Total Pageviews

Thursday, June 30, 2011

If only Brian Sabean had pulled trigger on deal for Soto

If only Brian Sabean had pulled the trigger on a deal for Geovany Soto.

If only the Giants' bullpen would quit hanging two-strike pitches.

If only the Giants' offense had some life.

The Giants don't just lose. They kill you with the way they lose. They inspire regret in the way they lose.

Two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the 13th: Ramon Ramirez was one strike from getting a save and looking like a real closer. But then he hangs a slider (what is it with hanging two-strike sliders?) to Jeff Baker, who keeps hope alive with a double off the wall. Again, he gets to two strikes to Darwin Barney, but gives up a game-tying single.

And the rest. Yes, again, he gets to two strikes on Soto, and hangs another.

Brian Wilson's blown save in the ninth inning was devastating to be sure, but at least he didn't hang a slider with two strikes. He tried a 93 MPH two-seamer, the kind that has jammed many a bat. He just tried it with the wrong guy, Aramis Ramirez.

I can't choose between what's more frustrating: the failure to seal the deal with two strikes, or the utter inability of the Giants' hitters to come through in the clutch.

Not that there were many opportunities to miss Thursday. For the second straight night, a huge swath of outs was cut into the Giants lineup: 24 of 25 were retired between the third and 11th innings -- and they were held hitless for 10 1/3 innings. Wednesday night, starter Ryan Dempster retired 20 Giants in a row.

And again, the chances they had early in the game were potential game-changers, especially with Matt Cain's dominating performance on the mound.

Here's how they fared with opportunities beckoning:

-- In the first inning, with Manny Burriss on second with two outs, Pat Burrell strikes out.

-- In the second inning, with runners on first and third, a run already in on Miguel Tejada's bloop RBI single, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano has to leave the game with a back injury. Marcos Mateo inherits a one-ball count and falls behind Eli Whiteside 2-and-0, a great hitter's count, but also, when you're hitting .225, a count that might dictate making the guy throw a strike before you swing.

But Whiteside chases a high fastball -- the kind of overaggressiveness that gives away your advantage, pulls the pitcher back into the count. Whiteside pulls ahead with a 3-and-1 count (could have been a walk if he hadn't swung at that high heater), but then goes down swinging, leaving it up to Cain, who pops out and the Giants have to settle for the one run.

-- In the third inning, the Giants get a one-out rally going with back-to-back base hits by Manny Burriss and Pablo Sandoval, Burriss scurrying to third. But Burrell strikes out on four pitches -- situational failure at its worst. After Sandoval stole second, Nate Schierholtz flew out.

-- Aubrey Huff comes up as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th inning against left hander John Grabow. It was a good move. Huff has hit lefties at a .349 clip. Something about keeping his shoulder tucked in.

Well, his shoulder must have untucked on this one because, on the first pitch, he hit a pop fly to shallow center field. Even with weak armed Tony Campana out there, Cody Ross would not risk it. Too bad he didn't: Campana's throw was off line and up the line. Did I say Huff swung at the first pitch? That's an affliction that is adding to the Giants' woes.

Aaron Rowand flied out to end that threat.

Sandoval's go-ahead home run in the top of the 13th promised to erase all that futility, a dramatic stroke that would once again paper over the team's glaring weakness. It didn't, and now Boss Bochy is promising change.

Sounds like a lot of the politicians I cover in Sacramento.


Rumors are floating around about possible pickups. None of them sound great. Juan Uribe's name was bandied about until Sabean gave a full-throated denial. During the Cubs series, Carlos Pena was mentioned: he's on a one-year contract, and he has been the hottest power hitter in the National League (10 home runs). But Wrigley Field AT&T ain't. All those wind-blown short-porch HRs in ChiTown would get swallowed up in S.F., and you'd have to deal with his all-or-nothing swing.

The Giants don't need a left-handed power hitter. They need another Pat Burrell pickup. A right handed power hitting corner outfielder.

Outfielder Michael Cuddyer fits the bill. When the Twins were in town, speculation touched on his name, but the thinking was that the Twins had, by winning 15 of 17, reinserted themselves in the A.L. Central Division, and wouldn't want to short circuit whatever magic they were playing out.

But the Twins went on to lose six in a row, including the last two games of the series with the Giants, which might have put Cuddyer back onto the market. They've won the last two, and are now 11 games under .500 and 8.5 games out of first place -- still within reach. So they'll probably wait until the trading deadline at the end of July before they decide on who they make available.

As for picking up a catcher, not sure Soto is the answer. But, if they do pursue him, they might want to wait a while to let some of the pain of his dramatic HR subside.


The Giants are trying to be patient as the calendar flips ever so slowly toward the trading deadline. So, as they head into Detroit, they'll need to choose a designated hitter from a corps of reticent hitters.

With righties throwing in all three games, it would be good to have one more lefty hitter to pull off the bench.

Who goes as the DH? It'll probably go from game to game. Huff, for instance, would probably not be the best choice in Game 1. He is 0-for-13 against Brad Penny, the one-time Giant who throws Friday vs. Madison Bumgarner. Besides, Penny is better against lefties (.250) than righties (.318). You might think Burrell, given his four HRs in 51 lifetime at bats vs. Penny, but he has that avowed aversion to the DH role.

So, Bill Hall, 5-for-15 against Penny, might be a good choice. He might also be a good choice Saturday against Max Scherzer, with his 4-for-6 lifetime numbers. Then again, who knows? Hall may be one of the scapegoats in the oncoming shakeup (because losing him would be less expensive than others).

But lefties do hit Scherzer better than righties (.301 to .246), as do they against Sunday starter Rick Porcello (.346 vs. .236). So, you want to get as many lefties in as possible.

A problem. One left-handed bat is basically out of commission: Even with his three-hit performance on June 24, Andres Torres is only 5-for-his-last-43 (.116), is now hitting .222, and telling reporters, quite candidly and poignantly, that things are going too fast for him.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Torres' funk goes back to last year. But, just since late May, he is 21 for 103, a .204 average. Take out that one nice three-hit game, and he's on the Interstate (.182). I wouldn't be surprised to see Torres shipped out to Fresno to work on his confidence.

Without Torres, the Giants' lack of depth from the left side severely hampers their ability to exploit the Tigers' main weakness.

One righty the Giants won't have to face is Justin Verlander, who won his 11th game Thursday.

Good thing. Verlander could be looking at adding to his pile of no-hitters if he got a shot at the hitless wonders from San Francisco.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Romo, Ross wear the goat horns in this one

In a game where both starting pitchers made clutch pitches inning after inning, it was a bit jarring to see how Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Cubs ended: Giants reliever Sergio Romo's lazy slider on an 0-2 pitch to pinch hitter Aramis Ramirez with two outs in the ninth and a runner on third.

It was fat and inexcusable. Romo had frozen Ramirez with two beauties on the corner at the knees. And then he left a floater out there for the Cubs slugger to poke one into left field for the game winner.

After a seven-game winning streak, the attitude after a loss like the Giants suffered can be one of acceptance. "Oh, well, we've just had a nice run, can't win 'em all." Except this was a game that was winnable.

They'd just come through with a series of clutch hits in the top of the ninth, once again exhibiting the flair for the dramatic: Pat Burrell's leadoff pinch hit double on a 2-2 count, ending a string of 20 straight outs for starter Ryan Dempster; a one-out Manny Burriss RBI single up the middle to drive in pinch runner Bill Hall; an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval and a big single to right field by Aubrey Huff.

Burriss could not score from second on the hit because it wasn't clear that it would fall -- fleet center fielder Tony Campana made a dive and got his glove on it, but couldn't hold on. Those fans who believe Burriss should have read it better are the same who would be calling for his demotion if he'd been doubled off.

The true goat of the game was Cody Ross. He had an awful game coming into his 9th inning at bat, looking lost, out of balance and jumpy against Dempster. He had pitches to hit all night but his timing was way off -- though the affliction was hardly unique to Ross.

But in the ninth, Ross needed to do anything but hit a ground ball. He could strike out, like he'd done twice before already, or he could hit a pop up, like he did in the seventh -- and let the next hitter, Nate Schierholtz, have a go. Anything would have been preferable to what he did: a made-to-order 6-4-3 double play to kill the rally.

Still, the feeling of inevitability hung in the air, even as the Giants had to settle for taking a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the ninth. They'd rewarded Tim Lincecum for another gem -- seven innings, nine strikeouts -- by taking him off the hook. And, with a shutdown ninth, they could get back to spinning their late-game magic.

The Cubs' leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth would be Campana, the center fielder who had dived after Burrell's fly ball instead of simply trying to cut it off, a gamble that turned a single into a double; threw a dribbler to home on Burriss' RBI single (word gets around quickly on weak outfield arms); and couldn't quite grab Huff's soft fly ball to center that loaded the bases.

So, abiding by baseball's rule of second chances, it was inevitable that the speedy Campana would thrust himself into the action immediately: he slapped a little ground ball just past the diving third baseman Sandoval, and was well past the bag by the time Miguel Tejada got the throw to Huff at first.

A bunt and a ground ball moved Campana to third with two outs when Ramirez stepped up. Romo has been celebrated for his utter dominance against right handers: he holds them to a .124 batting average. And that's what it was looking like as he nailed two straight sliders on the outside corner, Ramirez looking on as if he had no chance.

Over the last few years, however, it has become apparent that Romo is not fit for a late-inning role. He has given up too many big hits. The only explanation I can think of is that when the spot is tight, he squeezes the ball too tight, and puts too much into the pitch. He gets away from the free-slinging arm action that does him so well in the seventh inning.

Doubt, fear or anxiety can do awful things to an athlete. For Romo, it flattened out his money pitch and a streak was ended.


Lincecum sometimes pitches as if he invented the strikeout. Take the bottom of the fifth when he gave up a leadoff double to Blake DeWitt and quickly wild pitched him to third.

With no outs, a runner on third and the infield in, Lincecum put on a clinic:

-- He fell behind Alfonso Soriano, 3-and-1 but then put him away with a split finger swing through and a slider way outside that Soriano flailed at, missing by a foot;

-- He fell behind Reed Johnson, 2-and-0, before getting back in the count with a slider that was fouled off, a 92 MPH fastball on the inside corner, a slider fouled off, and then a 93 MPH fastball on the inside corner that froze Johnson;

-- After intentionally walking No. 8 hitter Soto, he took care of his counterpart Dempster on three pitches, to strike out the side and strand DeWitt.

