Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chronology for Christmas

In the generous spirit of Christmastime giving, we joyfully share with you one of our long-delayed projects: a year-by-year chronology of every San Francisco Giants team from 1965, our first year of fandom, all the way to the 2012 World Champions.

Visit the page "48 Years of San Francisco Giants Teams" and be, by turns, enthralled, appalled, engaged, and enraged. Watch as those names from the past come to life and stroll or stumble across verdant ballfields of memory. Sputter with coffee-flavored indignation at our indefensible choice of  "Best Player" for 1975. Allow the nostalgic memory of names like Dick Schofield, Ken Reitz, Enos Cabell, and Dave LaPoint to overwhelm your senses.  Bask in the warm glow of certainty that as San Francisco Giants fans, you adopt and cherish a baseball legacy like no other.

'Tis better to give than to receive. And it sure beats worrying about whether the Niners can still earn a first-round bye in the upcoming NFL playoffs. You're welcome.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

America! America!

This short piece by  Kent G. Powderly, Jr., sums it up well.

Move over, Greece, here we come.

While doubtless there is significant vote fraud afoot, one cannot fight momentum forever, as decay sets in and an under-educated electorate grows ever more susceptible to the American Mediocracy (pun intended), which  flexes ever more monotonously to the engine of "47000 repetitions equals one truth."

Our civilization bought into the absolute that there are no absolutes two generations ago, and the mechanical result is a nation full of people who cannot connect the dots of cause-and -effect. Our civilization cannot possibly last under these conditions.

We imagined that we could cut the soul out of our culture and still have enough common sense for fiscal conservatism to save us, while we allowed the death of family, marriage, and sanctity of human life, forgetting that the loss of those ethics is what creates the rot that costs all the money to begin with. We wrung our hands to the whining mantra of "we can't legislate morality" while we closed our eyes to the self-evident fact that law, by definition, is legislated morality. Now a weak relativistic morality will cement in tyrannical law, because it can do nothing else.

But that's okay. Thinking Christians who know what they believe, and why, have shepherded individuals through the collapse of vast civilizations before. Except this time the barbarians have 21st century technology.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

As we celebrate the Giants' 2012 World Championship and budding dynasty, take a moment to review the regular-season highlights and lowlights that brought us to the brink of glory, on our brand-new page "That Was the Year That Was." Savor every moment of it, folks, in the irrepressible spirit of the one and only Sergio Romo. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series over the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep. Last night's 4-3 clincher in ten innings followed Saturday's 2-0 victory in Game Three, both played at chilly Comerica Park in Detroit. For the second time in three seasons, the Giants are World Champions. SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!

Sergio Romo struck out Miguel Cabrera a few minutes before midnight last night to record the final out of the Series and send the Giants dugout and clubhouse into wild, exuberant celebration once again. A different ballpark, a different part of the country, a lot of new faces in the mix, but an awfully familiar sight all of a sudden. It appears we Giants fans, especially those of us who have been at this for awhile, are going to have to adjust to a new reality, a new way of thinking about our beloved team-- not just as they relate to us, but as they relate to baseball. By winning two World Championships in the space of three years, the Giants have exited the baseball 'ghetto' they inhabited far too long; no more is this a Little Team That Could (and Did), but a bonafide player on the big-league stage, on the order of the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Red Sox, with their own distinct identity, style of play, fan base, and latent bandwagon following. The San Francisco Giants have arrived, in a manner this club has not experienced since the 1920s, and don't be surprised if "GiantsNation" merchandise and media become a regular fixture in the modern sports-obsessed culture.

Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain set the tone for each of the last two games, and if neither was at his absolute best in his start, both did exactly what they were needed to do: take the game deep into the late innings with the Giants ahead or tied, and turn things over to the bullpen and the game's most resilient lineup. Both worked fine, and as the zeroes mounted on the Detroit side of the scoreboard, the pressure steadily increased on the Tigers. That they finally responded, in Game Four, is testament to their toughness and talent, but that the response was too little and too late is testament to the Giants'.

Series MVP Pablo Sandoval stood above the four games like a smiling colossus. His awe-inspiring three-homer barrage in Game One set the tone for a Series in which the Giants, not the Tigers, would bring the wood (they outscored Detroit 16-6 over the set). Overall he finished at. 500, with three runs scored, four RBI, and a 1.125 slugging average. Less visibly, he handled six chances in the field without error, and half of those were superb plays on hard-hit balls.

Which brings us to what is typically the least-considered attribute of any baseball team, championship or otherwise. Years ago, Bill James observed, "A great deal of what we call 'pitching' is, in fact, 'defense.' " Perhaps the 2012 World Series will serve to show just how important airtight defense is, and how it can make the difference between a 'dominating' and 'disappointing' start for the pitcher. While the Tigers, like the Giants, made only one error in the field in this Series, is there any doubt the Giants' timely, heads-up play in the field made a huge difference? If there was a 'stealth MVP' among us, it had to be Brandon Crawford. It's not just the 22 chances he handled and the three double plays he made. Time and again Crawford was in perfect position to handle a hard-hit ball; time and again his outstanding throwing arm made the difference between an infield base hit and just another trip to the dugout. This 2011 spring non-roster invitee, who made the club only because of Juan Uribe's and Edgar Renteria's departures, whom as recently as May we were castigating for his league-leading errors total-- Brandon Crawford arrived as a big-time big-league shortstop in this postseason, and is now a key player in the Giants' plans moving forward. While we salute Crawford, let's also note Marco Scutaro had similar numbers over at second, Gregor Blanco's tremendous speed and instincts saved several outs, and both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence were absolutely reliable. Forgetting anyone? Yes, Brandon Belt, whose steady presence and Hoover glove are either making us remember, or making us forget, J.T. Snow. Which one it is may depend on your level of giddiness this morning, Dear Reader. For lest we forget, THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!


Vogelsong went five and two-thirds shutout innings Saturday night; Bruce Bochy, aware of how many innings have been piling up in these pitchers' arms, was quicker with the pre-emptive hook than he had been in the NLCS. The Tigers had their chances early on; with two on and one out in both the second and third innings, Scutaro, Crawford, and Belt engineered perfect double plays each time. In the fifth, Detroit finally got all their ducks in a row as Quintin Barry walked to load the bases for the mighty Cabrera, the major leagues' first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Vogelsong got him on a inning-ending popup to Crawford, and that was it for the Tiger offense that night.

In the sixth, "Vogey" issued a two-out walk after two hard-hit balls right at Giants defenders; in came Tim Lincecum, who once again found the World Series to be his particular playground. He rolled through the seventh and eighth, allowing one walk and no hits while striking out three. Romo pitched a perfect ninth, and Vogelsong, who really ought to be hearing from Hollywood right about now, had the World Series win he'd dreamed about, he confessed after the game, since age five. His opposing number, the somewhat eccentric righthander Anibal Sanchez, essentially matched Vogey's numbers over six innings. His problem was he pitched seven, and the second inning killed him and his team. Gregor Blanco's monster triple to deep right scored Hunter Pence, who had led off the frame with a walk, bless his free-swinging heart, and Blanco came in to score on the ubiquitous Crawford's two-out single to center. The rest of the way the Giants had no more success against Sanchez than the Tigers had against Vogelsong, but those two runs held up, and as the Giants strutted off the field with a 3-0 lead in games, learned commentators from Cap St Ignace to Imperial Beach noted the Tigers had been held scoreless for eighteen consecutive innings and had yet to take the lead any any time in this fast-disappearing Fall Classic.

That all changed last night. Lord knows, we have our own issues with storms at the moment, as Hurricane Sandy threatens to send these bits 'n' bytes cartwheeling into the vapor before we can post them for your enjoyment. But some sort of storm was blowing through Detroit last night, too: flags on the roof stretched tight and snapping like whips, garbage swirling through the dugouts, balls catching the jet stream and flying over the fence.... shades of Candlestick! Cain certainly didn't need to be reminded of the Tiger lineup's latent power, waiting to strike, and he didn't let it particularly bother him when it did, but it ensured Santiago Casilla would get the win, and not Matty. The bundled-up Detroit fans were raising a terrific din before the first pitch, convinced that a win tonight would turn things around with Justin Verlander set to make a second start in Game Five. Certainly the Giants had no interest in finding out. And when Tigers starter Max Scherzer blew through the top of the Giants' order with a ten-pitch first inning, it sent the rally-towel-waving multitudes into a frenzy.

