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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Giants in jeopardy of vanishing out of sight

It is a descent from the clouds without a parachute, a free fall from grace.

It has become painful to watch as the world champions grope in the dark for that magical something that they were conjuring at will as recently as a month ago.

The Giants' offense produced 27 outs with assembly line proficiency Friday, one of their most limp, lackluster performances of the season, a 2-1 loss to the Florida Marlins. And that's saying something, coming off a dreadful 3-7 homestand.

Now that they have lost six games in the standings in a matter of two weeks -- going from four games up to two games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks -- they are in jeopardy of vanishing from sight.

For too long, the Giants reassured themselves that they were in first place, that the Arizona Diamondbacks could not sustain their pace, that they were the World Champions, dammit!

But the Diamondbacks are playing with the kind of jovial life force that swept through the Giants as they chased an unknown destiny a year ago. The upstart Diamonbacks are the ones pulling out late-inning triumphs, who have become the darlings of the baseball gods, who are chasing their own unknown destiny.

Sure, last year at this time the Giants were 2.5 games behind the Padres in the standings. But the Giants were on the rise: Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres and the rest were all just beginning to learn how to win.

Now, the Giants appear to have forgotten how to win. After falling behind 2-1 in the first inning, the Giants had the look of a team that expected to lose, that had no hope of even making up a one-run deficit.


The Giants' decline has taken on a character of its own. It is a self-strangling creature that feeds off every feeble swing, every weak ground ball, every scoreless inning. It is the growing look of panic in the eyes of Giants hitters, who appear to be overtaken by the dawning realization that the season is quickly getting away from them.

That it began with the acquisition of Carlos Beltran has added to the confusion. The former New York Mets star was supposed to spur them to greater heights, add muscle to a sorely lacking lineup. The Giants, though, just stopped winning when he joined them, and continue to lose as he stays on the shelf with a hand injury.

Beltran's injury came by way of a terrible swing, a symptom of the desperation that seemed to envelope him from the beginning, as if he'd caught the contagion that had been spreading throughout the lineup.

It came on a two-ball, two-strike pitch Beltran had no business swinging at -- a Roy Oswalt fastball riding eye-high and outside. Beltran, who has a .378 on base percentage and has hit Oswalt pretty well in his career, should have known better. It was a pitch that might tempt a rookie, but not a savvy veteran with a good eye.

But Beltran came to the Giants hailed as the savior and was all too aware that his early struggles were infecting his new teammates. He went out of his comfort zone; he tried to hit that mythical five-run home run. Ironically, Beltran's strikeout came after the Giants had already scored a run, pushing their lead to 3-1 in their eventual win by the same score over the Phillies. They didn't need extra heroics from him at that moment.


It was the same kind of pitch that Aubrey Huff went after Friday night in the Giants' only real scoring threat (outside of Pablo Sandoval's first-inning solo home run).

Florida starter Ricky Nolasco had just walked Sandoval intentionally to load the bases with two outs in the third inning. It was a direct challenge to Huff, the Giants cleanup hitter in name only.

Huff, who has been swinging the bat with more authority in the last two weeks, had already hit a line drive for an out in the first inning. He'd taken the count full, fighting off tough changeups, taking close, tough pitches before scorching one to right field. It was an out, but a continuation of the good swings he's had that lifted his batting average to his season-high .249.

But, when it counted -- when the Giants could have used some drama, a bold stroke to lift the team -- Huff seemed to lose all judgment, as if blinded by the reckless need to compensate for a season full of agonizing moments.

He swung at the first pitch, a fastball riding high and wide, just like the one Beltran swung at. It was as if Huff had convinced himself he would jump on that first pitch, no matter where it was. Huff is known to lay in the weeds in a fastball count, ambushing fastballs. If I know that, so do opposing pitchers. And they have set their own traps that he has all too often fallen into.

And, so Huff popped out, ending the threat, which turned out to be the last earnest hope of the night for the Giants. The look on his face, I swear, was, "well, what can you expect with two outs?" Or, "hey, I hit the ball hard the first time, you can't do it every time." I did not see a look of despair or anger; no fire in his eyes. Perhaps he had put up a mask to cover for his true thoughts: when will this nightmare end?

1 comment:

  1. The pain is relentless right now. And the Snakes have captured the Lightning in the Bottle. Good analysis!