"It was almost good he threw that wild pitch," said Duane Kuiper.

"Yeah, he went right into the strikeout mode," said Mike Krukow.

In an earlier jam, in which he gave up a two-out double to Soriano, he fell behind Johnson 3-and-1, but got back into the count with a beautiful change up that Johnson took and then a dart of a fastball on the inside corner for a called third strike, just as he'd do three innings later.

It was vintage Timmy, and should have been enough to keep the winning streak alive.


Except, that the Giants hitters returned to form.

I couldn't get why Dempster was having his way with the Giants. He seemed hittable enough. Early doubles by Sandoval and Schierholtz could have developed into something, but awful at bats haunted the Giants.

Huff hit a first pitch roll-over grounder to second to strand Sandoval in the first inning -- the absolute curse of his season; and Tejada,with one out and Schierholtz on second in the second inning, got ahead in the count 2-0. But he then swung wildly on a slider way out of the strike zone, and later popped out weakly to second while exploding his bat with a fastball on his thumbs.

The Giants never made Dempster work: five times, he got out of innings in 10 pitches or fewer (10 in the first inning, 8 in the third, a ridiculous 6 in the fifth, 7 in the sixth, 9 in the seventh), and 11 pitches in the eighth.

It was as if they had a game plan to attack him early to avoid having to deal with him deep in counts. The problem was that they went after his pitches early in the count -- sliders out of the strike zone, fastballs on the corner, and were on the defensive all game.

This is the same guy who was mobbed for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings by the Giants last September 23. But, outside of that aberration, he's been pretty solid against the Giants in the last several years: 11 earned runs in 33 1/3 IP before last night.

But three hits over eight innings? Twenty straight batters up and out? From a team that scored 19 runs a day earlier? Perhaps a couple games of circling the bases, winning with relative ease, was too much of a departure from the norm. Kinda like me trying to water ski. You're up on the surface of the water and you begin to think, "what the hell am I doing up here?" And down you go.

Burrell's gritty approach to Cubs pitcher captured spirit of Giants

Is there any one thing that defines the Giants as they march through the end of June with such gusto?

Luck and pluck? Dominating pitching? Timely hitting? The Dark Arts?

Let me begin with Pat Burrell.

The slugging outfielder has been relegated to bench duties after deservedly losing his starting role -- perhaps slouching toward retirement -- because he just hasn't provided the power and consistency he showed last year.

But Tuesday in Game 1 of the doubleheader sweep of the Cubs, Burrell provided yet another variation on the multi-layered explanation of who the Giants are.

The story as Boss Bochy told it to radio Hall of Famer Jon Miller is that Burrell lobbied, or "campaigned" (I love political analogies in baseball) to get the start in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. Even though he was 1-for-15 lifetime against Cubs starter Doug Davis, Burrell was adamant he could solve the left-hander Tuesday.

TV color man Mike Krukow spoke of how unapproachable Burrell was before the game, saying that he is typically the most engaging and friendly person before games but on this occasion, you didn't want to get in his way.

It's not easy to follow through with a promise in baseball. Too many unforeseen events can lay waste to the best plans. But Burrell had a plan and was determined to put it to work.

The Giants had just scored two runs in the first inning off Davis, but Pablo Sandoval had killed a bases loaded no-out buzz by hitting into a double play and Davis was looking as if he'd minimized the damage.  With Aubrey Huff on third, though, Burrell put on a beautiful inside-out swing on a cut fastball riding in on his hands for a clean single to right and a gut-punch RBI.

Those two-out run-scoring base hits -- especially after it looks like you're going to pitch out of a potentially damaging inning -- can prompt a pitcher to "evil thoughts," as Krukow put it.

You could just picture Burrell working on that swing in his hotel mirror the night before -- or maybe up all night with his old pal Huff talking about how to counter the cut fastball that Davis had gotten him out with over the years.

So, punch and judy can work for a big guy. But, Burrell's game is the long ball, and in his next at bat, after the Cubs had tied the game, 3-3, he mixed the brawn with the brain to hit a long three-run home run into the teeth of an unforgiving Wrigley Field wind.

It was a wonderful display of intellect and power. Burrell had fallen behind in the count 0-and-2, though he had good swings. He laid off a curve in the dirt, and did not bite on an 81 MPH fastball that drifted just off the plate on the inside corner, one of those cutters intended to break your bat. Burrell knew what Davis was trying to do, and looked out at him as if to say, "I got you figured out."

Davis thought he should have had the strikeout, and pouted for a moment on the mound. So, he tried the same pitch again, and it might have been in the exact same spot -- probably the same spot that had retired Burrell those 14 times. But Burrell ambushed the pitch. He cleared his hips -- so important for a power hitter, and especially important on a fastball boring in on your hands -- and let loose for a cannon shot into left.

Burrell knew what was coming in both his first two at bats, and did what he wanted to in each case. It was a case of an old pro wanting desperately to be a part of a winning thing, applying some Black Eye under furrowed brows and setting a tone that the rest of the team would follow.


That's the thing about the Giants. The stories of furrowed brows, grim determination abound.

-- Andres Torres, coming back after a two-game benching with a big three-hit night and home run that keyed the third win of their current seven-game streak.

-- Tim Lincecum, just as speculation was growing over whether he'd lost his confidence and was headed into another pitching Black Hole, turning in a 12-strikeout performance with a flurry of roll-off-the-table split-fingers, complemented by 95 MPH fastballs, that dazzled Twins hitters.

-- Madison Bumgarner, coming off his historically awful outing against the Twins -- the last loss before the Giants embarked on their winning streak -- with an endearing performance with 11 strikeouts in seven innings. Endearing because he may have won the hearts and minds of even the critics who were calling for him to step aside for Barry Zito (what silly short-sightedness from those who were willing to forget he'd been so good in his previous 10 starts!).

-- Jeremy Affeldt, who had begun to absorb the venom of some Giants fans, who were even going after him for his Zen-like tweets. He has come back with a vengeance and is pitching as good or better than his peak in 2009. His 5-strikeout job on the ESPN Sunday night game was a wonderful exclamation point to the statement he's making. In my notes I'd written after he'd pitched a quick 1-2-3 eighth inning: Keep him in there!

-- Zito. After all the angst over his return, all the angry calls demanding the Giants in unlimited ways to get rid of the enigmatic lefty, he turns in a steady, veteran-like performance in Game 2 of the doubleheader. He has forced himself back into the picture, complicating the scene, but wonderfully so.

-- Miguel Tejada, counted out so many times, came through with three hits, including his first home run since April 8 -- did you ever think you'd see another home run from him? And how about Brandon Crawford, with his big two-run double against a lefty, just when it appeared he had been lost for good at the plate?

-- Even in Ryan Vogelsong's middling outing in Game 1 Tuesday, he gritted through rough patches. In the bottom of the third, for instance, just after the Giants had taken a 6-3 lead, the first two batters got on by way of a walk and a drag bunt single. With the middle of the order up, the wind blowing out to right field, the game could have gotten out of hand in a Wrigley-style slugfest.

Vogelsong appeared less sure of himself than he has all season, his pinpoint control wavering. Perhaps he had in the back of his mind worries over whether he was pitching to a) keep his place in the rotation, with Zito returning from the disabled list or b) convince Boss Bochy to pick him for the All-Star game.

But when he dropped a beautiful curve to get ahead of the Cubs' young star, Starlin Castro, he regained a little of the magic. He got Castro to ground into a force at second, but still had the big bats due up with runners at first and third.

Talk about good fortune: he hung a curve ball right down the middle that Aramis Ramirez thankfully fouled off. Then, he got an inexplicable strike call, a real gift from home plate umpire Ted Barrett, at Ramirez' ankle. He then laid an 0-2 fastball way too nicely over the plate that Ramirez ripped down the line, but landed just foul.

Vogelsong finally got a pitch where he wanted: a fastball riding high, eye-level, that Ramirez chased, a big strikeout. But he still had to get through the Cubs' hottest power hitter, Carlos Pena, who had hit a two-run home run two-innings earlier and had a league-high 10 HRs in June. "That's a good year for some," said Krukow, to which his partner, Duane Kuiper, owner of one lifetime HR, quipped, "Or maybe a career."

The final 13-7 score is suggestive of a rout, but at this moment, the game was truly in the balance. And when Vogelsong fell behind 3-and-1, the big question was: how in the heck is he going to get out of this one?

We all know what happened: two beautiful changeups in succession, both pitches seemingly evaporating on the way to the plate as Pena swung mightily through them. They were the kinds of pitches you only threw with either reckless abandon or supreme confidence. You had to hope that Pena hadn't outthought Vogelsong after the first one to lay in wait of another.

Baseball is a game of psychology, of reading your opponent's body language. Catcher Chris Stewart -- the journeyman who has thrust himself into the center of this team's persona with timely hits, whip-like throws to gun out runners and an effervescent presence -- apparently was reading the coil on Pena's swing and saw he was geared up for the fastball. He went out to Vogelsong, and has been reported, told him to stick with the changeup.

He did, Pena fell for it, and the lead was preserved, to be padded only two innings later with a five-run outburst.

It is these stories of guts and perseverance, of pluck and luck, that continue to define the Giants.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday notebook: Give Vogey the All-Star nod

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum probably solidified their spots on the All-Star roster with their most recent performances, which epitomized their place in the game as two of the best.

Brian Wilson is a shoo-in, with 23 saves and a 2.50 ERA (since his rough start after returning early from his side injury, Wilson has been in an unheard-of zone: he's given up only two earned runs in 28 2/3 innings, a 0.63 ERA).

But it's largely what they meant in the Giants' World Series run that will compel All-star Manager Boss Bochy, who gets to choose the pitching staff and some of the reserves, to reward his three pitching stalwarts.

But should that preclude Bochy from taking Ryan Vogelsong to the mid-season classic?

Bochy has indicated he is considering Vogelsong, whose 1.86 ERA would be leading the National League (over Jair Jurrjens' 2.07 ERA) except that he's four and 2/3 innings shy of qualifying.