"Here we go again," those multitudes seemed to sigh just minutes later, after Hunter Pence's towering shot to center in the second hopped the fence for a ground-rule double and Brandon Belt's drive into the right-field corner went for a RBI triple. But Scherzer stranded Belt without further incident, and, like Sanchez the previous night, he settled down and matched Cain through six. Unlike Sanchez, Scherzer finally got some support from his dormant teammates. In the third, Austin Jackson drew a one-out walk and was sacrificed to second. Cabrera hacked at a 1-1 changeup and faded it like a nine-iron to right; Pence's initially confident look was replaced by a steady, then frantic, backpedal until he was against the fence and the ball in the seats. The crowd roared like an angry sea as Cabrera rounded the bases with Detroit's first lead of the series.

That lead lasted two innings. Detroit had a chance to extend it in the fifth on Omar Infante's leadoff single. With two out, Berry dribbled one to the right side of the mound; Cain's ungainly leap avoided Sandoval, whose bare-hand pickup and throw would have been too late had the fleet Berry chosen to leg it out. Instead, like so many others, Berry dove for the first-base bag, sacrificing his speed for-- what? For nothing! Belt made the putout, and instead of first and second with Cabrera at the plate, the Tigers were out of the inning. Any chance this example will stop the headlong-dive-into-first silliness? Not likely, we're afraid. Well, in top of the sixth, Marco Scutaro beat out an infield hit (the type of infield hit the Tigers were unable to beat out on multiple occasions). One out later Buster Posey launched a rocket high and deep into the left-field seats, and for all the world it seemed as though this would be The Hit That Won The World Series. But in the bottom of the same inning Delmon Young hit Cain's first pitch on a straight line into the same right-field seats Cabrera had breached. The game was tied, and when the Giants threatened to untie it in the seventh, Jim Leyland went to his bullpen. The same guys, Drew Smyly and Octavio Dotel, whom the Giants had bedeviled in Game Two teamed up to shut down the budding rally. This ensured Cain's strong seven innings would not result in a win for the Giants' ace.

Jeremy Affeldt, one of four southpaws in the Giants' bullpen, doesn't get a lot if ink, but anyone who strikes out five men over two innings late in a tied World Series game, as Affeldt did in the eighth and ninth last night, deserves his own sentence, don't you think? Phil Coke, the Tigers' closer, matched Affeldt in the ninth, but in the top of the tenth Ryan Theriot, Bochy's DH for the night, opened with a single. Up went the tension level. Crawford laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Angel Pagan had first shot at the Series-winning RBI, but Coke fanned him on four pitches. That meant it had to be Scutaro; given the green light on a 3-1 pitch, "Blockbuster"  dropped a soft single into center. Jackson came up throwing, but Theriot, the man Scutaro replaced in the starting lineup, slid across the plate with the winning run as Scutaro alertly took second. That's our Giants! Romo needed fifteen pitches to strike out the side in the tenth, including the called third strike that fooled Cabrera, ended the 2012 campaign, and set the Giants into the obligatory on-field celebration.

Cain, Romo, Lincecum, Affeldt, Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Guillermo Mota already have World Series rings, as do Posey, Sandoval, and the almost-forgotten Aubrey Huff. That leaves thirteen Giants who weren't here in 2010; one of them, Theriot, celebrates his second straight championship, having played a key role for the Cardinals last year. So here we call the roll for the Giants' new world champions: Ryan Vogelsong, Brandon Crawford, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Xavier Nady, Hector Sanchez, Joaquin Arias, George Kontos, and Jose Mijares. Gentlemen and Giants! You're all World Champions!

And so are we all. Those great teams of the 1960s, the team of the decade, the '3-M' Giants, never experienced this. The "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" team never made it this far. The Bill Terry-Mel Ott-Carl Hubbell Giants of the thirties had the talent, but couldn't repeat because they couldn't beat the Yankees. The San Francisco Giants of the 2010s are worthy successors to John McGraw's New York Giants, the greatest team of the past century's first 20 years, the only National League team ever to play in four straight World Series. Whether or not this team can match that feat in a 15-team league with two postseason elimination rounds, the San Francisco Giants today are playing at a level of success none of us has ever seen, and to which we bear witness now.

The San Francisco Giants are World Champions...


Friday, October 26, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers, 2-0, in Game Two of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park last night. The Giants now lead the Series two games to none as the scene shifts to Comerica Park in Detroit tomorrow evening, and they are halfway to their second World Championship in three years.

It's all a little too much right now for the Giants and their fans, isn't it? We are so inured to longsuffering and losing, that we are only now somewhat belatedly realizing this team is not just a one-year wonder, but a seasoned group perfectly capable of competing year-in and year-out with anybody, and one that can turn on a dime from scrappy underdogs and Comeback Kids into a well-oiled machine able to win any type of game under any circumstance. But it is our Giants, it really is, and perhaps the small weird undercurrents that seem to pop up in every game-- batted and thrown balls hitting the bag, a broken bat with a mind of its own, .097 hitters getting the better of Cy Young Award winners-- are reality checks, reminding us these are not impostors wearing our beloved orange and black, but the Real Deal, a group of ballplayers who, for the time being anyway, have set aside everything else in their lives to accomplish this singular and difficult feat together.

Madison Bumgarner, rested and ready, was back in mid-season form from the start last night, fanning Austin Jackson to start the game and finishing with seven shutout innings of two-hit eight-K ball. Faced with an equally strong performance from Detroit's redoubtable Dan Fister, the Giants reverted to "small ball," with a 30-foot bunt, a double-play grounder, and a little plate patience producing two runs, just enough to win. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo were perfect in the eighth and ninth, and if this turns out to be the last game played at the 'Bell this year, the SRO multitudes certainly got their money's worth and more.

The two most memorable plays of the game occurred in the second inning. After Bumgarner's up-and-in fastball plonked Prince Fielder leading off the frame, Delmon Young ripped a double into the left-field corner and the usually-reliable Gregor Blanco had trouble corralling it. Tigers' third-base coach Gene Lamont excitedly windmilled the ponderous Fielder around third, but while Blanco's strong relay overthrew cutoff man Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, over from second base, was there to take the peg and cut down Fielder at the plate, Buster Posey's sweeping tag nailing Prince on his trailing foot. Lamont may be criticized for ignoring the 'book' and forcing the first out of the inning at home plate-- but the way "Bum" was pitching, it looks like a sensible decision in hindsight. Detroit didn't come close to scoring again.

For a long time it appeared the Giants might not either, and that's due to the 6-foot-8 Fister and his arsenal of pitches. But it almost ended for Fister in that same second inning, when, with one on and two out, Blanco scorched a liner up the middle that Fister deflected into center field for a base hit. Except for the umpire and catcher Gerald Laird, no one immediately realized Fister hadn't clipped the ball with his glove or even his pitching hand, but with the right side of his skull! Terrifying memories of Ray Chapman in 1920 and Herb Score in 1955 accompanied the excruciating, endless slow-motion replays that no doubt are still being shown on ESPN as we type. Amazingly, and blessedly, thankfully, Fister was OK, and after a few anxious moments-- "San Francisco. Game Two. Two on, two out," were some of his overheard responses to questions from his trainer, manager Jim Leyland, and the umpire-- he resumed his duty, and soon was out of the inning despite issuing a walk to load the bases.

The Giants' latest bizarre-base-hit-of-the-day receded into memory as Fister and Bumgarner settled into a real pitchers' duel and Giants fans, fat and happy after the 28-4 steamrollering of the last four games, began to realize we could lose this game as easily as we could win it. Detroit lost another man on the bases when "Bum" picked Omar Infante off first in the fourth, and Fister retired twelve Giants in a row through the middle innings. It became apparent that the best chance to win involved getting Fister out of there, and it didn't look too promising when Leyland let him bat in the sixth. But after slumping Hunter Pence singled to open the seventh, Leyland somewhat surprisingly brought the hook, in the person of rookie southpaw Drew Smyly. Bruce Bochy left his lefthanded swingers in there, and Brandon Belt worked Smyly for a walk. With nobody out, Blanco then laid a bunt down the third-base line, Tigers hovering, waiting for it to roll foul as it trickled, then positively oozed to a dead stop in fair territory. Bases loaded now, and Leyland set his infield at double-play depth. Smyly got the DP from Brandon Crawford, but Pence scored, and the way things were going one run seemed enough. It's debatable whether Infante at second could have forced Pence at home if they'd been pulled in, and we'll never know.

