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Friday, September 2, 2011

Matt Williams' assist to the Giants; Beltran and Ross make up for lost time

Who knew Matt Williams would help out the Giants in a playoff hunt so many years after he'd left his original team?

It was Williams, the Arizona Diamondbacks' third base coach, who put up the brakes to hold Upton at third in the first inning that gave the Giants their first break in Friday night's game, a reprieve from what could have been a disastrous start for Giants starter Matt Cain.

With runners on first and second in the first inning, Miguel Montero ripped a shot into the right field corner, driving home Aaron Hill, with Justin Upton on his heels rounding third. But Williams saw that right fielder Carlos Beltran had come up cleanly and quickly with the ball that rebounded off the wall.

What Williams didn't see was that Beltran had conceded the run, and thrown the ball into second.

Upton never scored, stranded on third when Cain blew a 93 MPH fastball right by Diamondback phenom Paul Goldschmidt for a strikeout, and after a walk to load the bases, got an inning-ending, rally-killing pop fly from Gerrardo Parra.

Cain had averted disaster, minimized the damage, and kept the Giants from falling too far behind early. A two-run deficit early could have been demoralizing, a signal that there was indeed something to this Diamondback juggernaut, the team that had stormed to a six-game lead over the world champions and into AT&T with a nine-game winnings streak.

Then there was Tim Flannery, the Giants' third base coach known for racing his base runners all the way to home plate as he's yelling at them to get in there.

Flannery's decision in the third inning to send Cody Ross home on Jeff Keppinger's two-out double high off the left field wall was the go-for-broke answer to Williams' caution, a perfectly aggressive -- some might call it reckless -- play to signal the Giants were not going down without a fight.

It was a crazy call, really. Ross had barely reached third base when left fielder Parra had already started throwing home. If Parra hits his cutoff man, Ross would have been out at home by 15 feet -- with Beltran, who'd tripled off the right field wall in the first inning, stuck on deck. But the throw was widely off the mark, Ross scored, and Flannery was vindicated.

Moments later, Beltran signaled his true arrival as a Giant with his monster home run to left field -- the first meaningful clutch hit since he'd arrived in San Francisco a month ago. It gave the Giants a 3-1 lead -- a lead they'd never relinquish en route to a 6-2 win-- but more significantly, it announced to the Diamondbacks the Giants were to be contended with.


The story has not yet been told -- there is a full month for that. But, the markings are there: a revitalized roster headlined by veteran Pat Burrell's return, but also by the infusion of youth with the September call-ups announced -- all undergirded by Giants' management's bold decision to cast off the expensive, underperforming and malignant Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada.

There can be little doubt that the Giants responded to the newly charged atmosphere -- both in the clubhouse, and in the playoff-intense vibrations of the fans.

Maybe the tension surrounding their awful August had evaporated with the changing of the calendar. But it was interesting that the big performances in the most important game of the year came from two players with a bit of symmetry to their stories.

Ross was last year's waiver wire pickup-turned post-season hero who'd fallen short of expectations in his return season. Beltran, this year's trade deadline pickup who was supposed to take the Giants back to the world series but had been largely an absent presence.

On this night, the night the Giants needed them the most, Ross and Beltran combined for six hits (of the Giants' total of eight hits) in seven at bats: a double, a triple, two home runs  and two singles, three runs scored and five RBI.

Ross had survived the August 31 purge. But it was far from clear what role Bochy would have for him once rosters expanded. But there he was, in the leadoff spot and in center field against left hander Joe Saunders.

He'd hit a sharp grounder his first at bat, then drew what appeared to be an innocuous two-out walk in the third. These are the kinds of at bats the Giants parlayed into rallies so often last year but had gotten away from this year: the notion of keeping an inning alive just to see what the next guy could do. Ross' walk led to a three-run rally, and likely did not go unnoticed in the Giants' dugout.

Ross hit a booming double off the center field wall in the fifth inning that led to the Giants' fourth run when Beltran drove in a run with a single to left. And Ross' home run, a line drive that top-spinned just over the wall in left, was reminiscent of his power display in the playoffs.

Beltran's swing was pure art form all night, from both sides of the plate. He nearly hit one out the other way in his first at bat, a blast off the right field wall for a triple in the first. He was stranded on third that inning, so decided to drive himself home the next time with his two-run shot in the third.