The only reason he's not a hands-down choice is, however, is that baseball has a hierarchy for the stars. It is an exclusive club, and it's not easy to gain access to it. Baseball frowns on the one-hit wonder, the Johnny-come-lately. They may appreciate the story of the downtrodden player who emerges from nowhere to catch a whiff of stardom. But the game -- the players, coaches, managers, even the owners and the media -- requires you to step in line, pay your dues, prove it over the long haul to get the stamp of All-Star approval.

The message is: well done, Vogey, but are you really one of us?

I say get over it, baseball. There's room for the heart-warming story. And, even if Vogelsong has hit his stride late in his career and may well be on a short-lived run, the fact is this 33-year old journeyman is making a fool out of major league hitters. He has out-pitched a two-time Cy Young award winner on the World Championship team and could very well be a big reason the Giants repeat.

He may fall flat on his face in the second half and return to earth, but as of now Ryan Vogelsong is on top of the world and belongs to have his place in the constellation of stars.

There is speculation also that Bochy wants to take a position player as a nod/reward to the offense that was good enough to take the Giants to the World Series. The problem is that no one in the lineup has statistics that really come close to the level of an All-Star this year. Before Freddy Sanchez was hurt, he was the only consistent bat in the lineup -- to match his sterling glove -- that could be an easy choice.

Apparently, Bochy is looking at Pablo Sandoval, who has a semi-decent average, at .281, though he was out for six weeks. The irony is Sandoval wound up on the bench toward the end of last year, one of the least productive aspects of the team's success. But, Bochy could make up for the slight to Pablo from two years ago when he clearly deserved a spot.

This is a problem for a team that relies on luck and pluck: there are no obvious stars on this team, at least on the offensive side.


So, indeed, we will have one enigmatic left-hander replace the other.

And isn't it ironic that after all the delay tactics the Giants took to keep Barry Zito at bay, they went with the convenient injury rationale for shutting down Jonathan Sanchez. Just a day before they put him on the disabled list, Sanchez was saying he's healthy.

The Giants say he'd been losing velocity earlier in games, but that's simply not the case. He was still hitting 92 in the fifth inning of his last start. And he is typically effective when he's at 90 with control, anyway.

Either way, it's probably the best route. Putting Sanchez in the bullpen might have been one option. But, Giants management may have decided that he needs to be completely shut down -- yes, perhaps, to let his arm bounce back. But mostly, this is a mental time out.

We've all seen it: Sanchez appears to check out mentally during games with adversity. It's been an uneven season for him: he's had spectacular moments, but the wildness has kept him from being a consistent force.

As we saw with Andres Torres after his two-day break, getting away from the grind can be the best homeopathic medicine.

And maybe Zito will bring an extra edge from his long layoff.


I would not be surprised to see shortstop Brandon Crawford shipped out soon. Though Bochy gave him a boost the other day by saying he was still having good swings, the fact is the results have been desultory. He's hitting .154 in June, and is only 3 for 36 since June 9.

Maybe he would have thrived if the veterans around him had hit; but it came to the point that he was being leaned on for the big hit as much as Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, et al. On any other team, he would have hit eighth, but with the weak catching situation, he was forced to hit seventh, which has proven far too much for the kid.

The Giants will miss his glove, but Crawford needs to develop his batting skills. His next stop is likely Phoenix.


Interesting interviews with Dan Gladden and Hensley "Bam Bam" Muelens on the Marty Lurie "Talking Baseball" show Saturday.

Gladden, the former Giant who went on to become a part of the Cinderella Minnesota Twins' 1987 World Champions, told a story of why he loved to play behind Mike Krukow. In a 1-1 tie in a game in an August 1985 game against the New York Mets, Gladden had dropped a fly ball in the top of the ninth that led to the go-ahead run. When Gladden came off the field that inning, the fans booed him unmercifully, but Krukow waited for him and walked with Gladden into the dugout, a signal of solidarity that can mean so much to a kid just breaking into the Big Leagues.

Gladden also told of the moment that he could have redeemed himself an inning later: He came up in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, visions of a goat-to-hero storyline dancing in his head. Alas, he flied out to end the game.

Gladden also spoke with some bitterness of being traded to the Twins. Even after all he'd been through tin 1987 in helping the unlikely Twins (remember, they were a sixth place team the year before) get to the post-season, he recalled watching one of the outfielders the Giants had chosen over him earlier that year, Candy Maldonado, diving for and missing a Tony Pena line drive that led to a triple and the only run in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals, tying the series at 3-all.

"I was waiting and waiting for the Giants to win so I could play them in the World Series," he said.

And he said he couldn't believe manager Roger Craig's choice for Game 7: Atlee Hammaker, who wound up losing, 6-0, giving up the infamous home run to Jose Oquendo.

Krukow had won Game 4, and would have had to pitch on three games rest. No matter, Gladden said.

"You go with Krukow every time in a Game 7," he said.

Lurie did not ask Gladden about his controversial recent comment about Buster Posey, in which he blamed the catcher for getting hit. It seemed like a self-indulgent comment from a former player maintaining the gruff exterior of a guy who played all-out.

But in all, Gladden was a good story teller who, it turns out, would have been a welcome addition to the Giants radio booth all these years.


Muellens had some interesting observations about some of his hitters. He spoke of Andres Torres' propensity to over-think and overwork, of how he's trying to get Huff to take the same approach against right handers as he has against lefties (tucked shoulder, using all parts of the field). "He gets too greedy," he said.

His most valuable insight was on Pablo Sandoval. He explained that Sandoval was still strengthening his injured hand; that in the first several days after returning to the active roster, Sandoval was limited to maybe 10 swings in the cages and then not that many more in batting practice before getting thrust into the games.

That is remarkable. It was one of my fears: that the Giants would push Sandoval back into big league action -- putting him in the No. 3 hole, no less! -- even as he was still recovering from injury. They did it with Ross and Mark DeRosa. Muellens says that having Sandoval back at 80 percent is better than having most at 100 percent. And they are monitoring his hand to be sure he doesn't reinjure it. And it's not like anyone was picking up the slack for him.

But still. You just hope there isn't some long-term health concern. And, you hope that the rush job doesn't screw up the Panda's swing.


Why do the Giants continue to treat fans as if they are still Candlestick Park denizens?

There was a marketing purpose to promotional days at Candlestick: they used the giveaways to lure fans to the park. And to create a sense of urgency, the Giants would announce that the first 10,000 fans would receive whatever freebie they had.

They continue to use the same marketing strategy at AT&T: The first 25,000 fans on Saturday received an Aubrey Huff bobblehead doll. Why? They've sold out every game. There's no need to lure fans. They're coming.

Instead of using promotional day as an incentive for fans, maybe the Giants should just drop their ravenous, profit-mongering ways and offer up their freebies as a reward to all those fans shelling out the big bucks.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A team that relies on pixie dust and catchers playing out of position

Maybe the stat that best captures the Giants' 4-3 win over the Indians Friday night: only three hits were involved in their scoring, and only one of them was a run-scoring hit (a home run). So, the moral of the story is that maybe the Giants should quit putting runners in scoring position.

It really is that kind of team. It relies on pixie dust and catchers playing out of position. It relies on a sacrifice pop up to third base for the game-winning run.

It is a team that can win a game without drawing a single walk while its own starting pitcher walks six and hits one batter in 4 2/3 innings.

Let's review the three-run sixth inning.

Here's the short view: A leadoff line drive single, an error, another line drive single, another error. Then a sacrifice fly that moved 'em in and over, and a sacrifice, er, popup. That is, as Krukow and Kuiper say,  the ground attack at its best.

Here's the longer description:

It all started with the unlikely Chris Stewart. Carlos Carrasco had worked nearly unblemished through the first five innings (Torres' solo home run the only hit), and his combination of a 96 MPH fastball, a beautiful changeup and a sharp slider had kept the Giants bats in a deep freeze. The big Venezuelan was living up to the hype, and it didn't look like the Giants would figure a way to solve him.

But Stewart, who has been an epiphone behind the plate (more on that later) but an afterthought in the lineup, somehow got around on a fastball and ripped a leadoff single to left.

It was the kind of hit that reinforces 2011 as the season of the unlikely hero. How else can this team be appraised when it continues to win while its name players remain incognito?

Nate Schierholtz then hit an unassuming ground ball to first, which under normal circumstances would have ended up as a fielder's choice. A nice, easy throw to second for a forceout, but no shot on a double play. Except that catcher-turned first baseman Carlos Santana's throw tailed to the left field side of second, handcuffing shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera. There's the pixie dust.

Torres hit a standard-issue line drive single to center, loading the bases, though there's nothing standard-issue about Torres coming up big (3-for-4 with a home run, bunt single and the other single) after such a long stretch of anguished effort at the plate. (Here I was ready to retire the guy in my most recent blog; turns out, all he needed was a couple days off).

Then, another grounder to first base, a slow roller hit by Manny Burriss. Santana flubbed it; a real Little League error. More evidence of the pixie dust: They were the first two errors of the year at first in 21 games for Santana, who has played 50 games as catcher.

Santana actually could have thrown home for the force out because Stewart had gotten a bad start off third. Instead, a run was in and the bases remained loaded.

Then, Pablo Sandoval had the kind of productive out they teach in Single A, but that the Giants have rarely delivered: A fly ball deep enough to score a run and to move the runner from second to third with no outs.

It was an out worth two runs, because Torres next scored easily on Aubrey Huff's pop fly near the bullpen up the third base line. Third baseman Jack Hannahan caught the foul ball, but couldn't get a good throw off while backpedaling toward the bullpen.

That had to be Huff's shortest sacrifice fly of his career, and it turned out to be the game-winner.


It was appropriate that Santiago Casilla got the win, his first of the year. Victories for relievers are always a matter of luck and timing. And it was fortuitous that the Giants happened to score three in the sixth while he was the last pitcher of record. But that rally wouldn't have meant much if he hadn't shut down the bases loaded mess that starter Jonathan Sanchez left him with two outs in the fifth.

A beautiful 1-2 slider put away the big, powerful, but free-swinging Austin Kearns, keeping the game from spiraling out of control (aren't you glad the Giants never pursued him? He looks very one-dimensional).

