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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday notebook: Timmy's stopper gem and Florida's generosity

No one would be foolish to declare the Giants back on track after their 3-0 win Saturday over the Florida Marlins.

They still sputtered offensively, and relied on the graciousness of the hosts to push across two of their three runs.

Still, it was a beautiful sight to see Tim Lincecum asserting himself once more as the team's true leader. He has been the Giants stopper through his career, 37 of his 67 lifetime wins coming after losses. Saturday, he stopped the bleeding.

What a run he's been on. Over his last 11 starts, he's had a 1.51 ERA, allowing only 12 earned runs in 71 2/3 innings, on 47 hits with 81 strikeouts.

Inning after inning, Lincecum's determined, bulldogish presence on the mound appeared to put the Giants at ease. The Marlins got three base runners in scoring position, but they never had a chance. On two of those occasions, he closed out the threats with resounding strikeouts; on the third, second baseman Jeff Keppinger's diving play ended the fifth inning and kept the shutout intact.

Perhaps the singular moment that announced Lincecum's mastery came in the third, when the Marlins had a runner on third with two outs and their rookie slugger Mike Stanton up. The Giants led 1-0, but their bats had gone cold immediately after Keppinger's one-out solo home run in the first.

As delicate as this sounds, a run at this point might have, let us say, discouraged the poor, snake-bit Giants. They never recovered after the Marlins had scored two runs in the first inning Friday night, seemingly shellshocked that they were faced with a one-run deficit. Pathetic really.

But Lincecum had the answer. He treated the talented and daunting 6-foot-5, 240 pound Adonis to a short seminar on pitching with artistry, deceit and power.

Lincecum seemed to startle Stanton with a 93 MPH fastball right down the middle that he took. Lincecum went right after him again with a 94 MPH fastball, pure power. But the deceit and artistry  was in the perfect placement -- above his hands, in and up. It evoked a swing that was so weak, it was almost jarring coming from such a powerful young man. Stanton didn't seem to have much heart in his next swing, a check-swing foul on an identical pitch.

Lincecum put Stanton away by raising the ante with a 95 MPH fastball, again in on the hands, that the outfielder could not touch. Maybe as the 21-year old Stanton gains experience and studies film on this at bat, he will have Lincecum figured out. But then he will have to contend with Tim's other side, the one that has hitters flailing after his darting split finger and diving slider.

Four innings later, on Lincecum's 119th pitch, he blew a 93 MPH fastball by pinch hitter Wes Helms for his 10th strikeout. That was an exclamation point to his answer to Marlins' manager Jack McKeon, who'd complained about Boss Bochy's choice of Lincecum on the All-Star team, saying, "Do we reward what you're doing now, or do we reward for what you've done in the past?"

Lincecum got his reward for doing just fine in the present.


As I said, the offense hardly broke out of its slump. Outside of Keppinger's solo home run in the first inning (the 21st in a row as the Giants try to put the major league record out of reach), the Giants needed the help and comfort of the Florida Marlins to score.

In the fifth inning, Nate Schierholtz hit a laser beam off the left field wall -- it looks like his swing is returning -- and continued on to third when left fielder Logan Morrison's throw skipped past the second baseman. Schierholtz' should have been thrown out at third when he slid too early and barely got to the bag. But third baseman Greg Dobbs applied a tag in slow motion, so Nate was able to avert the Cardinal Sin of getting thrown at third with no outs.

After Orlando Cabrera popped out weakly in foul territory, it was up to Aaron Rowand to get that run in with less than two outs. How many of you had confidence in that? It didn't have to come to that, because starter Javier Vazquez obliged with a wild pitch. 

With pressure off, Rowand promptly singled to right. How many of you believe he would have done that with Nate still on third?

In the sixth, Cody Ross hit another bullet off the left field wall -- his swing is starting to look better, too -- but was held to a long single. After Keppinger lined softly to second and Pablo Sandoval went after an unhittable pitch to fly out, Ross was wild pitched to second.

Aubrey Huff appeared disappointed, though, when he promptly flied to left. The ball drifted to the line, and the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Morrison, playing bunched toward the gap came chugging toward the line. He got to the ball, but tried to basket catch it as he crumpled to the ground. He forgot to use his glove hand, though, and it clattered off his bare hand for another break for the Giants.

(Morrison was promptly sent down to the minors after the game, though he told Marlins' beat writers he believes he's being punished for showing up season-ticket holders at an event that he blew off. Helms was released, and not because he couldn't catch up to Lincecum's heater; apparently, he was mixed up in the season-ticket holder snafu, too. Glad to see the Marlins have their priorities straight.)

Huff wasn't throwing back that double into the sea or the RBI that went with it. He and the Giants were due for a break or two.

Are these the kinds of breaks that turn the fortunes around for the Giants? We shall see.


The Giants stuck with Andres Torres way beyond his usefulness, out of a desire to see him recapture the magic of last year. The evidence of his regression was overwhelming, and it was painfully clear that Torres' career path had hit an end.

Rather than release him, the Giants put him on the disabled list with yet another phantom injury, perhaps hopeful he can find his swing by the time they expand the roster in September. But make no mistake, he has taken the same exit that Barry Zito, Miguel Tejada, and Pat Burrell have taken (though Zito gets special dispensation, thanks to the financial ball and chain he has wrapped around the organization).

