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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Salvaging a game comes down to beating a throw-away farmhand

So, it comes down to the world champions needing to beat a throw-away farmhand to salvage one game in a series with the worst team in baseball.

I bet the Giants never thought that Henry Sosa, a forgettable bullpen extra on the Fresno Grizzlies earlier this year, would play such a factor for them as he will on Sunday. Sosa is the Houston Astros' starter who is seeking his first career win.

Judging by how effective 20-year old starter Jordan Lyles was against the Giants Saturday -- he held them scoreless for the first four innings before allowing two fifth-inning runs -- Sosa has to be feeling pretty good about his chances to break into the win column.

Right now, the Giants are suspended in an alternative universe of their own creation in which they are the worst team in baseball and the Astros have the energy and abandon of a team that, well, is handing the Giants their lunch.

It has been an epic collapse. They've lost 16 of 22, dropping from 17 games above .500 to six measly games over the mark of mediocrity. The period in question covers all but one game of Carlos Beltran's tenure with the Giants, though half of those losses came with him on the shelf.

Is that a comment on Beltran's failure to provide a lift when he was in the lineup? Sure. Is it a comment on his uselessness while waiting for his hand to heal because of a stupid swing he took on a Roy Oswalt pitch he never should have taken in the first place? You bet.

Still, you can't say the Giants aren't lucky. As they continue on their inexorable slide to oblivion, they are actually staying in place, holding fast at 2.5 games behind the first-place Diamondbacks. They are going nowhere fast. That's better than a slow bus to hell. If the Giants ever do get their act together, they can thank the Diamondbacks for keeping the lights on and leaving a baloney sandwich and a hot pot of coffee out on the kitchen counter.

Just think, though. If the Giants had won one more game in Atlanta -- say, the first game, which they led 4-2 in the ninth -- and the first two in Houston (which most of us had banked when we looked ahead on the schedule weeks ago), they would now be back in first place.

But maybe it's a good thing they are not in first place. For so long, as they clung to first place even as they played awful baseball, they kept consoling themselves and reassuring us that, hey, they were in first place after all, so let's not be too hasty in calling for a wholesale change.

The problem is that, instead of playing with the hunger of a team now striving to get back on top, the Giants are playing with fear and trepidation, as if they are worried that they are losing their grip as world champions.

But that's the problem. These Giants aren't world champions. Many remaining individual players certainly still have the taste of champagne in their mouth. But as a unit, they are descendants of a world championship team, an entirely different group with dynamics all their own, devastating injuries being the topmost.

It may seem amazing to say this, but the Giants can create a whole new identity in the final 35 games. It may not match the Band of Misfits brand of last year, and they may not recapture all of the magic they conjured earlier in the season with that string of walk-off victories.

It could be that the Giants create an identity of doing just enough, the bare minimum, nothing fancy, perhaps even accidental and fortuitous, slipping through a backdoor entrance. Like the New York Mets of 1973, or the Minnesota Twins of 1987.

Who says the Giants can't back into the playoffs? There's no rule that says they can't. And there's no rule that they have to have a great record to get in. As long as it's better than the next best team, they're good.

Only problem is that the Giants have to first catch up to the D-Backs before they can backslide into the playoffs. So, they'll have to win a few games the rest of the way and hope that the pressure of holding on will be too much for the upstart parsel-tongued snake lovers.

Beating an old farm-hand might be a good start.

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