After Casilla had ably succeeded "Bum" in the top of the eighth, the Giants added a run in the bottom without benefit of a hit. Angel Pagan led off with a walk, then won all of America a free taco by stealing second, the first theft of the Series. With one out, Leyland had Smyly walk Sandoval intentionally to set up the double play with Posey at the plate, and brought in our old friend, Octavio Dotel, to do the honors. Dotel, though, issued a most unintentional walk to Posey, loading 'em up, and Pence then shot a high fly ball to medium-deep right, enough to score Pagan. The ever-ebullient Romo, fresh off his mid-game interview with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his first World Series save.

Game Three Saturday night in Detroit will see Ryan Vogelsong take the mound for the Giants against Anibal Sanchez, with Matt Cain scheduled to face Max Scherzer in Game Four Sunday night. The Tigers have only two lefthanders on their staff-- Smyly and closer Phil Coke-- so it's righty-versus-righty for now. With five quality starts in a row, allowing only four runs in those games, the San Francisco starting pitchers have gone a long way toward re-establishing the dominant posture that carried them past Texas two years ago. But last night revealed the importance of the Giants' bullpen. Detroit simply doesn't have the depth there to win consistently in a series of close games, and we can take heart in knowing that as long as our starters keep us in the game through five, the Giants will have the clear advantage.

San Francisco, despite her eccentric reputation, always has been a strong military town, and last night's pregame recognition of America's veterans was most welcome. A handful of ballplayers who served in World War II were honored, and a brave young Marine who has endured triple amputations threw out the ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by, among others, 81-year-old Willie Mays. October in SF is always marked by the Navy's "Fleet Week", and the Blue Angels swooped in for the obligatory flyover. Plenty of singing during the National Anthem and "God Bless America" further proved that old-fashioned patriotism remains alive and well in the City... "I didn't see stars," Fister noted after surviving the pitcher's worst nightmare with remarkable aplomb, but given the Brandon McCarthy situation, we do hope the Tigers will convince Fister to get a CAT scan today or something... Lamont, who once managed the Chicago White Sox to a division title, told reporters after the game that, given another chance, he'd have held Fielder at third... Capsule story of the game, from a Detroit perspective: Romo gets the last out as Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera stands in the on-deck circle. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers, 8-3, at AT&T Park last night in Game One of the 2012 World Series.

Pablo Sandoval tied a Series record with not one, not two, but three mighty home runs, capping a 4-for-4 night that utterly bedeviled Detroit ace Justin Verlander and staked Barry Zito to his first World Series win. Zito was sharp and economical in his 81-pitch six-inning effort; his best frames were the third, fourth, and fifth, during which the Giants scored five runs, chased Verlander, and established their dominance. Tim Lincecum took over and was unhittable for two; by the time the Tiger sluggers finally found their hitting shoes, it was the ninth inning and they hadn't enough outs to spare.

The Giants greeted Verlander in much the same manner as they welcomed Cliff Lee, then of Texas, in the 2010 Series opener. Generally regarded as the top starter in the game, Verlander, who shares with us the distinction of having been born in our beloved Old Dominion, relied less on his 99-MPH fastball than on his breaking balls and changeups over a brief (for him) four-inning stint. There were two out, nobody on, and Sandoval in a 0-2 hole as Verlander attempted to close out the first inning with a big-time heater up and in. Pablo, whose name and nickname FOX-TV commentator Tim McCarver would soon conflate into "Pandavol", turned on it quick and walloped it 411 feet over the right-center-field wall.

If nothing else, this Giants club is setting the pace when it comes to weird doubles. The play that "tipped" the game in our favor came with two out and nobody on in the third. Angel Pagan grounded one down the third base line; Detroit's Miguel Cabrera could only watch, astonished, as the ball caromed off the bag and ricocheted toward left-center field. Pagan, directed by alert first-base coach Roberto Kelly, streaked around first and into second. Marco Scutaro, picking up right where he left off in the NLCS, singled to left, Pagan scoring for a 2-0 lead. At this point, Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, perhaps shoved bodily out of the dugout by manager Jim Leyland, somewhat gingerly approached the mound, Verlander giving him a long, baleful stare. "What the @#$%&! are you doing here?" was the greeting, and in any case the conference had little effect. Sandoval, who, if you'll remember, belted a bases-loaded triple off Verlander in the first inning of the All-Star Game back in July, this time took an outside fastball high and deep over the left-field wall, and now it was 4-0.

The final insult came in the fourth. Verlander appeared to have escaped penalty for a leadoff walk to Brandon Belt by fanning Gregor Blanco and getting Brandon Crawford on a fielder's choice. The play advanced Belt to second, but Bruce Bochy let Zito, who was cruising with a four-run lead, bat for himself. The career .097 hitter had fanned helplessly in the third, but on a 2-2 fastball he cued a single through the hole into left as Belt scored for a 5-0 lead. Few would have blamed Leyland if at this point he'd requested a game stoppage to check under the turf for leprechauns.

"Pandavol" launched his third, and mightiest, blast off the wonderfully-named Al Albuquerque in the fifth, a towering drive to the deepest part of the ballpark that tied him with Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols as the only men to hit three homers in a World Series game. The Tigers, who had left two on in the first but were otherwise helpless against Zito, finally got on the board in the sixth when Cabrera's single scored Austin Jackson, who'd led off with a double. After Prince Fielder lined out to left-- Blanco making his second excellent diving catch of the game-- and Delmon Young singled, Bochy had seen enough. Zito clearly wanted a chance to finish the sixth, but in came "The Freak", who went 3-2 on Jhonny (sic) Peralta, then fanned him with one of his maddening changeups. It was like that through the seventh and eighth; all told Lincecum faced seven batters and struck out five, allowing the occasional loud foul.

Four straight hits--Pagan's second double, Scutaro's second single, Sandoval's fourth hit of the night, and a slump-busting base hit by Buster Posey -- off the struggling Jose Valverde-- the erstwhile Detroit closer who gave up ninth-inning homers to Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez in Game One of the ALCS-- in the seventh put two more runs in the Giants' column and officially moved the game to rout status. In the ninth, Bochy replaced lefty Jose Mijares with righty George Kontos after one out and immediately wished he hadn't. Peralta's two-run homer made it 8-3, and with two out in came Jeremy Affeldt to throw one pitch, which pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago grounded to Crawford for a game-ending force at second.

Madison Bumgarner makes his return to the land of the living tonight; after ten full days' rest, the young lefty will start Game Two against Doug Fister, who was lights-out brilliant in the ALCS. McCarver noted last night the Tigers' unimpressive record against southpaw starters, and perhaps that factored into Bochy's decision. More likely, Lincecum's stellar relief record has made him so valuable in the second line that "Bum" was the only logical choice. As we noted awhile back, Bumgarner was much more effective in the regular season at the 'Bell than on the road; yes, we also saw that didn't help him at all against Cincinnati. Still, the Giants' main corps of relievers were not needed last night, thus giving Bochy the option of a short leash tonight. What's needed from Bumgarner is what was needed from Zito: go the minimum five, avoid early trouble, keep the team in the game halfway. Zito, of course, grandly exceeded those expectations in his last two starts; if "Bum" can meet the minimum requirements, things could work out well tonight. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the St Louis Cardinals, 9-0, at AT&T Park last night, and won the National League Championship Series, four games to three. WHOOP! WHOOP!

Rallying from a three-games-to-one deficit to win in seven, these Giants may have pulled off the most one-sided turnaround of any series ever. In the last three games they outscored St Louis 20-1, and when you add in the three-game back-from-the-dead rally against Cincinnati in the division series, the Giants have now won six consecutive games in which they faced immediate elimination. To top it off, Game Seven by rule has been a death trap for the franchise since the World Series of 1924; this is the first Game Seven ever to be won by the Giants, whether in San Francisco or in New York, and they did it in the middle of a sudden ninth-inning rainstorm that bothered fans and players not one bit.

Speaking of World Series, it will be the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers in the 108th rendition of the Fall Classic, beginning tomorrow night at the 'Bell. The two venerable franchises have over 200 years of baseball history between them, but have never met in the Series. Until now.

While Matt Cain earned his second win of the postseason and carried a shutout deep into the sixth inning, and while the bullpen-- principally Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo-- preserved both win and shutout, last night truly belonged to the no-name heroes of the Giants' lineup, to guys like Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco and, of course, to the 2012 NLCS MVP, Marco Scutaro. Evidently feeling no pain at all from his twisted hip suffered in the collision with Matt Holliday a week ago, "Scoot" finished at an even .500, with 14 hits including three doubles, six runs scored, and 4 RBI. If there was a play to be made, he made it-- including Holliday's infield popup that settled into his glove shortly after 8 PM local time for the final out. This guy wasn't even on the roster at the All-Star break, and he arrived unnoticed by everyone except his teammates; after all, media attention was focused on the LA Dodgers and their blockbuster multi-player pennant-chasing deal with Boston. That's why his teammates call him "Blockbuster," and there's no more apt tribute to the Giants and the way they approach, and win, this magnificently frustrating game.