I wonder if Indians fans were second guessing Manager Manny Acta's decision to stay with Kearns in that spot. Kearns was in the lineup to provide some pop against a lefty, but once a right hander came in, there was no reason to have him in there: he's a .170 hitter with 19 strikeouts in 46 at bats. (that's a rate of more than 200 strikeouts in a regular season).

Acta could have gone with Travis Hafner in that spot, and replaced Kearns with Michael Brantley in the outfield.

I'm pretty convinced that American League managers are far less equipped to deal with strategy than their N.L. counterparts.


I never got the explanation for Aaron Rowand's presence in the lineup. Carrasco's numbers against right handed hitters were dominant (.199); not so much against left handers (.313). Rowand (.181) hasn't exactly been lighting it up against righties.

Rowand's discomfort against Carrasco was apparent: a weak jam-job pop up to first base, and a pair of  strikeouts. A real waste of space in the lineup.

He did make putouts in left and right, leading to a thought: I wonder how many times an outfielder has made putouts in all three outfield spots in a single game?

Stewart's throwing arm is a thing of beauty. His throw to first to pick off Santana (boy, after his two-run double, that poor kid just packed it in) was like a sniper shot, or an ambush. Santana never saw it coming. He makes the throw like he's a gun-slinging shortstop from deep in the hole, kind of a sidearm whipping motion.

I'll discount the replays that showed Santana may have gotten in under Huff's swipe tag. First base umpire Bob Davidson might have got swept up in the moment. More pixie dust?

When Buster Posey comes back, I wonder if the Giants would give Stewart an extra long look as the backup over Eli Whiteside, just for the defensive skills.


Justin Masterson, the big, strapping 6-foot-6, 250 pound right hander who goes up against Matt Cain today, has had a real roller coaster season.

He started out 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA in April, but has gone 0-5 since, with a 3.67 ERA. But he's been a tough-luck pitcher. Of his 10 starts since the end of April, he conceivably could have won six of them:

7 IP, 2 ER vs. Detroit (no decision)
7 IP, 1 ER vs. Los Angeles Angels (ND)
8 IP, 1 ER vs. Chicago White Sox (L)
7 IP, 2 ER vs. Boston (ND)
8 IP, 2 ER vs. Minn (ND)
6.1 IP, 2 ER vs. Detroit (L)

So, that's good news to know that he's a tough luck pitcher; bad to know that he's pitching well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A couple wins and you remember why you are captive to Giants' wild ride

The Giants' manic depressive symptoms -- the thundering highs and dark lows -- bring out the worst in me.

I don't know how many times, after losses, when I've given up hope on the Giants. Where I've settled things in my mind that this team doesn't have it to defend their World Championship.

And my expectations aren't that high: I'm not holding them to repeating -- that's been proven almost impossible these days, given the equalizing impact of free agency that disburses enough talent around the major leagues to thwart dynasties.

What their losses do is to shake my faith in their ability to even get to the playoffs, to defend their title with dignity.

After their recent five-game losing streak -- punctuated by Madison Bumgarner's historical meltdown -- I was ready to write their obituary. Too many things have gone wrong this season, from the devastating injuries to the ongoing, persistent and thoroughly frustrating hitting ineptness. It must have been the three dozen straight missed scoring opportunities that finally got to me.

Funny, though. I remember telling my brother-in-law sometime last July that the Giants were toast, that they didn't have it. "Some teams have that feel of a champion," I said, "and this one doesn't."

And that's what gives me hope. That I could be so wrong in a year that went so right reminds me that, as the ex-Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar used to say, In beisbol, Youneverknow.

And then suddenly, they win a couple in a row; their pitching returns to form, they get key contributions from all over the lineup, and you remember why you are captive to the wild ride that is the Giants season.

It is a verity: With the Giants' pitching staff, Youcan'tgiveup.

Not that it isn't tempting. With Lincecum having his bad month early, you had to wonder if it was another sign of an off year. The one thing that kept that doubt from growing too large, though, was he was still bringing his fastball at 93 to 95 MPH, even during his string of bad games. It was just his inability to command it. And that affected his off-speed stuff, his slider not as sharp, his split finger not as crisp.

Enter Ryan Vogelsong, Wednesday night.

Vogelsong's presence has been akin to a ballast on a ship. It is almost counterintuitive to say this about a fifth man in a rotation of stars, but he has been the steadying force on the Giants.

He pitches with such determination and focus, has the ability to locate his pitches with such finesse that he reminds you that the game is as much psychological as it is physical. But also, his work this year tells you that a man who has lived through the angst of failure, not to mention the fear of an unkown future, is probably best equipped to deal with the adversities that a professional must face.

The entirety of his outing on Wednesday was testament to Vogelsong's persevering persona. But the moment that stood out as symbolic of it was after the Steve Bartman-like incident in the top of the sixth. A runner, Ben Revere, had just reached first on shortstop Brandon Crawford's error, and, then on a 1-2 pitch, Alexi Casilla hit a foul pop up into the seats by the left field bullpen. Cody Ross reached in to catch it, but an unwitting and later regretful fan, gloved it first.

Things could have escalated. But Vogelsong got Casilla to ground out (on a really nice play by Manny Burriss, who ranged wide to his left and then threw to Huff as the first baseman scrambled to get back to the bag). And with Revere now on second, Vogelsong got out of the jam with an exquisite job on Joe Mauer, one of the toughest hitters in the majors (though he's still trying to get his stroke back). First, a cutter on the inside corner, then a changeup away, fouled, and finally a high fastball that tied up Mauer into a groundout to short.

He had to dig deep in the top of the seventh to get out of a rally with even more potential: runners at first and third with no outs. Vogelsong struck out the next two, but gave up an infield single for the first run -- a play that if Crawford fielded it cleanly, he could have gotten the force out at second. At 100 pitches, Vogelsong was likely on his final batter, pinch hitter Matt Tolbert, who took him to a full count. But finally, on the eighth pitch, Vogelsong won the battle with an inning-ending fly out.

Afterward, talk of Vogelsong as an All-Star heated up -- rightfully so. And though his numbers (5-1, 1.86 ERA) are worthy, it is the doggedness of his approach that defines him best.

And yet ... even in Vogelsong's win, it took the unlikely Eli Whiteside to secure it. Against the backdrop of fan despair at losing Posey, Whiteside has damaged even his place in the game as a backup. The daily grind has exposed a weak bat and, alarmingly, a hole in his defensive game. But by driving in three runs with a triple and a single, Whiteside affirmed one of the characteristics that continue to define the Giants: every day, it's another guy.

The offense remains largely inept (failing, for example, to cash in on a first and third, no-out chance in Thursday's game), which made for yet another tense, thrilling win -- 2-1 over the Twins. But all offensive angst gets swept aside when Lincecum returns to form. The world is right when Timmy shows up. There's nothing like seeing Tim Lincecum in his dazzling Superman's suit. And there's nothing like the story of a journeyman veteran who inspires a two-time Cy Young to greater heights.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bumgarner replaced by Zito? I don't think so; Torres out, Rowand in

Under the heading of It's a Good Thing Beat Writers Don't Make the Decisions:

Manager Bruce Bochy had to fend off silly and wrong-headed questions about whether Madison Bumgarner, after his historically bad outing Tuesday night, should be replaced by Barry Zito, who threw a two-hit shutout in Fresno.

It's a laughable proposition, one made in the writers' zeal to get a good story out of Bumgarner's flop and to hurry along the decision the Giants are to make about Zito. Bumgarner has been the best Giants pitcher over the last two months (with maybe the exception of Ryan Vogelsong).

As the Twins poured out hit after hit in that nightmarish first inning in which Bumgarner gave up eight straight hits, the joke went up in Twitterland: there goes his 10-game quality start streak. But the Quality Start statistic doesn't come close to doing justice to what Bumgarner did over those 10 games. Of those starts, only two barely met the watered down minimum (six innings, three runs).

The rest had been dazzling, even if you're just looking at the numbers.

In those eight other starts, Bumgarner's line was: 54 2/3 IP, 46 H, 13 R 9 ER, 10 BB, 46 SO, 1.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP.

Those were numbers that could have seriously made him a worthy All-Star candidate, despite his 3-8 record going into Tuesday night.

There was nothing wrong with Bumgarner Tuesday night that suggests a long-term malady. He just needs to be reminded that he needs to bury hitters when he's ahead of them. Inexplicably, he left pitches out over the plate three straight times with two strikes. Had he used his nice, deadly slider at the feet, he would have gotten out of the inning just fine.

Apparently, the word is going around that hitters know Bumgarner likes to stay in the strike zone, so the Twins, who ought to credit their advance scouting team big time for the job it did, looked for good pitches to hit, even with two strikes.

A little wild hair up a pitcher's nose can do wonders to keep hitters off balance.


Aaron Rowand's leading off in center field tonight, which means the outrage factor is riding high in Twitterville.

But the truth is, as I laid it out earlier this week, Andres Torres has been MIA on offense for quite a while. He appears lost at the plate, swinging at bad pitches, taking good ones, striking out way too much for a guy who's supposed to be a contact/speed player.

When he makes contact, Torres doesn't drive the ball into the alleys as he did last year. The slump dates back to late last season, which indicates we may be seeing traces of age creeping into his game.

It's not a happy development. Torres has been the spark to the Giants' offense, he is well-liked, and the story of a journeyman resurrecting his career was inspiring. Who knows? Maybe if he sits a few games, he can regenerate his bat. But how often has that magic formula worked for the Giants this year?

As for replacing Torres with Rowand, it seems to be a move borne of caution, to keep a semblance of defensive stability. Boss Bochy could have gone with Cody Ross in center field, if he wanted to get a power bat like Pat Burrell's in the lineup. But Burrell has also been struggling -- indeed, he may be on the same pathway toward retirement as Torres seems to be on.

Burrell is just 2-for-15 this month and 11 for his last 58 (only one HR in that time), a reflection of his diminished role that corresponds with his diminished skill. It really is a matter of time before they release him and bring up Darren Ford for an extended look.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rethinking Andres Torres

Should the Giants rethink Andres Torres?

It's a difficult question to consider, given how critical he was to the Giants World Championship run last year, and the spark he has represented at the top of the lineup.