It was a majestic blast, precisely what Giants fans had envisioned when he was brought in as the putative savior. As he rounded the bases with his athletic, Barry Bonds-like stride, he carried with him the aching hope that the Giants could creep back into this race.

With five games still separating the Giants and Diamondbacks, San Francisco is going to need much more from Beltran and Ross. And the new kids. And it wouldn't hurt if Matt Williams did another favor or two for his old boys, too.


  1. the tension surrounding their awful August

    As a parallel to the Giants' (usual) "June Swoon", I call it the "August Disgust". ;-(

    LOVED tonight's game...but I'm realistic. With so few games remaining, the Giants could play FANTASTIC from here on out, and not make it.

    But being a (longtime) Giants fan, I also believe in the "moral victory." If we have to go down, go down FIGHTING! And---with MORE than a little luck---maybe we can fight all the way into the post-season? :-)

  2. Steve: Nice job on the recap. If I may, I would like to disagree with you on the Williams-Flannery contrast. Obviously you're right in the "results speak for themselves category" so this is purely academic pinhead stuff for fun.

    I think holding Upton was the right call because Williams had no way to anticipate Beltrans mental lapse. Early in the game with his guys banging Cain around pretty hard, no sense in giving up a free out. The thought is if they continue to work Cain over, they can get into the Giants pen early and often, setting the tone for the rest of the series. Take two of three and they leave with a 7 game bulge with 22 games left on the schedule. Cruise control part of the season almost if that happens.

    Cain's determination to end that inning without allowing Upton to score as you pointed out, was one of those "Clear Eyes, Full Heart; Can't Lose" moments that we all live for. Those are the kinds of little events when looked at retrospectively, that seem to be one of the markers of a changed season.

    Insofar as Flannery sending Ross, its a really bad percentage play. Its the mark of desperation. The odds on a focused Major League Outfielder making that blatant of a screw-up are worse than 20/80. No way you can anticipate that kind of lapse any more than Williams could anticipate Beltran's. The only thing worse than making the last out at third is making the last out at home. I seem to recall far too many Giants getting dusted by yards at the plate by Flannery's constant cowboying. I could be wrong. Maybe it is all his on-field histrionics that enable me to think he is really a bad base running coach and has his job more for his ability to tank pinochle games and spring for Bochy's post-game brews as a result.

    While baseball is the most metric-ed of the team sports it can drive you crazy with some of the outlier events that occur that have people like me that the baseball gods really are a living breathing deity intent on creating millions of potential new patients covered under the Mental Health Parity Act.

  3. Excellent points, Ernie. As I put it, it was a "crazy" and "reckless" call by Flannery; it happened to work out; just as Williams' cautious call didn't. I actually believe Upton would have scored throw or not (which is why Beltran didn't even think of throwing to home).

    But it isn't in the results-speak-for-themselves category that I wrote this; more from a fate-can-be-capricious vein.

    Anxious to see if Lincecum's errant performance last week was just a glitch; and see if the Giants hitters can finally break through against the impenetrable Hudson.

  4. Making the last out at home is much different from making the last out at third. When you make the last out at third, that usually means that you would've been in scoring position at second if you hadn't gone for it. The difference is 90 feet.

    Making it to home vs. holding at third is a difference of a run. Whether it's worth the risk depends on the situation.

    It was a terrible decision by Flannery to send Ross. Flannery was not vindicated ("shown to be right, reasonable, or justified"). He was incredibly lucky.

  5. "Results speak for themselves" was a poor choice of words and "fate can be capricious" is certainly more appropriate.

    Good Luck always seems to trump good players at the most opportune (or inopportune times as the case may be)

    It is why baseball can be so deeply appreciated in spite of the final standings.

    Not every writer earns a pulitzer, but it is nonsense to promote the idea that other great writers do not exist or that their works are not as worthy.

    Unless you are a savant, you cannot recite, by heart the Giants won-loss records and overall rank in the National Leage for the last 10 years without peeking.

    But I know for a fact that I can tell you when Willie Mays broke in, when he retired, the great catches he made at Candlestick, his battles with Drysdale that he always ended up losing, the groundball that got through Andre Rogers legs to cost Sam Jones a no-hitter in 1959. Gary Park telling Will Clark he was overmodulating after they clinched the division against the Padres in 1987 for the first time in 17 years.

    Baseball, unlike football and to a certain extent basketball, is a wonderful game to observe when it is played well, regardless of the impact it has on the standings.