It was over quickly. Kyle Lohse had dodged a few bullets back in Game Three and escaped with a no-decision; last night's fusillade drove him to a loss in just two innings. In the first, singles by Angel Pagan and the inevitable Scutaro produced a run on Pablo Sandoval's tricky comebacker, which Lohse sensibly converted to a fielder's choice. Blanco singled and took second on a slow grounder in the second; Cain himself punched a two-out single into center for the third Giant pitcher's RBI of the series and a 2-0 lead. Then came the eleven-batter, reality-defying third, which seemed to encapsulate the Giants' whole postseason (and may have caused a brief drop in attendance at AA functions back in the Gateway City).

It started off with Scutaro, or as we like to call him, "single to left." Sandoval boomed an opposite-field double down the line; Holliday's alert fielding held Scutaro at third. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist went out either to encourage Lohse or to stall for time; regardless, Lohse walked Buster Posey on a 3-2 pitch and Mike Matheny went and got him. Reliever Joe Kelly entered the lions' den and was greeted by one of the most bizarre occurrences ever seen on a baseball field. Willing to trade a run for a double-play ball, Kelly got his wish as Hunter Pence chopped a grounder toward short, his bat shattering as he made contact. The flying head of the bat, severed from its handle, struck the ball twice more as the various objects sailed across the infield. Pete Kozma, who had instinctively taken a step to his right at the crack, suddenly saw the ball curve past him to his left and roll out to center field where Jon Jay, perhaps fearing radioactivity, overran it. All three runners scored and Pence stood at second, beneficiary of the most unlikely double ever seen around these parts. Brandon Belt's bouncer up the middle was deflected by the well-intentioned Kelly away from both Kozma and Daniel Descalso; all hands safe. Blanco walked to load the bases a second time. Brandon Crawford grounded one behind second; Kozma made the stop but had no play as Pence scored. Loaded again, and still nobody out. Kelly then fanned Cain, and Pagan hit another one to Kozma, who lobbed to Descalso, whose throw to first was late as Belt scored. Scutaro, up for the second time, walked to load 'em yet again, and after Matheny brought Jose Mijares in as the inning's third pitcher, Sandoval lined one to Allen Craig at first to end it.

The remainder of the game was devoted primarily to speculation about how long Cain would stay in-- "NO!" he bellowed at Bruce Bochy as the latter came out to relieve him with two on and two out in the sixth-- and whether the Cardinals would score at all, and how many times Joe Buck and Tim McCarver would remind us of that nine-run comeback at Washington, and, as the ninth inning approached, whether the San Francisco mist would turn to rain and dampen or, worse, delay the impending festivities. The bottom of the seventh saw Aubrey Huff ground into a run-scoring double play, and ended with Angel Pagan thrown out at the plate; an inning later Belt absolutely crushed a Jason Motte fastball high over the right-field wall and onto the promenade. The drizzle evolved into a downpour as Javier Lopez gamely tried to end the affair; slopping around on the mound, he sandwiched two outs between two walks and "Boch" called for Romo. The deluge continued as groundskeepers spread Turface on the mound and Mike Matheny stood stone-faced and soaking wet on his dugout steps. Had the game been close, Matheny and his team would have deserved, and likely gotten, a rain delay. Instead, Romo got Holliday on the popup and the Giants began singin' in the rain.

It will be Justin Verlander for the Tigers tomorrow night, and probably Barry Zito for the Giants. Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner have both been mentioned as possibilities for Game Two, which would leave Ryan Vogelsong and Cain to start games in Detroit. The Tigers swept the New York Yankees in four straight while allowing less than a run per game; their starting quartet (Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer) has a collective rep similar to that of the 2010 Giants. Yes, the fearsome foursome are rested and ready, unlike the Giants, but we get the feeling that won't matter much. Who in his right mind, at this point, given all that's gone down over the last two weeks, would risk his hard-earned cash betting against the San Francisco Giants, champions of the National League?    

Monday, October 22, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the St Louis Cardinals, 6-1, at AT&T Park last night, evening the National League Championship Series at three games apiece. Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

Ryan Vogelsong once again rose to the occasion with a superb seven-inning start similar to, but even better than, his effort last Monday in Game Two. This time it was one run on four hits, with one walk and a personal-best nine strikeouts. Five of the first six Cardinals batted the breeze against Vogelsong; meanwhile the Giants built a quick 4-0 lead and never looked back. For the first time in this entire postseason, the Giants' collective starting pitching is starting to resemble the dominating form showed back in 2010. That can't be good news for the opposition, no matter who they may be.

And so we come to Game Seven tonight, with Matt Cain starting against Kyle Lohse at the 'Bell; 8:00 PM EDT (5 PM local time). It's the same pitching matchup from Game Three, though likely to be conducted without a three-hour rain delay. Lohse had far more to do with the Giants' close defeat in that game than did the weather, and let's forcibly remind ourselves at this point that while the last two games have been fantastic, this series ain't over, even though it is now even. This is the same Cardinals team that rallied from 6-0 against Washington in a decisive Game Five of the NLDS, and while every Redbird from manager Mike Matheny down to the batboy knows they blew their best chance Friday night back at Busch Stadium, they have every bit of confidence they can come out tonight, right what they see as a terrible wrong, and move on to face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series beginning Wednesday night.

Speaking of wrongs, things went that way quickly for the Cards last night, as soon as everyone could see Vogelsong was making his pitches and Chris Carpenter wasn't. Faster than FOX-TV commentator Tim McCarver, the venerable ex-Cardinal catcher, could note that "location" was key to Carpenter's success, the St Louis starter fell behind each of the first four Giants he faced. Marco "Series MVP" Scutaro drew a five-pitch walk and Pablo Sandoval belted a 2-0 pitch off the wall in center. Buster Posey then clipped a grounder up the line at third that took a funny hop and seemed to freeze David Freese for a moment; he looked homeward, but sensibly thought better of it and threw Posey out instead as Scutaro scored the game's first run. Carpenter struck out struggling Hunter Pence on a 2-2 sinker and knew he was fortunate to get out of that one with minimal damage. The lefty hitters who faced him in the second were less cooperative. Leading off, Brandon Belt-ed the loudest shot of the night, a rocket that caromed off the brick tower in right and bounced around long enough for Belt to leg out a triple. Carpenter fanned the clearly overeager Gregor Blanco, then walked Brandon Crawford to set up the double-play opportunity with Vogelsong due up. As Ryan showed bunt, Freese came in and shortstop Pete Kozma took a step toward second. Vogelsong then drew it back and slapped a grounder to the exact spot Kozma had vacated. Rushing to make the play, Kozma fumbled the ball instead, Belt scoring and all hands safe. Again, Carpenter got the K he needed against Angel Pagan, but that only brought up Scutaro, who drilled a 1-1 pitch into the left-field corner, clearing the bases as the SRO 'Bell crowd went completely bananas. Sandoval followed with a RBI shot up the middle, making it 5-0, and the three unearned runs made a positively appalling NLCS total of ten for the team which allowed the fewest such over the regular season. Ain't it crazy?

It wasn't until the sixth that St Louis finally touched Vogelsong for a run, with the ubiquitous Carlos Beltran's one-out double followed by a RBI single from Allen (.150) Craig. "Vogey" finished the frame, received a standing O as he walked to the dugout, and gave way to Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and the unsinkable Sergio Romo for the final six outs. Meanwhile, Matheny needed three pitchers just to get through the eighth, where Ryan Theriot, the man who lost his job to Scutaro at midseason, emulated him capably with a two-out RBI single to put the lead back at five. Scant minutes later, Romo led the on-field congratulations as Angel Pagan settled under Daniel Descalso's gentle fly ball for the game's final out.