But, Torres' extended funk can't be overlooked, especially given his advancing age (33) and the possibility that we're seeing Torres returning to the mediocre terrain on which he spent much of his career.

He is now 4 for his last 28, dropping from .264 to .236. In that time, he's been able to get on base enough to remain serviceable at the leadoff spot (a .351 on base percentage over that short period). He has largely avoided the running game, perhaps a signal that he is not yet confident he can push his Achilles Heel, which he injured earlier this season.

But when you look at his numbers over a longer period, Torres' decline is alarming.

Torres is 17 for his last 78, a .218 batting average. That goes back to the second game of that infamous late May series against the Florida Marlins. So, since Buster Posey has been out of the lineup, Torres has not been one of the guys to pick up the slack.

Worse, his hitting troubles have been with him since shortly after his return from the disabled list. After going 7 for his first 15, Torres has hit .193 (22 for 114), and not exactly fulfilled the duties of a leadoff hitter, drawing 17 walks in that time for an on base percentage of .298.

After stealing five bases in May, he has only swiped one in June. That is not sustainable at the top of the lineup. It would all be excusable if he showed any of the power he had last year, but, alas, there has been little to speak of.

You want to go further back? Since late August, just prior to and since his return from emergency appendectomy, Torres is hitting .224 (64-for-286) with an anemic on-base percentage of .290. That's not a small sample. It's a trend.

Over the period, he's had six home runs, 19 doubles, stolen 12 and was caught stealing five times. He walked 27 times and struck out a whopping 82 times.

That includes an OK post season, in which he hit .278.

You get the feeling Torres is drafting off the glories of last summer, when he was hitting in the .290s, leading the National League in doubles, popping out those unexpected home runs. He's been riding the same feel-good wave as Aubrey Huff. You begin to wonder if Torres' expiration date has come and gone.

One reason I looked Torres up is that there is talk about platooning Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz so that the Giants can get Pat Burrell back into the lineup for a much-needed power jolt.

Well, if you want to get Burrell in, fine. But Ross would be the last player you should take out of the lineup now. He has been the Giants' most consistent hitter in June. He is 20-for-63 in June (.317), and dating back two games into May, he is 23-for-71 (.324) over his last 19 games.

Schierholtz has been playing more consistently, and he's basically kept a level .250-.260 batting average through the season. Middling yes, but the numbers belie the impact of his offense (he probably leads the team in hits to tie the game or put the Giants ahead), and he appears to finally hitting a stride. It would be a shame to take his bat out just when he seems to be figuring this game out.

Ross has the ability to play center. He is not the defensive whiz that Torres is, but he's got good range, a good arm, and great instincts. He is athletic enough to handle the position.

Now, I'm not necessarily advocating dropping Torres from the Giants' plans. But if there is pressure to add Burrell's bat, the odd man out should not automatically come from one of the corner outfield positions.


Pablo Sandoval's return calls into question, once again, whether the Giants pulled the trigger too quickly on an injured player's return. Ross and Mark DeRosa looked overmatched when they first returned from their lengthy stints on the disabled list. Even Torres, who started out 7-for-15 coming off the DL, wound up going 7 for his next 45 (.155).

Sandoval is 5-for-25 (.200) after his DL stint, and seems to have reverted to his old, undisciplined ways of flailing at changeups in the dirt and swinging wildly at eye-high fastballs.


The Giants sure know how to turn pitchers' fortunes around. Trevor Cahill entered Sunday's game having allowed 22 earned runs in his most previous 26 2/3 innings (a 7.35 ERA), walking 21.

His outing against the Giants (8 IP, five hits, one walk, seven strikeouts), however, was not totally out of character.

Cahill had seven previous starts with similar numbers, giving up one run in six of the starts and none in the other, with low walk totals (49 IP, 10 walks, 6 earned runs for a 1.10 ERA).

Here's what the Giants are up against with the Minnesota Twins coming to town:

-- The Twins have won seven in a row, nine of 10, and 14 of 16, outscoring opponents 74-38.

-- In that stretch, the Twins, once given up for lost, improved their record from one of the league's worst, 17-37, to a more respectable 31-39.

-- Their offense has improved from one of the most impotent to better-than-average: they're hitting .268 in the last 16 games with 4.6 runs per game.

--Their pitching has been their strength. The three pitcher facing the Giants in the upcoming series have ERAs in June of 1.44 (Carl Pavano), 1.77 (Nick Blackburn) and 2.81 (Brian Duensing).

Tuesday's starter, Pavano, 4-5 with a 4.20 ERA overall, has had complete games in two of his last three starts (against the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals). The 6-foot-5, 250 pound 35-year old right hander has given up 22 hits, five walks and four earned runs in the last 25 innings.

Miguel Tejada has the most successful history against Pavano: 5-for-12 with a triple and HR (though all his history must be divided between the inflated Steroids years and the declining Aging years); Pat Burrell is 7-28 with 3 doubles and a HR; Aubrey Huff is 6-for-21.

With rookie Brandon Crawford living down to his no-hit, good glove reputation, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tejada back in at shortstop on Tuesday.

Blackburn, 29, a 6-foot-4, 240 pound right hander, has been nearly as dominant in his three June starts. He's given up only 4 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings, his most recent start eight shutout innings over the White Sox.

Only Burrell has any sort of history against Blackburn: 2-for-3 with a double.

Duensing, a 6-foot, 205 pound left hander, turned around his season as soon as June hit: he'd had an 8.76 ERA in May, but threw 8 shutout innings over Kansas City, and held the Padres to two runs in six innings in his most recent start.

No Giant has had any significant history against Duensing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bochy's strategy is getting bolder; Affeldt & Huff are hot

A perfectly executed hit and run to get the game going in the first inning, a safety squeeze with two strikes in the second inning, and a two-out steal of home on a double-steal rundown in the fifth inning.

And that was just Game 1 of the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

How about Cody Ross' steal of third and score on an error when Boss Bochy sent him on a full-count to Eli Whiteside in Game 3 Thursday? Whiteside struck out on a changeup out of the strike zone, and Ross would have been nailed at third, but the throw was wide, Ross kicked the ball accidentally into foul territory, and came around to score.

Who does Bochy think he is? Billy Martin?

In the 80s with the A's, it was Billy Ball. Can we call it Bochy Ball? Or does that sound too much like Italian lawn bowling reserved for grey haired men in green Sans A Belts?

Whatever you want to call it, the Giants have added yet more layers to their growing personality, evolving from last year's Band of Misfits into something that feels like a M.A.S.H. unit, replete with a triage unit.

It is an Ever Changing Moveable Feast, an evolving cast of characters that give the Giants their 2011 imprint. Some emerge from dark shadows to make their mark (think of the scorned backup catcher  Whiteside, who in taking over the beloved Buster Posey's spot, has mostly wilted under the glare, but had that booming RBI triple in Wednesday's 5-2 win), others whom seem to continually shine in clutch spots (think Nate Schierholtz with his countless dramatic hits).

As it's become apparent that the Giants have something magical going -- how else can you explain their continual hold on first place despite the devastating injuries, not to mention their oft-anemic offense? -- Bochy has begun to push more buttons on offense to a) force the issue with an offense still needing to make up for its lack of team power and b) tap into the mystique.

In each of the plays listed above, Bochy was courting disaster but threw caution to the wind. Was he trusting in the fates that seem to be on the Giants' side? Or does he just have confidence that things will work out if he just pushes the envelope? Either way, Bochy seems to have arrived at a comfortable place with his offense.

It's helped that the middle of the order has come to life. In the three-game series vs. the Diamondbacks, the hitters in the 3-4-5-6-7 spots in the lineup hit .339 (19-for-56) scoring 11 of the team's 14 runs with seven RBI and seven walks (for a .413 on base percentage).

Pablo Sandoval's return has definitely lengthened the lineup, having maybe the most positive effect on Aubrey Huff, though he started to show signs of life even before Sandoval returned. Huff is 11-for-25 over the last six games (.440), lifting his batting average 20 points, from .223 to .243. Overall in June, he's hitting .315 (17-for-54).

If he can just regain his power stroke ... Wait. I won't ask. Don't want to mess with a good thing going.


One strategic move by Bochy was interesting to track as Thursday's game unfolded.

It was a double switch that I didn't like at the time but worked out nicely for Bochy:

In the bottom of seventh inning, Bochy brought Jeremy Affeldt in to start the seventh, placing him in the No. 6 slot in the lineup where Nate Schierholtz had just hit. The thinking was to move Affeldt back in the lineup so Bochy wouldn't have to pinch hit for him, and allow him to go with Affeldt for two innings.

But it would mean that one of the Giants' top clutch hitters, Schierholtz, would be on the bench if the game went long.

Bochy could have simply kept Schierholtz in and pinch hit Burrell for Affeldt in the eighth without burning Schierholtz. But Bochy saw a string of left handed hitters that he wanted Affeldt to face in a second inning of work.

After plowing through the seventh, Affeldt began the eighth by getting Stephen Drew to ground out to short (nice backhanded play and strong throw by Brandon Crawford). But then he gave up a double to Justin Upton on a 1-2 pitch, and an intentional walk to Young.

Affeldt did get out of the jam by striking out a pair of lefty sluggers that Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson curiously allowed to hit: Miguel Montero on three beauties: a curve, a sinking fastball and a changeup that broke his swing down badly; and Juan Miranda, on a 1-2 changeup.

So, that worked out nicely.

And in the top of the ninth, Schierholtz' spot in the lineup indeed did come up with runners at first and third with one out, the very situation in which Nate has been great. Instead, it was Burrell, who, after looking overpowered by closer J.J. Putz on a couple 94 MPH fastballs, drove home the tying run with a sacrifice fly to left (his first of the year).

The move paid off in two ways: Affeldt got to pitch two effective innings and Burrell came through with a clutch game-tying RBI. Though I would have liked Nate in there in a close game late, you can't argue with success.

In the end, strategy didn't matter. It was just country hardball: Upton going oppo taco on Santiago Casilla to frustrate Giants' chances at a sweep.


Best line of the night, from Mike Krukow: "is that the rainbow Judy Garland was talking about?" on an Affeldt curve that sent Montero buckling at the knees.


