and Cain in the series, that gives the Giants their long-range hope against the Phillies if they do meet up again this year in the post-season.