Perhaps it'd be a tad redundant to recount Vogelsong's amazing journey from 'phenom' to trade bait to has-been to never-was to the unlikeliest of heroes, and in any case the man himself showed gratitude to God and to his teammates during an impromptu post-game interview with the engaging Erin Andrews. For now, and for those of you who weren't assiduously following our every word back in spring training 2011, we'll append the comments we made back then regarding Ryan's prospects, and let them stand as written for perspective on baseball, life, and what have you. From February 19, 2011:

Anyone else notice that Nick Noonan, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Ryan Vogelsong are all among the non-roster invitees to camp? (T)he name that caught
our attention first and actually prompted this portion of the screed was Vogelsong's. Here's a dude who was a Giant prospect back in 1998, and three years later was the key to the Jason Schmidt trade. He never made it in the majors, winning a total of ten games in about seven years, and the story went that Sabean had unloaded him as damaged goods on the unsuspecting Pirates. Now 33, he's been out of the big show since 2006. While we hope all 22 of these NRIs do well and land a job somewhere, it'd be a treat if Vogelsong has enough left to catch on with the Giants and maybe contribute out of the bullpen down the stretch.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the St Louis Cardinals, 5-0, at Busch Stadium in St Louis last night, and thereby remained alive in the National League Championship Series. The Giants have cut the Cardinals' series lead to 3-2, and have ensured the remaining games will be played back at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Barry Zito pitched the game of his life last night, and should the Giants come back and win this series, Game Five will be remembered as the much-criticized lefthander's moment of personal redemption. Regardless of how the series turns out, Zito's eight innings of five-hit shutout ball stand as the zenith of his checkered San Francisco career. Facing his team's elimination, pitching in a park and against a lineup that has given him trouble throughout the years, Zito worked his way out of two early jams and got better as the game went on. By the time Bruce Bochy came out to relieve him with two out in the eighth, Zito had the Cardinals swinging and missing at everything he threw, and after 115 pitches the only opponent he couldn't defeat was simple fatigue.

For the third time in this series, the fourth inning proved a fount of four runs for San Francisco, and for the second time those four runs were enough. St Louis starter Lance Lynn had fanned five through three, but surrendered singles to Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval to start the fourth. Lynn recovered to strike out Buster Posey, and up came Hunter Pence. Save for Wednesday's solo homer, Pence has been a boat-anchor for the Giants' NLCS offense, and true to form he tapped a meek comebacker, a perfect rally-killing double-play ball, to the left side of the mound. Lynn grabbed it quickly, wheeled and threw a strike to second base. Literally. Shortstop Pete Kozma was late arriving, and the ball struck the bag itself and ricocheted high in the air and out to right-center as Scutaro scored the game's first run. With Giants at first and third, Lynn got Brandon Belt to pop up, but the error clearly was bothering him. Gregor Blanco walked on four pitches to load 'em up, and Brandon Crawford worked the count full, then singled up the middle for two runs. That brought up Zito, not now, then, or ever known as a hitter. Barry can bunt, though, and he dropped a beauty up the third-base line. Sandoval came home on the safety squeeze as David Freese, caught flat-footed by the unexpected bunt, threw late and wide up the first-base line.

Allen Craig's leadoff double in the Cardinals' fourth was St Louis' last threat. Zito retired the next three batters without a ball being hit out of the infield, and over the next three innings he put that dangerous, right-handed-heavy lineup to sleep. Santiago Casilla, for one batter, and Sergio Romo, for the ninth, finished the task, and Sandoval belted his second homer of the series in the eighth to complete the scoring. For Zito, the moment of truth had come much earlier. He had stranded Carlos Beltran in the first, but in the second Yadier Molina singled and Freese doubled to put the Giants into baseball's toughest defensive situation: runners at second and third, nobody out. Descalso, who's been feasting on these kind of opportunities lately, waved at an up-and-in 2-2 fastball for the first out, and perhaps the key out of the game. Zito then intentionally walked Kozma-- the only base on balls Barry gave up all night-- and got Lynn on a 6-4-3 double play. Giants fans from Cape Mendocino to Tybee Island expelled a huge sigh of relief; Barry was gonna be all right after all. And he was.

Had anyone come up to us back in April and suggested the Giants' World Series hopes would depend upon Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, he'd have been sent on his way with an indulgent pat on the head and a couple of bucks toward the next bottle of "Mad Dog." Yet there it is. Barry Z's apotheosis has sent the NLCS back to San Francisco, and Ryan will take the hill at 4:30 PM PDT (7:30 EDT) on Sunday night, looking to draw the series even. The Giants have taken the first step toward doing to the Cardinals what they already did to the Reds, and regardless of what they say, the defending world champions know their best chance to put this thing away evaporated into the vapor last night, like a confused eighth-place hitter flailing helplessly at one of Barry Zito's big breaking curveballs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis tonight. Game time is slated for 7 PM local time (8 PM EDT). The Giants must win tonight to stay alive in the series after last night's 8-3 shellacking at the hands of the defending world champions.

Every now and then a team goes through one of 'those' games: a stealthy but unmistakable feeling of foreboding creeps into the early innings, followed by a steady series of small incidents which add to the air of impending doom, and finally a full-scale off-come-the-wheels meltdown halfway through the affair, in which we either shake our heads and wonder if this is the same bunch we saw play with such confidence a couple of days ago, or we turn off the television in sudden weary disgust. It was all on full display here at Stormy Acres last night, and if things don't change pronto this is likely the next-to-last missive you, dear readers, will enjoy until midwinter.

Tim Lincecum started, along with batterymate Hector Sanchez replacing Brandon Belt in the lineup, and he pitched three strong innings in which he allowed no runs and only two baserunners. Unfortunately, those were the second through fourth innings. In the first and fifth, he surrendered four runs on six hits and thereby took the loss. The game was a microcosm of Lincecum's unhappy season. He pitched from the stretch position throughout, and that tells us his off-season mission will be to completely tear down, analyze, and then rebuild the eccentric, effective motion and delivery that earned him his nickname and won him two Cy Young awards. We may get an idea next year whether we've got the next Juan Marichal or the next Mark Fidrych here.

Hunter Pence, whom we suggested Bruce Bochy bench for his late inability to hit, provided the Giants' entire offense through eight innings when he ripped a 0-1 fastball from Adam Wainwright into the left-field seats in the second. The Cards' one-time ace had few problems with the rest of the lineup, however; unlike the previous night the Giants managed only six hits, didn't draw a single walk, and consequently left few on base. Pablo Sandoval had one of those hits, a towering two-run homer in the top of the ninth off reliever Fernando Salas that perhaps-- perhaps-- will provide a little momentum going forward. Grasping at straws, we are.

Bright moments were few; Angel Pagan's leaping catch at the center-field wall to rob Yadier Molina of a homer in the third (accompanied by some emphatic body language from Lincecum), Sanchez gunning down Pete Kozma on a second-inning steal attempt, Javier Lopez' quiet ninth inning after the Giants' bullpen had turned the game into a rout over the middle frames. George Kontos, Jose Mijares, and Guillermo Mota all decided to have their 'bad' night on the same night; the sixth and seventh were so unspeakably ugly we gave up and switched over to the 49er game, amid comments about "slaughter rules" and other delightful topics.

With Madison Bumgarner's 23-year-old arm clearly tired after a full-season load, Bochy has tabbed Barry Zito for tonight's start. No doubt some of you are already waving the white flag and e-mailing the team website with a reminder that the forfeit score in baseball is 9-0, but from our perspective there's little to worry about. Zito was lousy in his last start at Cincinnati, true, but the Giants did win the game, and regardless, we're faced with the truth. After six years and over a hundred million dollars, and at least a hundred million critical comments from fans and detractors alike, for the first and perhaps the only time the Giants' fortunes for the entire year rest squarely upon the shoulders of the Man Who Broke the Bank at San Francisco. Go Barry Z, and go Giants!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the National League Championship Series tonight at Busch Stadium in St Louis. Game time is slated for 7 PM local time (8 PM EDT). The Cardinals hold a 2-1 series lead after yesterday's tight 3-1 victory in a game that was interrupted for over three hours by a rain delay.

Matt Cain, who took the loss yesterday, essentially pitched the same game as had Ryan Vogelsong the previous night. It was certainly enough to win, and the reason he lost instead is simple: the Giants left eleven men on base against St Louis starter Kyle Lohse, and thus Cain was reintroduced to the bad old days of his early career when he got less run support than any pitcher in O.B.

As had Vogelsong, Cain made one major mistake; this one resulted in a two-run homer by Matt Carpenter, who had just entered the game in place of injured Carlos Beltran. The loss of their best NLCS hitter clearly made no difference to the Cards. His replacement's third-inning shot capped a two-out nobody-on rally begun by Jon Jay, and as it turned out it would have been enough to hold up all by itself. Cain held St Louis in check over the next four as the Giants squandered eight baserunners over the same period; as rain began to fall in the seventh Cain allowed one more run, on a potential double-play bouncer that instead became a simple throw to first after Marco Scutaro, perhaps concerned about the slippery ball, opted against a force-out attempt at home. Apres lui, le deluge, and a long, long, wait, followed by two perfect innings of relief from Cardinals closer Jason Motte for the series' first save.