Another example of how good Affeldt is going now: Kelly Johnson, 5-for-8 lifetime against him, struck out on three pitches, a beautiful curve that had him bending away in fear for strike two and a fastball right by him for the big K. Affeldt has the look of 2009 back.

Affeldt has lowered his ERA from 6.00 to 3.81 in the last couple weeks. In that span, he's not allowed a single run in 10 1/3 innings, only six hits and two walks with 12 strikeouts.

Not bad for a former Lugnut.* (see bottom for reference)


Ryan Vogelsong's overall work this season has been inspirational because of his backstory, but it's been impressive by the sheer confidence he takes to the mound for a guy who entered this year with a lifetime ERA in the high 5's. If there's a word that describes him, it's gutsy, reflecting a perseverance that he needed to get back to the major leagues after some real trials.

On Thursday, there were three moments that captured that gutsiness:

--In a 12-pitch duel with Chris Young, Vogelsong kept pounding the fastball -- in, out, in, out, the last five pitches fouled off before finally getting him to fly out easily to center field;

-- in a two-out fifth-inning jam with runners on first and second and a 3-0 count to the dangerous Justin Upton, he went right at Upton, who got the green light and popped out to second on a fastball that had just enough movement to miss Upton's sweet spot;

-- and in the sixth, with a runner on and two outs, he fell behind 3-and-0 to Ryan Roberts. With left-handed hitter Gerrardo Parra on deck, lefty Affeldt in the bullpen, and his pitch count over 110, he knew this would be his last hitter. If he wanted a shot at a win, he needed the out right now.

He got back into the count with a couple strikes and then got Roberts to pop out weakly to close out yet another strong performance.


Affeldt, a former Kansas City Royals farmhand, pitched his A ball in Lansing, Michigan, for the Lugnuts, alongside teammate Carlos Beltran. The team name commemorated the city's auto manufacturing history. In my Lansing days as a political reporter, I got to see Affeldt pitch in those early days -- and even sat next to him one game as he charted pitches behind the plate -- and to say the least, he's come a long way.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jonathan Sanchez: crazy wild, brilliant

It's just dawned on me: Jonathan Sanchez' pitching style is a perfect fit for the torturous character of the Giants. He puts you through six innings of terror, careening in and out of control, perpetually on the precipice of disaster. A true roller coaster ride, but in the end, it was thrilling, wasn't it?

Sanchez was at his beguiling best Sunday, digging himself into and out of trouble, control problems colliding with brilliance, crazy wildness countered by pinpoint touch. One moment, he looks like he's lost his bearings; the other he looks plain wily. Sunday, he did just enough to keep the Giants close for another late win, 4-2 over the Cincinnati Reds.

He was at his worst and most intriguing in the fourth inning, when he gave up two runs -- amazingly the only the Reds could score all game. But Sanchez somehow averted disaster after hitting one, walking another -- the latter on a three-ball, two-strike split finger, to which ESPN color analyst Orel Hershiser said, "I just don't get the breaking ball there" -- especially with the early evening shadows giving him an advantage over jumpy left-handed hitters. Then an RBI double, and another walk loaded the bases with no outs.

Only a few more feet on Edgar Renteria's fly ball to deep left field, and we all would be talking about Sanchez' meltdown, the Giants' pitching doldrums and the mini-funk the Giants were enduring, replete with psycho-babble about the mounting weight of the injuries they've suffered (not that talk about the devastating impact of the injuries is not merited).

Instead, it was just a long sacrifice fly ball -- nicely caught on the run at the wall by Cody Ross -- for a 2-0 Reds lead. Only two pitches later, Sanchez was walking back to the dugout on the wings of an around-the-horn double play started by Miguel Tejada that snuffed the rally.

He needed a shutdown inning after the Giants had cut the lead in half on an RBI double by Aubrey Huff (ok, is he hot now? can we say he's coming out of his funk? After his 3-for-4 night, he is 8-for-22 in his last five games).

But what does Sanchez do? He gives up a leadoff base hit to his counterpart, pitcher Edinson Volquez, and another single to Drew Stubbs.

Another disaster looming, except Sanchez strikes out Brandon Phillips on a beautiful split finger changeup.

And then, the play that drew the curtain on Sanchez as a true magician: The dangerous Votto flied out to deep left field, and then looked back horror-struck as he watched Volquez, straying too far away from second base, getting doubled up at second on a perfect throw on the fly from Ross.

Votto glared out at Volquez, yelling out to him what a clown he was, and it was understandable. He'd already hit into a more conventional double play in the first inning on a hard smash that second baseman Manny Burriss snared on a tough hop, a quick throw to second and easy pivot by Brandon Crawford.

If Burriss can turn in those plays, he can take away some of the pain of losing Freddy Sanchez.

Hey, the Giants were so good on defense Sunday that Tejada started a third-to-first double play with two outs.


Still, the Giants looked feeble when they wasted a leadoff double by catcher Chris Stewart (just after ESPN flashed the graphic of the 9-for-54 Stewart and Eli Whiteside have combined for after Buster Posey went down). Sanchez failed to get a bunt down (though the at bat was complicated when Boss Bochy took off the bunt sign and gave Sanchez the green light to swing with one strike, only to flail wildly at a pitch way out of the strike zone). Andres Torres and Tejada both grounded to end the threat.


With Pablo Sandoval returning Tuesday, it'll be interesting to see if Bochy sticks with the three-four punch of Nate Schierholtz and Aubrey Huff in the series opener in Arizona.

Nate started the Giants' first two rallies, singling ahead of Huff's RBI double, and walked ahead of Huff's hit and run single that led to the Giants second run and a 2-2 tie (on Ross' slow grounder). He also, incidentally, drove in the deciding run on a sacrifice fly. Combined, Schierholtz and Huff were 4-for-6 with two runs, three RBI, and a walk.


The Giants drew seven walks on the day, and I'm going to hazard to say that if it isn't a season high, it's close. Walks were key to two of the Giants three rallies. Stewart drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, sparking a two-run rally that held up for the win.

Another walk, of the intentional variety, was puzzling. Reds manager Dusty Baker, for the second time in the series, intentionally walked Tejada, this time to load the bases with one out. I know Tejada had four doubles in the first two games of the series, but did Baker check his numbers were with runners in scoring position? He's hitting .139! Schierholtz, on the other hand, has been one of the Giants' most consistent clutch hitter this year.

The numbers showed he's hitting a buck fifty or so against lefties this year, and the lefty Baker brought in, Bill Bray, is nails against left handed hitters. But Baker underestimated the magic that permeates this ballpark, especially with Nate at bat.

On the first pitch, Schierholtz delivered with a sacrifice fly to center, driving in the go-ahead run, followed by a thing of beauty from Huff, an off-field RBI single off the lefty Bray -- after fouling off several tough pitches.


Probably the most impressive confrontations came in the seventh, the Giants lefty specialist Javier Lopez in to face the Reds big two left handed mashers, Votto and Bruce. Lopez elicited the ugliest swings from Votto, last year's NL MVP, who struck out with his front foot in a bucket, his body falling backwards, and his swing broken down as if an amateur had taken his spot in the batters box.

Bruce swung gamely but right over, around, through another Lopez slider for another K. That is about as in tune with the universe as a pitcher can be.


Best line from ESPN's crew, courtesy of Hershiser, talking about the Giants' ability to win the close ones: "You build callouses for pressure."


ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine predicted the Reds would be running all night because of Sanchez' slowness to the plate. But, after Chris Stewart gunned down Jay Bruce attempting to steal in the third inning, all we heard from Valentine was "he's a catch-and-throw guy. That's why he's in the big leagues." Nothing later on about the Reds stillness on the basepaths the rest of the way.


Valentine said he "loved" Brandon Crawford, says he'll stick "because he has the best range of all the Giants" and he likes the "fundamentals" of his swing. Crawford's batting average has slipped to .208, hitless in his last 12 at bats.

The thin lineup has Crawford hitting sixth -- a spot that should be held up by a proven RBI man, not by a kid trying to get his bearings in the big leagues. But who else would Boss Bochy have at No. 6 hole now? Chris Stewart/Eli Whiteside? Burriss? Perhaps he should move Burriss to the No. 2 spot, and drop Tejada to No. 6.

Tejada is 11-for-34 to lift his batting average to .227, though he has only one RBI in that span.


Hershiser, the once hated Dodger who then donned the Giants jersey momentarily, called AT&T "slam dunk" the finest of the new ballparks around the major leagues.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday notebook: Giants need to add big bat; Lincecum's troubles defined

At so many junctures already this season, it seems like the Giants have been on the verge of collapse. Right now, they appear to be on the cusp of a crisis: They've lost the middle of their lineup to serious injury; their ace, Tim Lincecum, has suddenly lost it; their offense continues to be mired in a funk.

Yet, every time they're counted out, the Giants show resilience and reassert themselves with dramatic victories that cloak their weaknesses. But, it's clear that over the long haul, the injuries to key players cannot be sustained if they don't bolster their offense with new acquisitions.

Pablo Sandoval's imminent return would qualify as a new acquisition. Putting his bat in the middle of the order -- he should go directly to the cleanup spot so that Aubrey Huff can practice his trade with less pressure -- could do wonders to the lineup.

They did bring in Bill Hall, and perhaps he can provide some pop to a lineup in desperate need of power.

Hall was hitting .224 with the lowly Houston Astros with two HR, almost precisely the numbers Pat Burrell had when he arrived in San Francisco last year. And we all remember how Burrell turned his career around as the Giants' newfound power guy. But, you can't expect last year's story line to be repeated as if by script.

Hall seems to be on the downward spiral of his career. He struck out 55 times in 147 at bats in Houston. But only as recently as May 23, he went 4-for-4 with two doubles against the Dodgers, though he ended his Houston stint going 0-for-his-last-12.

Remember, in 2006, he hit 35 HR and 85 RBI. He fell off the map with 14 HRs in 2007 and 15 HRs in 2008; he returned last year with 18 HR in only 344 at bats with the Boston Red Sox, so there is some hope that he's still got a fresh bat.

But Hall is not the guy to turn around the Giants offense.

The Giants need a big bat to complement Sandoval. First of all, there is no guarantee Sandoval will return to the form he had before he broke his hamate bone. The pressure of returning as the offensive savior has played mind tricks on the best hitters. Second, it will be difficult to keep going with Huff, Cody Ross, Burrell, Miguel Tejada if they continue on their middling paths.