It is a sad ending to a wonderful story, and I think fans will continue to hope he can find his swing to help the Giants down the stretch. But Torres was a shadow of himself this season, unable to identify curves down and in, unable to hold up on fastballs up; he'd lost his power, he'd lost his confidence, he succumbed to the ravages of age (possibly exacerbated by the attention deficit disorder that plagued him).

Torres will always have a special place in the hearts of Giants fans as the energetic, eager and endearing ballplayer who proved all his doubters wrong for one thrilling season. He was the late-arriving star who carved a niche at the top of the lineup of a world champion, electrified fans and teammates with his clutch play, the daring on the base paths and dazzling play in center field.

His decline has coincided with the Giants decline, and so the Giants had no choice but to set him aside.

He will be missed. 


Unfortunately, the Giants are left with few viable options to replace Torres at the top of the lineup. Ross assumed the leadoff spot Saturday, but he is likely a temporary placeholder. For who? That's not known.

Speculation is swirling around Johnny Damon, the 37-year old Tampa Bay outfielder who has cleared waivers. With his post-season experience as well as his long tenure as a leadoff hitter, he is being chatted up as an intriguing possibility.

The trouble is, he's been a designated hitter for all but 15 games this year. The Giants would have to sacrifice on two defensive fronts: he has slowed considerably, and his arm has always been weak. And they would not get much in return on offense. 

Overall, Damon is hitting .261 with an on base percentage of .316 -- hardly the numbers you want from a leadoff hitter. Damon has a .353 lifetime OBP, so it's clear that age has caught up with him. He probably doesn't feel confident enough to take the count deep as he did in his prime, so he's putting the ball into play earlier than he used to.

Worse, he's hitting .159 in August (7-for-44). There's a reason he's cleared waivers. 

Ideally, the Giants would have pulled the trigger two weeks ago to acquire the speedy leadoff hitter and center fielder Michael Bourne, who instead went to the Atlanta Braves. We still have yet to hear a good explanation of why Bourne did not make it here.

The waiver wire has been slow so far, but perhaps 2011 version of Cody Ross will show up on the scrap heap.


Right hand swing man Clay Hensley, the former San Diego Padres pitcher, gets the start Sunday against the Giants. He's been tougher on lefties (.187 batting average against/.311 on base percentage) than righties (.293/.376).

That might give the lower quadrant of the Giants lineup -- Cabrera, Rowand and Eli Whiteside/Chris Stewart -- just a whisper of a chance to make a presence. Rowand actually has some good numbers (5-for-11 vs. Hensley). 

But I wouldn't hold my breath. That part of the lineup has been a vortex of failure, an assembly line of ground outs to third base or weak pop outs to the infield.

If Carlos Beltran's absence has done anything, it has shortened the lineup, creating a virtual graveyard after the No. 5 hole. At least with Beltran in, you could have a fairly legitimate threat in Nate Schierholtz hitting sixth. Cabrera, Rowand and the catchers have been near-automatic outs in the week that Bochy has had to use them, creating that much more pressure at the top of the lineup, which has had its own problems.

This is where Brandon Belt comes in. Sunday, he will get a spot start at first to spell Huff in a day game after a night game. If Belt can show that he hasn't contracted vertigo from the dizzying up and down path he's worn between Fresno and San Francisco, and more important, if he can swing with authority in his one-game audition, Boss Bochy could be compelled to keep him in the lineup and try Belt in left field.

It would lengthen the lineup, add a left handed hitter to break up the right-handed imbalance, and possibly add some youthful spark to a team in need of it.

Ross has put on some better swings lately -- he had a deep drive swallowed by the vast depths of Florida's center field on Friday, and ripped a long single off the left field wall on Saturday. So, he would be the first choice to man center field as Belt slips into left, and Rowand can return to the backup role he so desperately needs to return to.


  1. It breaks my heart, to not "see Torres fly." :-( I pray he comes back (in both sense of the phrase).

  2. Ditto JCF - hope Steve's wrong about Andres, love the guy's story.

    Please, no Damon.

    I thought Stanton was even more frustrated in his 3rd AB against the Freak, when he tapped out at home, then yakked at the ump. Hilarioous.

    p.s. Off-the-wall comment: love to see the Gints pick up Logan Morrison - forget the Posey/Sabean stuff - he belongs in SF and the kid plays his butt off.

  3. Boy, it would be nice if Sabean could look past his emotions to pull off some kind of deal for Morrison; not sure he could tho.

    PJ, I agree that third at bat was just as telling. I almost started to write about it, but thought the one at bat was symbolic enough.

    JCF: who knows!? Let's see what happens. At the least, he could be a good September call-up, and with his future staring him in the face, maybe Andres can rejuvenate and add some spark...

  4. Prophetic writing, wishful thnking, whatever, can I have a few more helpings of it?

    Two bombs for Brandon Belt?! One off a pretty good lefty reliever?

    Gosh, you just hate to be a damn I-told-you-so, but there are, what, 20,000 fans that can now legitamately have a scream at Bochy and the brass for playing yo-yo with one of the team's best former prospects and future weapons.

    It' might be against baseball law with regard to experience - and maybe difficult to do financially - but now I'm almost giddy enough to suggest buying Gary Brown off the S.J. Giants. I'm fairly sure he'll be our leadoff guy sometime next year anyway.