The Giants got one man on base in the first, and over the next six they had at least two men on base in every inning. There's no reason they couldn't have scored seven runs again. They had Angel Pagan and Marco (.462) Scutaro at second and third with nobody out in the third, and scored their only run on Pablo Sandoval's infield groundout. Lohse then intentionally walked Buster Posey and Hunter Pence obligingly grounded into an inning-ending double play. With Gregor Blanco at third and Brandon Crawford at first with one out in the fourth, Bruce Bochy had a classic squeeze opportunity with Cain up and the speedy Blanco 90 feet away. Instead, Cain routinely sacrificed and Pagan was unable to deliver a two-out RBI. Two untimely grounders wiped out two baserunners in the fifth, and a two-out rally in the sixth again went for naught as Mike Matheny brought in the 100-MPH reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, to get Pagan on a ground ball. Then came the seventh, as Pence and Brandon Belt struck out back-to-back after Sandoval and Posey had set a most inviting table.

Bochy has used the same lineup in every game of this series so far, and to be fair, this is the same lineup that rallied to win three straight in Cincinnati last week. Eyeballin' the numbers, we see Pence left five men on base all by himself last night, and Pagan left 4. However, Pence is 1-for-11 in the NLCS while Pagan has four hits and three runs scored. It might make sense for Aubrey Huff to take a turn at first, with Belt shifting to left and Blanco to right, for one night. Another possibility would be Hector Sanchez catching Tim Lincecum tonight, with Posey moving to first, Belt to left and Blanco to right. Joaquin Arias, who can play many positions, might be a candidate, too. In any case, it says here this is the time to shake things up, 'cause tomorrow may be too late.

Yes, it will be Lincecum going against Adam Wainwright and his surgically-repaired right arm tonight. Just a year ago, these guys were their respective staff aces, annual Cy Young candidates, and among the best pitchers in the game. Lincecum's regular-season struggles, and Wainwright's shelling at the hands of the Washington Nationals last week, likely don't mean a thing now. Expect another tight one, and hope the Giants make use of the opportunities they create, because this series needs to go back to San Francisco.

The Yankees-Tigers ALCS game last night fell victim to the same rainstorm, and never even started. They'll play Game Four tonight at Comerica Park... Those of us who count ourselves true San Francisco sports fans face sensory overload tonight. The 49ers take on the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park right about the same time the Giants and Cards get underway in St Louis. Folks, make sure your picture-in-picture mode is functional. Personally, those things give us motion sickness, so it's clicker time, back and forth, all night long. Hide the women and kids... Bochy plans to start Barry Zito in Game Five tomorrow night, with Madison Bumgarner in the bullpen, at least for now. Should the series return to the 'Bell, it'll be up to Vogelsong and Cain to finish it out. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis this afternoon. Game time is slated for 3 PM local time (4 PM EDT). The series stands tied at one game apiece after the Giants' rousing 7-1 victory at AT&T Park two nights ago.

As has been iterated, re-iterated, pro-liferated, and ex-pectorated to the point of insanity, what the Giants needed most going into Game Two was a dominating effort by the starting pitcher, a proven way to set things right and restore an air of inevitability to this team's spirit. Monday night, Ryan Vogelsong flat-out delivered. We'd stop short of calling it an overpowering performance, because "overpowering" is not Ryan's style. But inning after inning through seven frames, he was consistently ahead of the hitters, keeping them guessing, off-balance, and reactive. Every other Cardinal at-bat seemed to result in a gentle fly ball to Hunter Pence in medium-deep right, or a sharp grounder to either side of second base. Vogelsong allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven; his only lapse came in the second when a carelessly placed 1-1 pitch was belted over Angel Pagan's head in center by Ryan's opposite number, Chris Carpenter. The two-out double was enough to score Pete Kozma, who had walked, to tie the game, but the tie didn't last long. As it happened, Carlos Beltran was the only Redbird to figure out Vogelsong: he doubled leading off the third but his teammates failed to get the ball out if the infield, his two-out double in the fifth likewise went for naught, and his first-inning walk set up the most-discussed play of the night but gained no runs for his team. Bruce Bochy turned the final two innings over to Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo, and that was that.

For the second time this postseason, Angel Pagan led off with a home run, and just as it did a week ago in Cincinnati, the blast seemed to energize the Giants lineup. Once again it was the fourth inning when things broke open. Brandon Belt, awakening from his slump for sure, doubled with one out but had to hold at third on Gregor Blanco's through-the-hole grounder to left. Carpenter got Brandon Crawford on a comebacker but made an awkward lob wide of first; Allen Craig trapped it to limit the damage but Belt scored to break the 1-1 tie. Exactly as he did a week ago, Vogelsong then laid down a sacrifice to advance the runners, and as before it paid off big-time. Carpenter had to have that sinking feeling as he threw four straight balls to the free-swinging Pagan to load 'em up, and then Marco Scutaro limped painfully to the plate and ripped a two-RBI single to left. It was 4-1 as Matt Holliday charged the ball, and then it was 5-1 as Holliday overran the ball to a cacaphony of jeers and insults from the sold-out crowd, who had seen quite enough of the Cardinals' left fielder already.

Holliday's first-inning takeout slide into Scutaro, which successfully broke up a double-play attempt, falls somewhere in between a 'normal' hard-nosed play and a true 'cheap shot' (ref. Scott Cousins). Most Giants acknowledged Holliday had no intent to injure, but few seemed willing to just 'let it go' either. The collision appeared to have twisted Scutaro's leg up high, near the hip joint; though in obvious pain he was still well enough to deliver the game's key hit in the fourth, but as time went on his mobility got worse and Ryan Theriot replaced him in the top of the sixth. True to form, it was Theriot who delivered the coup de grace, a two-run single in the eighth that completed the night's scoring. Though X-rays and MRI seem to indicate no serious injury, Scutaro's status for today's game remains uncertain and the fallout from all this may not yet have settled. Holliday's first at-bat today against Matt Cain might be instructive as to the Giants' collective mindset.

Cain has had five day's rest since last Thursday's clincher in Cincinnati, and the big guy has flourished this year on extra rest. If Cain can pull a "Vogelsong" and go deep into the game, that will give the lineup confidence against sixteen-game-winner Kyle Lohse, who at 34 has had the best season of his career. One of these NLCS games is bound to be a pitchers' duel; our money's on this one.

The Detroit Tigers hold a 3-0 lead over the New York Yankees as the teams square off in Detroit tonight. CC Sabathia will attempt to prevent the sweep, but if his snakebit teammates don't start to hit a little, it may not matter... Kudos to Brandon Crawford for not emulating Ozzie Smith in that emotionally-charged first inning. Holliday had no need to fear a cowardly blow to the back of the head... The Bochmeister remains mum on a Game Four starter, because he has the advantage of using Tim Lincecum in relief today if Cain falters. Even if "Boch" doesn't use Lincecum in such an eventuality, he's making Mike Matheny think about it, and that's what managers do... Quiet congratulations to Aubrey Huff, who has reached base in both of his NLCS pinch-hitting appearances and who scored a run last night... Rain is in the forecast for today's game, which may become tonight's game as a result. As a rule, baseball hates to postpone post-season games. Anyone else old enough to remember Game Four of the 1977 NLCS, with commissioner Bowie Kuhn sitting defiantly, arms folded, as a regular deluge fell upon old Veterans' Stadium in Philadelphia and the game went on?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Two of the National League Championship Series this evening at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 5 PM PDT (8 PM EDT). The Cardinals beat the Giants, 6-4, last night, scoring early and hanging on late to take the early series advantage.

Regardless of wins, losses, hits, misses, or dramatic postseason comebacks, one big ugly issue is plaguing the Giants right now and it hasn't changed since the first Cincinnati game. This team, which relies and has always relied on quality starting pitching, isn't getting any. Madison Bumgarner was the most recent example last night; unable to complete the fourth inning, he was tagged for six runs and the loss despite a most worthy Giants comeback. And "Bum's" outing was typical. The best start any Giants pitcher has put down so far in this demolition derby was Ryan Vogelsong's five innings a week ago. The ripple effect caused by this meltdown puts so much pressure on manager Bruce Bochy that's he's likely to remove even an effective starter early for a pinch-hitter, as he did in that Vogelsong outing. It affects everyone on the team, and if it is not corrected, there is little likelihood of the Giants' reaching the World Series, let alone winning it.