At some point soon, the Giants will have to pull a trigger on a big acquisition -- most likely a corner outfielder because they're not going to replace Huff, not after signing him to a two-year contract. It's a delicate call. You hope every day that one or two of their big guys can start a sustained drive that keeps you from having to make the decision.

If it is a corner outfielder, Burrell will be the first to go, and Ross and Nate Schierholtz would be competing against each other for playing time. Tejada, whose bat appears to be warming up, may have a better shot to stick, given his versatility at third and shortstop.


What's at the bottom of Lincecum's troubles with his fastball command? He's got such a complicated windup and delivery that if his timing is off at any point, he can't find his arm slot. The reason for his timing issues: he's been trying to speed up his delivery to thwart the running game.

So, it seems to me that pitching coach Dave Righetti should drop the concern about folks running on him so he can be more consistent with his delivery. Besides, with Eli Whiteside having such a bad time throwing down to second base -- I mean there are thousands of high school catchers who could be making better throws -- it wouldn't matter if Lincecum set a record for quickness to the plate.

Many of the greats had trouble holding runners on. Let Timmy be Timmy.

One difference between his troubles last August and now is that he's hitting 94 MPH consistently, where last year, he topped out at 90 or 91.

Lincecum's off-speed pitches don't have the same bite or deception when his fastball is erratic. Hitters either lay off the off-speed stuff or see it much better because they don't have to worry about the fastball. That was apparent in the top of the third. Even when he had an 1-2- count on pitcher Mike Leake, his curve came in flat and lay on a tee for Leake, who got a ground rule double to start the Reds' two-run rally.


I'd argue that if Freddy Sanchez is out for any real length of time, his injury would be just as devastating or more to the Giants' post-season hopes as Buster Posey's.

Sanchez has been a Gold Glove defender at second and the steadiest hitter on offense. He is the ultimate professional who makes playing second base look easy. He turns tough hops into easy ones just by his footwork and quickness to the ball; he makes every routine play and plenty of dazzling ones, ranges as far to the left as any second baseman out there. There is a total sense of security when the ball is hit to the right side: you know Sanchez will do the right thing on every play.

Defense up the middle is always considered key to the success of a team, and though calling a game from behind the plate can be considered the architectural blueprint to a defense, middle-infield defense is the actual infrastructure that holds the building together. A blueprint doesn't matter if the structure doesn't hold up.

Appeared headed to a .300 season at the plate and a sure bet All-Star, Sanchez had the knack for the big hit. Of the Giants nine walk-off wins, he had two of the walk-off hits. He's been the Giants No. 2 hitter for most of his tenure here, but he was hitting No. 3 when he got injured -- a testament to Bochy's reliance on him on offense.


The Reds' maltreatment of Lincecum put the performances of Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong's into a different light. The Reds have one of the more potent offenses, as they showed Saturday. But Bumgarner and Vogelsong held them to three runs in 13 innings (2.07 ERA).

Bumgarner was dominant in his outing, giving up only one run in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.12 (remember when he was in the 7s?). He embarrassed the Reds' best hitter, 2010 MVP Joey Votto, in his first two at bats, striking him out with nasty sliders and movement fastballs, breaking down his swing to awkward half-cuts.

Votto did get a single in his third at bat, so down the line when the Golden Voices are looking at matchups and see that Votto is hitting .400 (2-for-5 with 1 HR) against Bumgarner, don't be deceived. Bumgarner had his number. The home run Votto got off Maddy came in that infamous 12-11 Reds win last August. Votto was seeing a different Bumgarner at that point.

By the way, Votto is 2-for-9 against tonight's starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez.

Against the Reds on Friday night, Vogelsong didn't live up to the sharpness of his previous outings but did a yeoman's job in containing their potent offense and getting out of jams with minimum damage.

-- In the top of the second, he pitched through an error and infield single by inducing Paul Janish into a double play grounder.

-- In the third, with first and second and two outs, he got the dangerous Jay Bruce to fly out.

-- In the fourth, after a leadoff triple, a walk and a run-scoring single, he finished the inning allowing just the one run, getting out of it by striking out Janish, a sacrifice bunt, and with runners on second and third, striking out Drew Stubbs with a beautiful 93 MPH fastball that he buried in on his hands.

-- In the fifth, the Reds loaded the bases with no outs, but Vogelsong struck out Scott Rolen, gave up a run on a grounder to first and finished it by inducing an inning-ending groundout.

The Giants' eventual walk-off 3-2 win was generally attributed to the scoreless relief efforts of Jeremy Affeldt (what's he eating lately? His stuff is electric right now), Sergio Romo (he was throwing darts, striking out the side -- the first two with fastball paint on the corners, the last on his signature slider) and Brian Wilson.

But without Vogelsong's damage control job -- he had to work through difficulties in four of his six innings -- it wouldn't have mattered.

Vogelsong's ERA "jumped" from 1.68 to 1.81, and his record stood still at 4-1. He could have seven wins if the Giants had hit in his no-decisions (6 IP 2 ER; 5 IP 1 ER; 6 IP 0 ER)

Wilson is now tied for the team lead in wins with five, four of which have come in walkoffs. Talk about the ultimate vulture wins.


The Giants wouldn't have pulled out their ninth walk-off win without the walk.

The team with the third lowest on base percentage in the N.L. (.306) got three walks in the ninth inning before Nate Schierholtz came through with his game-winner.

Andres Torres did a great job of refraining from going after Reds' reliever Jose Arredondo's high fastballs. Each pitch was tempting, especially for a guy who could end the thing with a power swing.

After a Manny Burriss sacrifice bunt, Dusty Baker elected to intentionally walk Miguel Tejada, who had doubled twice earlier Friday and twice on Thursday -- his hottest two-game production yet for the Giants. After rookie Brandon Crawford struck out (hey, even that was a contribution -- he stayed out of a double play), Cody Ross walked on five pitches, setting up Schierholtz' dramatics.

It's no accident that Torres and Ross drew the key walks: they have the highest on-base percentages among regulars: .355 for Torres and .345 for Ross. And they came after Boss Bochy held a "round-table conversation" with hitters about not trying to take the whole load themselves.

Just keep the line moving, is all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brandon Crawford has arrived

The Kid had his debut moment a couple weeks ago with that splashy grand slam home run that picked up the despondent Giants when they seemed to be at rock bottom after losing Buster Posey.

But Brandon Crawford hadn't really arrived until Wednesday.

The rookie shortstop may have seized the starting role with his stellar performance in the Giants' 3-1 win in the rubber match of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. He's quieted the speculation over whether the Giants should pursue Jose Reyes. And he's probably sealed Miguel Tejada's fate.

All Crawford's skills were on full display on defense Wednesday -- or at least those that we're aware of. And his bat continues to defy expectation: he's answered skeptics, including me, who worried he could not hit at the major league level. He looks comfortable -- not at all overwhelmed like you might expect a kid with a .270 career minor league average, a kid who never played above the AA level (where he hit .250).

Crawford has shown a steadiness that belies his lack of experience, and on Wednesday, he ratcheted up his performance with absolute fearlessness and the kind of athleticism that we haven't seen in San Francisco since Omar Vizquel.

The 24-year old kid from Mountain View has got the look of a street ballplayer, a tough kid with style.

Crawford put on a show. On one play when the score was still tied 0-0 in the sixth, he ranged far to his right, pivoted from the 5 1/2 hole and with a quick sidearm release, gunned down a speedy Roger Bernadina.

In the seventh, with the potential game-tying run at second base, Crawford ranged far to his left to make a spectacular diving play. He fielded the ground ball after sprawling to the ground, popping up and making a strong throw to retire Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, with the runner, Michael Morse, only able to advance to third.

Morse later scored with two outs when Matt Cain -- in undoubtedly his strongest start of the year -- made perhaps his only mistake, a curve that hung out over the plate for Rick Ankiel to hammer to right field for an RBI double (evoking memories of Ankiel's game-winning home run for the Braves in the playoffs, and the hope that he isn't dealt to a team with playoff hopes later on).

None of the Giants' other shortstop options would have made either play, combining quickness, range and arm strength.

It all was enough to distinguish himself in a tight game, in which one mistake, one errant throw or ill-timed dive, could have resulted in more stress on Cain and quite possibly a different outcome.

And then Crawford did what none of the Giants big RBI men could do Wednesday (and in so many instances all year): come up with a big hit with a much needed potential run on base.

He'd already had a couple strong at bats: an infield single on a bouncing ball in the 3 1/2 hole, and a scorching line drive caught by an onrushing center fielder Bernadina, who had to reach up to catch it as it almost soared over his head.

When he came to bat in the bottom of the seventh, the Nationals had just tied the game, 1-1, and Cody Ross stood on at first base with two outs. Crawford worked the count full against left-hander Sean Burnett. Burnett, who was the closer for the Nationals earlier in the season, has not had a great season: he's 1-3 with a 5.96 ERA.

But against left-handed hitters, Burnett has been tough. He'd allowed only seven hits in 35 at bats, a .200 batting average. One of those was Aubrey Huff's bloop two-run single that was part of the Giants' 5-4 comeback, walk-off win on Monday.

On Burnett's 3-2 pitch to Crawford, a curve, there was no bloop or luck or nicely placed component to his hit. The Kid stayed back and put on a beautiful swing, powering a drive through the gap in right center for an RBI triple, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

It was the kind of hit that stamps a reputation: the left-handed hitter stood in nicely against a lefty, and he delivered in a big moment. As he stood on third, a calm confidence showed on his face. He had a swagger while standing still, if that's possible.

He scored when Eli Whiteside came up with his second big hit of the day, an RBI single to center, padding the lead to 3-1. Whiteside had doubled in the sixth, scoring on Cain's RBI double to break a scoreless tie.

Whiteside and Crawford were two players provided an opportunity when Posey went down. Whiteside is a stopgap measure behind the plate, and his big day came just at a time when talk was growing louder about whether the Giants needed to go outside the organization for a starting catcher.

That may be a process that has already left the station and Whiteside's days as a regular catcher may be limited (for one thing, his throwing arm is a terrible liability: he apparently has not recovered from the injury he suffered in Spring Training, his wild throws to second a huge red flag). For another, he's still hitting .190, even after his two-for-three day.

