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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Anyone still critical of the Melky Cabrera-Jonathan Sanchez deal?

Any more holdouts on the Jonathan Sanchez-Melky Cabrera deal?

If you are one of them, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask if it's just that you can't fathom giving Giants' general manager Brian Sabean credit for anything he does right.

Because Sabean was right on this one. Cabrera is the real deal. His 200-plus hit season in 2011 was no aberration. He can hit, and it looks like he thrives on pressure situations. His leadoff double in the Giants' seventh -- the first hit by a non-pitcher off Anthony Bass -- sparked the winning rally in a game that the Giants really needed.

They were on the verge of losing a series to the lowly Padres and sending starter Tim Lincecum to an excruciating defeat at a time when he was just beginning to build up his confidence.

After his leadoff double -- off a rare mistake, a changeup that stayed up -- Cabrera would have to wait through two poor at bats by Pablo Sandoval (shallow pop fly) and Buster Posey (strikeout) before fortunes turned around for the Giants: Nate Schierholtz' infield single made possible by a throw that took the first baseman off the bag by an inch; and then Brandon Belt's inspiring, Will Clark-like heroics, a thing-of-beauty opposite field line drive that split the gap in left-center and drove home two runs in the Giants' 2-1 win.

Lincecum and Santiago Casilla made it all stand up by shutting down the Padres in the tense, spine-tingling eighth and ninth innings, building on a developing theme that the Giants still have the ability to win the close ones.

None of this amounts to a bale of hay if not for Cabrera's two spectacular catches -- on successive, nearly identical, over-the-shoulder, on-the-run plays near the wall -- that saved Lincecum from a potentially damaging fourth inning.

Already down 1-0 and completely stifled by Bass (who kept the Giants off the bases until two outs in the sixth), the Giants could ill afford a Padres rally at that point.

It would have buried the Giants.

For one, they didn't look at all capable of solving Bass, a relatively new guy on the scene who pitched like a veteran with an assortment of 94 MPH fastballs, 82 MPH changeups and drop sliders that had the Giants flailing. Two of them -- Posey and Angel Pagan --were so fooled, they swung out from underneath their helmets. The only hard-hit balls were a Brandon Crawford scorcher to first and Belt's long fly out to the edge of the warning track in left-center.

But, more important, Lincecum was still on tenterhooks. He'd come into the game with an ERA near 9.00, and though he'd won his last start, it was by the narrowest margins. Remember, he was on the verge of being pulled with one out in the fifth in his last start before a spectacular double play (the great back-hand grab and flip by second baseman Manny Burriss and the equally athletic pivot and throw by shortstop Crawford) bailed him out of a bases loaded jam and gave him the bare minimum innings to qualify for a win.

And that was on top of two horrific first starts that had fans going through another round of angst over whether the Freak had lost it.

Lincecum still hasn't discovered his big fastball. He topped 90 MPH only a handful of times Friday. But he threw with guile, using confidence as a weapon, hitting corners with his slider, keeping the Padres off balance with a nice blend of fastballs and change-ups. His mechanics and rhythm, so essential to his success, were there for him.

Still, he had to escape jams in the second and third innings, facing a one-out first and second situation in the second and a one-out bases loaded quandary in the third. Somehow, he limited the Padres to a single run, and though it was heartening to see Lincecum come through relatively unscathed, you still held your breath on every pitch.

Enter Cabrera. In the fourth, with one out, Cameron Maybin, only 3-for-17 against Lincecum lifetime, got ahold of an 88-MPH fastball up and drove one toward the wall in left field. On a full sprint, Cabrera took a perfectly direct route, angling sharply at a 140 degree angle, and caught up to the ball, right arm fully extended aloft as he felt the dirt of the warning track under his feet.

Lincecum raised his right forefinger to the sky in a you-da-man salute, and three pitches later, decided to see if Cabrera was really for real.

Andy Parrino, the Padres talented young left-handed hitting shortstop, hit another long fly ball, almost precisely to the same point, but maybe even further toward the gap and away from Cabrera. No mind, Cabrera got another great jump, and rode out another perfect angle to the ball and again extended full-out at full-gallop to prove that the first play was no fluke.

Lincecum could hardly believe it, his look of utter anxiety melting into a big, relieved smile and shake of the head. He knew he'd dodged a big one and that he was in Cabrera's debt.

He paid it off by retiring nine of the next 10 hitters he faced, keeping the game close into the bottom of the seventh, and then, after his offensive bro's provided two runs, turning in a shutdown eighth on pure emotion and adrenaline.

Only two days earlier, Cabrera's defense played a critical part in the Giants' 6-5 comeback win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds had just stretched their lead to 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a Scott Rolen home run (after grooving Rolen two off-speed pitches for HRs in that series, the Giants should stick with major league fastballs against the aging mistake-hitter next time they face him).

When the next hitter, Drew Stubbs hit that drive to deep left field that glanced off Cabrera's glove against the wall, the Reds appeared poised for the kind of rally that would secure a win -- and sweep. Stubbs, one of the major leagues' fastest ballplayers, took off for third when the ball bounded away from Cabrera. But Cabrera quickly got to the ball and threw a cannon shot to third, easily nailing a stunned Stubbs for the second out of the inning.

Joey Votto's double was like a tree falling in the forest, setting up the dramatics of Angel Pagan's three-run, game-winning home run in the ninth. Though Cabrera went only 1-for-5 in that game, the Giants' clubhouse knew that Cabrera had the biggest assist of the game.

Cabrera may not be that home run threat that some fans wished the Giants had. He doesn't command the national attention accorded mega-watt superstars: he's not imposing physically -- he's list at 6 feet tall but he can't be more than 5-feet-10-inches -- and he's not controversial or overly quotable.

But there's a reason the New York Yankees made him a regular at 21. He has that indefinable quality of quiet confidence, and the athleticism that gets the job done consistently if not spectacularly. He appears to be unwavering in the face of pressure. Starting center field for the Yankees at age 21 is not a bad apprenticeship for a career in a pressure-packed profession.

Sabean got it right in bringing Cabrera here. You don't have to look at Sanchez' early season struggles to know that. Just in case you do, here are the ugly numbers: in four starts, the former Giant lefty has a 6.75 ERA in 17.1 innings. He's failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning. In his last start, Sanchez walked seven in 4.2 innings (does that sound familiar?); in all he's walked 17 in 17.1 innings.

It doesn't look like Sanchez has grown out of his ponderous, spacey ways, if he ever will.

But, in Cabrera, who's a veteran of six years at the ripe age of 27, the Giants have a star in the making.  Sabean needs to complete the deal by extending Cabrera's contract well into the future.



  1. Was ANYONE ever critical of the JSanchez/Cabrera deal? (Any Giants fan, that is!)

    A week later, Cabrera's worth is even MORE apparent. What a play in the 10th inning!

    ...but oh, Timmy's problems continue. I (sadly) would like a post from you just on this subject.

    Hope the unpacking is almost done, Steven, and you can get back to more frequent posts

  2. Steve, I know you moved into a new house, but, what happened? Did you give up on us? This is the former Paul NorthernCal. I've missed your perspective.

    Are you in the midst of a lot of honeydew projects?

  3. You ever going to update this blog?