Once again, the Giants pitcher who transformed the game was Tim Lincecum. Taking over in relief in the fifth after the Giants had rallied from 6-0 to 6-4, "The Freak" oversaw the transition of this game from a rowdy hitters' competition into a tight pitchers' duel. And unlike last week, Bochy didn't ask for five innings. Lincecum was lifted after two scoreless, and that tells us he's being saved for a starting role, probably in Game Four. Don't get us wrong; we love Timmy, and we love what he did, but when two scoreless innings are your major boasting point, your starters simply ain't gettin' the job done.

Four familiar names led the Cardinals' two offensive incursions; David Freese and Carlos Beltran are well-known postseason heroes already, while Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma have become the "Bucky Dent and Brian Doyle" of late. Freese's two-run rocket off Bumgarner opened the scoring in the second, and the Glimmer Twins opened the fourth with back-to-back doubles. As George Kontos began limbering up in the Giants bullpen, Bumgarner managed to retire opposing pitcher Lance Lynn before Jon Jay singled to score Kozma and Beltran launched a cannon shot halfway to Ukiah. The Cardinals got only one more baserunner for the night against Lincecum and four studly Giants relievers, but thanks to their own stout bullpen they didn't need him.

It's cold comfort indeed for Giants fans that St Louis' own starter couldn't survive the fourth, either. But the sparkling answer-back rally featuring four straight hits by left-handed batters did wake up the crowd and make a real ballgame out of what looked like impending disaster. Lynn seemed to have things well in hand when he retired Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey after Marco Scutaro's modest leadoff single, the Giants' first hit. But then Hunter Pence, whose wild-eyed "Ray Lewis-style" pregame rants have energized his teammates but also underscored his struggles at the plate, bounced one through the right side to move up Scutaro. Another struggler, Brandon Belt, chipped a Texas Leaguer into shallow center for an RBI single. Then came the lumber: a scorching gapper from Gregor Blanco that cleared the bases for a stand-up triple, and a down-the-line RBI double from Brandon Crawford. Up came Aubrey Huff to pinch-hit, suddenly representing the go-ahead run. He drew a walk, which got Lynn out of the game, and had Descalso not then made a great diving stop on Angel Pagan's sharp grounder up the middle, which forced Huff at second to end the inning, we may have opened this screed with a quite different lead. But he did, and we didn't.

The Giants stranded Scutaro and Posey in the fifth, and then things settled down to a brisk (except for the numerous pitching changes) four-inning pitchers' duel. It's likely most of the games in this series will be decided relatively early on, and that takes us back to our main thesis: beginning with Vogelsong tonight, the Giants' starters need to go deep into these games. Chris Carpenter, whom the Cardinals have tabbed to oppose Vogelsong, has a long history of doing just that. The Giants beat the Reds in the final two because they hit Cincinnati's starters harder than the Reds could hit theirs; we can't presume that same luxury will be available against St Louis, who still have Adam Wainwright waiting behind Carpenter. After all, Lincecum's Game Four start may not mean all that much if the Giants are down three games by that point. Capiche?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game One of the National League Championship Series tonight at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 5 PM PDT (8 PM EDT). The Cardinals overcame the Washington Nationals with a four-run rally in the ninth inning of the fifth game in their division series Friday night to advance to the NLCS.

While the Giants have the home-field advantage in this series and are themselves riding the momentum of their historic comeback win at Cincinnati, the defending world champions are a team no one wants to face right now. Their recent history of back-from-the-dead rallies, which extends all the way to last year's division-series win over the once-mighty Philadelphia Phillies, now borders on the uncanny. The "Wild Cards" did to the Nats what the Reds attempted to do to the Giants in their own Game Five, and every player on manager Mike Matheny's roster, no matter how obscure he may be, seems perfectly capable of summoning up whatever heroics are needed to win at any given moment. In short, the Cardinals are playing a lot like the Giants are right now, and we do not like it, not one little bit.

Madison Bumgarner opens the series on the mound for the Giants against St Louis' Lance Lynn. "Bum" hasn't put back-to-back quality starts together since mid-August, but if recent history holds he is due for a rebound after last week's substandard outing against the Reds. He was exceptionally effective at the 'Bell this year: 10-3, 2.38, 1.02 WHIP. While he lost his only start against the Cardinals at home-- that was the game where Bruce Bochy batted him eighth-- he pitched well enough to win but got no help. As for Lynn, the Giants beat him in his only start against San Francisco; this was at Busch Stadium in August, where Buster Posey's first-inning three-run homer held up in a 4-2 win. He's a big righthander and he won 18 games this year; used three times, all in relief, by Matheny against Washington, he was shelled for three homers, four hits, two walks, and three earned runs in three-plus innings. Tonight marks his first postseason start, and things can only get better from his perspective.

The party line at the moment lists Ryan Vogelsong as the Giants' Game Two starter tomorrow night, with Matt Cain opening on the road Wednesday. The home/road split would appear to be a wash for both pitchers; each won the same number of games home or away, with a run-plus better ERA at home, which matches the league average. Cain had two mediocre starts against the Redbirds, one in each park; Vogelsong was beneficiary of 15 runs in his one appearance at St Louis. The intriguing choice is Game Four's, where Tim Lincecum now has to be considered for the turn instead of Barry Zito. Trick is, Lincecum is also likely a much more effective reliever than is Zito, and if a starter gets in trouble early in these first three games, Boch, whoyagonnacall?

On the field, the Giants are stronger up the middle with Posey, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, and Angel Pagan, although Yadier Molina is a great catcher who can hit, and centerfielder Jon Jay is a real player. St Louis has the edge on the corners, especially the outfield with Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. On paper the Giants' starting pitchers are more impressive, but based on performance it's a wash, though the Giants' quality likely goes deeper. Both have good bullpens; Matheny's is not at the level of Dusty Baker's, though. Probably the biggest concern for the Giants on the field is Brandon (1-for-13 with 7 strikeouts) Belt; though "Boch" won't do it, we'd like to see Sandoval over at first and Joaquin Arias take a turn at third. There really isn't a backup first baseman on the roster other than Aubrey (.192) Huff; the Cards' Allen Craig, who ably replaced Lance Berkman, who ably replaced Albert Pujols, makes us look kinda puny here.

It's the Yankees and Detroit in the American League, which is a win for fans of classy uniforms if nothing else. The Tigers beat 'em in twelve crazy innings last night, and the Bombers lost 'way more than a game: Derek Jeter finally broke his oft-twisted left ankle in the twelfth as he tripped fielding a ground ball. He left the field to a standing O from a crowd that had just had its figurative teeth ripped out by a Detroit rally moments earlier. New York, down 4-0 in the ninth, had sent it into extras with two two-run homers from Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez... Three times the Cardinals were one strike away from elimination at Washington Friday night. After losing a 2-1 heartbreaker on Thursday which tied the series at 2-2, St Louis fell behind quickly 6-0 (sound familiar?) and began chipping away. They got it to 6-5 in the top of the eighth, then saw the Nationals score a deflating insurance run in the bottom. Heroes of that ninth-inning rally included the "Who?" Brothers, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, each with a two-RBI single after Beltran had set the table with a leadoff double. Terribly tough break for Dave Johnson's Nationals, and yeah, this means no live-and-in-person NLCS games for us.

It's not our intention to bash Dusty Baker, one of the greatest managers in San Francisco Giants history, even inadvertently. Prior to the first division series game we noted Johnnie B. was sabotaging his own offense by batting Drew Stubbs and Zach Covart back-to-back at the top of the order. Well, if we had bothered to research any games after June, we'd have seen
that Dusty had long since moved the more-than-worthy Brandon Phillips to the leadoff spot and dropped Stubbs to eighth. Batting at the bottom of the order, considering his great speed, arm, and defense, Stubbs is a fine player and was a big help to his team as they ran away with the division title. They'll be back.    

Friday, October 12, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 6-4, at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati yesterday, and thereby won their National League division series, three games to two. OHHHHH YEAHHHHH!

As the first National League team ever to overcome a two-games-to-none deficit and win a division series, the Giants have outdone even themselves in resiliency. The team that shook off the loss of closer Brian Wilson, the suspension of leading hitter Melky Cabrera, the unexpected travails of ace Tim Lincecum, and, most recently, the one-sided wipeout of Games One and Two in their own ballpark-- this Giants team, having swept three straight games in Cincinnati, now moves on to the National League Championship Series against either the Washington Nationals or the St Louis Cardinals.