Crawford's future appears unlimited. After showing some early wildness on his throws, he's settled down on routine plays, which seems to have freed him up -- bolstered his confidence -- to make the spectacular play. The first real glimpse of that athleticism came Tuesday night on his sliding catch on a pop up right on the left field line after a long run, while averting a collision with third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

After the Giants' misjudgment on Tejada and experimentation with Mike Fontenot, there is little doubt that the right guy has arrived.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's hard to choose the best of Giants' walk-off wins

My mom had eight children, and when we would inevitably ask her which of us she loved the most, she'd say "I love you all equally and differently."

Kind of how I feel about all eight of the Giants' walk-off wins.

Each of those wins have invariably been described as the best one yet, in the same way we tend to think of the most current trend as the most interesting or modern baseball players as better than their predecessors. But if you look back at each of the Giants' dramatic finishes, as I did, you can't argue against any of 'em. They all had that can-you-believe-it factor, and they seemed to come in bunches.

April 8

The Giants defeated St. Louis 5-4 in 12 innings. It was the seventh game of the new season and home opener for the World Champions.

As is the case in several of the Giants' walk-off wins, it took some earlier drama to set up the late-game heroics.

Down 4-3 in the ninth inning, the Giants were down to their last out with no one on when Aaron Rowand singled to center field, keeping the Giants' hopes barely alive. Buster Posey walked, and Pablo Sandoval laced a single to right field for the game-tying RBI.

The Giants could have won the game in the 11th (another recurring theme in these games: the missed opportunities that essentially built  the suspense for the inevitable ending). They had a runner on third base with no outs (Andres Torres had doubled and stole third), but failed to get him home; and after Torres was thrown out at the plate on a fielders choice, the Giants wound up with the bases loaded when Mark DeRosa struck out.

Finally, in the 12th, they took care of business: With Tejada on first with a single and two outs, Torres reached base when the Cardinals' Albert Pujols inexplicably dropped a throw to first. The Cardinals walked Freddie Sanchez intentionally to get to Rowand, but Rowand drove home the game winner with a long single to left field.

"It's obvious we're not dropping torture," said Boss Bochy after the game. "We were looking at a tough loss there and these guys battled back."

The torture bit: SF had taken a 3-2 lead into the ninth when Ryan Theriot, on the 12th pitch, gave the Cards a 4-3 lead on a two-out, two-run single off Brian Wilson after he had him in an 0-2 count.

Dan Runzler got the vulture win.

"It reminded me of last year," he said.

April 9

The Giants defeated St. Louis late for a second straight game, 3-2, this time ending it in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Down 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had two runners on. Posey had gotten things going with a one-out single and Burrell drew a walk before Rowand flied out for the second out.

Miguel Tejada hit a long fly ball into the left center field alley. It looked like a home run off the bat, but then you saw center fielder Colby Rasmus closing in on it, and then you were resigned to the final out.

But just as he got to the fly ball, Rasmus seemed to shy away from it -- perhaps thinking that left fielder Jon Jay might collide with him -- and stuck his glove out hip level. It glanced off his glove, Tejada had a look of utter surprise, and the game was suddenly over.

Ramon Ramirez picked up the vulture victory, which was marred by the loss of Torres, who injured his Achilles Heel.

May 6

The Giants beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-3, coming back from a 3-0 deficit on Willie Mays' 80th birthday.

In the eighth, down 3-1, the Giants scored two to tie it. With two outs and Posey on first, Burell doubled Posey to third, and Nate Schierholtz -- remember that name! -- shot an opposite field line drive down the line past a diving third baseman Ian Stewart for a two-run double.

In the ninth, Cody Ross led off with a double down the right field line. And, with one out, Freddie Sanchez -- remember that name! -- hit a line drive single up the middle off reliever Felipe Paulino to bring home Ross.

"Happy birthday, Willie," Ross exclaimed after the game. "This is your birthday present."

Wilson got the first of four vulture wins, pitching a scoreless ninth.

"A lot of guys came through in some big situations," Sanchez said.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy had the bitter sound of a sore loser afterward: "We didn't do anything to lose the game. They just came back and won it. They had some good luck, in my opinion, with some well placed hits."

That's right. The Giants were lucky to win the World Series last year, and are still lucky to be winning all these close, drama-filled games.

May 7

The Giants beat the Rockies 3-2 the very next game with a game-winner in the bottom of the ninth.

They were up 2-0 before the Rockies tied it in the seventh. And then in the ninth, with Paulino out there again, the Giants got that feeling:

Rowand opened it up with a single to center; Sanchez singled to left. Tracy brought in lefty Franklin Morales to face lefty Mike Fontenot. But Morales (inexplicably?) uncorked his first pitch to the backstop, moving the runners up to second and third. Next pitch, Fontenot hit a fly ball deep enough to bring home the winning run.

Fontenot, who was filling in as the No. 3 hitter in momentarily supplanting Tejada at shortstop, had also made a spectacular catch on a Seth Smith line drive right at the edge of the outfield grass in the top of the ninth. Good thing because the Rockies got the next two on base before Wilson retired Dexter Fowler. Wilson got his second vulture win a half inning later.

"It's like last year -- there's magic inside," Fontenot said.

"It's similar to last year. We don't do anything easy," Bochy said.

In that game, Madison Bumgarner continued his stretch of winless starts to seven, though he threw well (6 IP, 1 ER).

May 9

For the third time in four games, the Giants waited until the end to strike with deadly timeliness, edging the Arizona Diamondbacks, 1-0.

Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy locked up in a 0-0 pitcher's duel over the first eight innings, without too many chances for either side.

In the ninth, with Kennedy gone, Posey walked to lead off. Darren Ford entered as a pinch runner and stole second. Aubrey Huff struck out, leaving the job to Ross, who singled down the third base line for the game-winner.

Who else got the vulture win? Wilson, of course. His third, on the shoulders of Lincecum, who threw eight shutout innings.

"We kind of have that fire going into those last innings knowing anything can happen. And stuff like this does, and it seems to happen to us quite a bit," Lincecum said.

May 20

The Giants beat the A's, 2-1 in the bottom of the 10 inning.

After scoring once in the first, the Giants went quiet as Trevor Cahill matched zeroes with Ryan Vogelsong.

In the bottom of the 10th, with lefty Brian Fuentes in and the game tied, 1-1, Manny Burriss led off with a single to left and was moved up on a bunt by Torres. The A's walked Sanchez intentionally to set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Huff, who foiled the strategy and won the game with a line drive single to right field.

"That's what this team does -- guys come through in the clutch," Huff said.

"Once you do it as much as this team does it, it comes a little easier," Burriss said.

Javier Lopez picked up the vulture win with a scoreless 10th.

May 22

Only two days later, the Giants did it again, only with a bit more flourish. They beat the A's 5-4 in 11, but had to come from behind a late deficit.

Down 4-2 in the eighth, after Tejada led off with a single to center and Fontenot flew out, Schierholtz capped an eight-pitch at bat with a two-run home run to tie the game off Grant Balfour. It was an electric moment -- one of a series that Nate has provided this year.

With one out in the 11th against Fuentes, Ford came through with single to right center field on an 0-2 pitch. He stole second, forcing A's manager Bob Geren to walk Posey intentionally -- the very natural move with Burriss due up.

Except Burriss had to keep up with his buddy Ford with a clutch hit, lacing a single to right field on the first pitch, sending Ford home with the winner. Ford has been out of action since after suffering a sprained ankle on the slide home.

Sergio Romo got the vulture win.

June 6

The Giants beat the Washington Nationals, 5-4, in 13 innings Monday night.

The Giants had to come from behind a 4-0 deficit -- the largest deficit of their eight walk-off wins. Aaron Rowand's solo home run in the seventh may have seemed to be a lone shot in the dark, but turned out to be the foghorn call to arms.

The three-run eighth-inning rally had some of those "well-placed" hits that embittered Rockies' manager Jim Tracy rued, not to mention some of that nicely timed good luck.

Sanchez started it all off with an ugly off-field bloop single. Ross followed with a double down the left field line. Then Huff cracked his bat and lofted a broken-winged fly ball that touched down near the right field line in front of the on-charging Jason Werth (deja vu moment: remember, he hit one in nearly the same spot to off Wilson win an extra-inning game against the Giants last year). Two runs scored easily to cut the lead to 4-3.

The hit broke an 0-for-13 string for Huff following his three home run game last week in St. Louis.

Rowand struck out but rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford kept the inning alive with a single to center field. Then, Nate the Great, with a 2-2 count, stroked one nicely off tough left-hander Henry Rodriguez into left field, sending Huff home. Huff got a good break off second and scored just ahead of the throw, tying the game and giving the Giants that look of inevitability again.

Inevitable or not, the Giants never make it easy. They had a shot to take the lead in that eighth inning with runners at second and third with two outs (Schierholtz had moved up on the throw home), but Burrell struck out.

They also had a chance in the ninth with runners at first and third and one out but failed.

And in the 10th, they had runners and first and second with two outs, but went down.

Finally in the 13th, they put together the right formula: a lead off walk to journeyman backup catcher Chris Stewart -- on four easy takes! After Lopez struck out, Torres lofted a single to right field. It was one of those keep-the-line-moving hits that Bochy preaches, so critical to rallies.

Tejada then hit a slow chopper to shortstop, hit just slow enough to allow Tejada to beat it out and keep the rally going. With runners at first and third, two outs, Sanchez took a 1-1 curve the other way, a line drive single up the right field line to finish things.

Lopez got the vulture win, though he had to pitch out of a bases loaded jam in the 12th and through the tough, power part of the Nationals' lineup in the 13th.


The Giants keep promising to start scoring early so they can avoid the heartburn, but they also seem to thrive on keeping games close and responding late. The burden of all this is that the Giants now are expected to pull out late victories every time. It's more of a shock when they don't than when they do.

Who among us didn't believe that the Giants would pull out a win Tuesday night? With Huff, Schierholtz and Brandon Crawford due up, the Giants down, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth, the ballpark air (and airwaves) thick with anticipation.

Alas, magic can't be summoned like an order at a restaurant. It rarely comes forth when expected.