Buster Posey launched a titanic grand-slam home run off Cincinnati starter and loser Mat Latos in the top of the fifth inning, capping a six-run explosion that Matt Cain and four relievers made hold up, just barely, over the final five. The Reds, like a mugging victim spotting his assailant and doggedly chasing him from block to block through crowds and traffic, relentlessly pushed closer and closer, narrowing the gap in the fifth, the sixth, and the ninth, getting the tying run to the plate in each of the last four innings, and not surrendering until Sergio Romo struck out Scott Rolen, representing the winning run, with two on and two out in the ninth to end it.

Fans expecting a pitchers' duel between Cain and Latos got what they wanted through four scoreless innings before things got crazy. Cain earned the win with those four good frames, and with two more which he was blessed indeed to survive. Those would be the fifth, when the Reds answered back with two quick runs on a hit batsman, a single, and Cincinnati sparkplug Brandon Phillips' two-run double, and the sixth, when Ryan Ludwick led off with his third homer of the series. Jay Bruce then walked, and Scott Rolen singled, and Cain was wavering. Then came the play of the game. Cain battled Ryan Hanigan over seven pitches before reaching deep down and nailing him with a nasty outside fastball for called strike three. Bruce, running on the pitch, was immediately gunned down at third by the redoubtable Posey, and suddenly both Cain and the Giants had survived the crucible. Bruce Bochy then sensibly brought in George Kontos to lead the parade of relievers who saved this unlikely win.

Time seemed to stand still through the seventh and eighth as the Reds sent ten men to the plate, four of them reaching base, yet none of them scoring, In the seventh, Jeremy Affeldt got Ludwick on a comebacker after an eight-pitch battle with two on and two out. In the eighth, it was Brandon Crawford selling out on a desperation dive to snare Hanigan's one-out liner with Rolen at first. Moments later it was Romo, the Giants' third pitcher of the inning, trying to close out the frame with-- again-- two on and two out. And here came Angel Pagan's mad dash, charging Dioner Navarro's sinking fly ball at full speed to make a sliding, tumbling, game-saving grasstop catch that would have eviscerated the heart of a team less determined than Dusty Baker's.

As Romo went out to face the Reds in the ninth, Giants fans, for perhaps the first time all year, acutely felt the absence of Brian Wilson. Tension simmered as Zack Covart drew a one-out walk and Joey Votto lined a clean single to right. The tying run was now at the plate for the fourth straight inning. As Ryan Vogelsong began to get loose in the bullpen, the inevitable Ludwick ripped a clean RBI single to left, and now the winning run strode into the batters' box in the person of Jay Bruce. Over twelve harrowing pitches, Bruce fought his way to a full count, Romo pausing lengthily between each salvo, the Reds fans putting up a terrific din. Finally-- finally!-- Romo won the battle, an anticlimactic popup to left, and that brought up Rolen. Now we had the sense that Romo had passed the point of crisis, and indeed he owned the game's last at-bat, landing two called strikes on the outside corner before busting a nasty slider over Rolen's fists to drive the final nail.

For the second day in a row the Giants brought the wood with them, though this time the explosion was confined to one inning. In the fifth, Gregor Blanco singled and Brandon Crawford-- who was not benched in favor of Joaquin Arias-- slashed a bullet into the right-field corner. Blanco beat the relay for the game's first run, and Crawford pulled into third with a stand-up triple. Latos got Cain on a soft comebacker, Crawford holding, but Covart couldn't handle Pagan's subsequent grounder, making no throw as Crawford scored. Latos then walked Marco Scutaro on four straight pitches, and while Cincinnati fans craned their necks and wondered why Baker wasn't at least making a mound visit, Pablo Sandoval tapped a bloop single through short, loading the bases. Posey had a 2-2 count when he launched a cut fastball into the upper deck in left center, 420 feet away.

It would be difficult to select a MVP for this series, though both Phillips and Ludwick are worthy candidates from the other side, but our own modest suggestion would be Bruce Bochy. If he made a false move in this series, we didn't see it. If there was a matchup advantage to be made, he made it. If there was a player who needed his manager to believe in him, Bochy believed in that player, whether it was Sergio Romo, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito, Gregor Blanco, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, or Brandon Crawford, all of whom could easily have found themselves elsewhere when their turn came to stand up and make a difference. If there's a better manager in baseball, we haven't found him.

And now the champagne-soaked, tension-exhausted San Francisco Giants sit back and wait to see who and where they'll be playing this weekend. If the defending champion Cardinals defeat Washington tonight, the Giants will be flying home and getting ready to open the NLCS at the 'Bell. If Washington rallies tonight and wins again tomorrow, Our Boys likely will stay in the east and begin preparing for the opener at Nationals Park, just 75 miles from where we sit. And, yes, we might as well confess that should the Nats prevail, we'll be logging in to StubHub forthwith and seeing what our chances are to actually show up, in person, resplendent in orange and black, to cheer on the only team that is, after all, worth cheering on.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 8-3, at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati yesterday, evening their National League division series at two games apiece and forcing a fifth and decisive game to be played today. Yes!

Semi-reliable sources indicate a large truckload of fresh lumber was discovered directly in front of the visitors' clubhouse entrance at the GABP yesterday morning, along with a hand-written note. "SORRY FOR THE DELAY," it read; "HOPE YOU CAN STILL USE IT."

Well, the first crack of bat on ball a few hours later was a home run, sailing high and deep to right-center field, hit by Giants leadoff man Angel Pagan. Six more extra-base hits, including two more homers, followed over the next few innings as the Giants rediscovered hitting as a man dying of thirst rediscovers water. Joaquin Arias, inserted into the "nine" spot in what may have been the most inspired double-switch ever, led off two different innings with doubles, and five runs scored in those innings. Gregor Blanco gave the Giants the lead they'd never lose with a two-run shot in the second; Pablo Sandoval finished it off in the seventh with a mammoth shot to deepest right that threatened to reach the Ohio River. Pagan was on base a total of four times, including two walks, and scored twice; Sandoval had three of the Giants' eleven hits.

And yet the player of the game, the Man of the Hour, the Comeback Kid, and perhaps the key to the remainder of the Giants' postseason, is none other than Tim Lincecum, who entered the game with two on and two out in the fourth as part of that great double-switch. He stilled the roiling waters of an attempted Cincinnati comeback, and over the next four-plus innings quieted things down with six strikeouts, allowing two hits and one run while his teammates scored five. No reliever ever deserved a win more, and with this singular effort "The Freak" wiped clean all memory of his most difficult regular season. Should the Giants prevail today, Tim Lincecum will assuredly be part of the starting rotation in the NLCS.

Whether or not Barry Zito will be is yet to be known. No one in the Giants clubhouse questioned his worthiness to start the game, but performance is proof, and over three long, awkward innings Zito walked four men, all of them with two out, walked in a run, and left a mess for George Kontos when he finally departed with two out in the third. The ten-day layoff may have affected Zito, and he got zero help from umpire Dan Iassogna's traveling strike zone, but had Kontos not retired Drew Stubbs on a harmless popup to end the third, things might have been a whole lot worse.

Bruce Bochy managed the fourth inning as if it were the eighth. Clinging to a one-run lead, knowing he had an ace in the hole (or the bullpen, that is), "Boch" brought in Jose Mijares to relieve Kontos with two on, one out, and dangerous Joey Votto at the plate. Given one simple job to do, Mijares did it by fanning Votto on a 2-2 fastball, at which time Lincecum and Arias came into the game and the Giants took it over for good. The Reds did not score in the fourth, and in the top of the fifth the Giants did, and inning by inning the crowd grew quieter. Cincinnati, oddly enough, has never won a postseason game on their new home field, and by the time Santiago Casilla retired Ryan Ludwick on a popup to end the game, memories of that dominant weekend in San Francisco seemed dim indeed. The Giants' dugout was boiling over with exuberance, high-fives, and hugs, while the Reds collectively had the look of a wealthy man just discovering his pocket has been picked.

The Giants and Reds thus 'go to the mat(t)' today-- Latos and Cain, that is. Dusty Baker all along had decided to hold Latos back for a possible fifth game, starting Mike Leake yesterday (and whether he regrets that or not is irrelevant to the issue at hand.) Latos is by no means invincible; the Giants beat him soundly in 2010 to clinch the NL West division pennant, and they are on a roll right now. No National League team ever has come back from a 0-2 deficit to win a division series; regardless of the law of averages, we believe no team ever has been so ready to complete such a comeback. Just a couple of hours from now, at one o'clock PM EDT, we'll find out. GO GIANTS!