Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Big 'E'

Not Elvis, or even Easy, but Elimination, that is. Tuesday night the LA Dodgers officially eliminated the Giants from further contention in 2015, and they did so Emphatically, with Clayton Kershaw pitching a complete-game one-hit twelve-strikeout Koufax-worthy shutout, while his merry band of teammates ran up eight runs and made a general mockery of the supposed showdown with Madison Bumgarner.

And so it goes. Last year's dreamboat turns out to be a footnote as the 2015 postseason approaches, and whether Kershaw or fellow ace Zach Greinke walks off with the Cy Young Award, you can bet that both will be footnotes themselves if the Dodgers don't, at least, reach the World Series this year. As may be Don Mattingly. It ain't fair, maybe, and Lord knows we rarely squander conceptions of "fairness" on the Hated Rivals down south, but no other team in the National League enters the October pressure cooker with as much to lose as do they.

Let's pause a moment and give some muted but deserved applause to Mattingly, who has now won three straight division titles with his talented and expensive charges, something no Dodger team-- not in Brooklyn, not in LA, not under Alston or Lasorda-- ever did before. Over the weekend, as the Giants squared off across the bay against the disappointing Oakland A's, we morbidly wondered if we ought to go over to the dark side for the nonce and root for Our Boys to lose, thus sparing them, and us, the indignity of having the Dodgers clinch on our home field.  All too fresh in memory was the ugly, unsportsmanlike spectacle of the 2013 Dodgers desecrating Arizona's ballpark with their childish, almost obscene gestures and posturing, and as longtime fans of decorum and respect we wondered whether we'd have to go public with a defense of hypothetical  Giants fans who might resort to physicality themselves if such an event occurred at AT&T Park. Thankfully it didn't. The Dodgers celebrated their win with the obligatory group-hug at the pitchers' mound, followed by a most proper dash to the clubhouse where they could really let loose. Sure, we understand that 2013 was the first time for these guys, and that after three clinchers the novelty would wear off a bit, but we'd also like to think that Mattingly, a certified class act when he played, has imbued his team's character with some maturity and sportsmanship. In any case, here's where we grudgingly but sincerely congratulate our rivals for a job well done over a long season.

And while the bulk of our congratulations to our own beloved Giants will wait until the regular season is complete, we are compelled to add that given the appalling, season-long epidemic of injuries that plagued them, this resilient bunch mounted a most respectable championship defense. Just finishing the season with a winning record, which the Giants assured themselves of with Monday night's exciting twelve-inning walk-off victory, is an achievement against the odds.

A week ago Saturday, Tim Hudson, winding up a great career that deserves a strong vote for, if not actual enshrinement in, the Hall of Fame, faced off against his former Oakland teammate and former Giant Barry Zito in a final farewell for the fans. Both have announced their retirement effective at the end of this season, and despite their long careers the two had never squared off as opponents before. If it wasn't exactly lump-in-the-throat time, it certainly brought back warm memories. Young Hudson and young Zito joined with young Mark Mulder to form the starting trio that was the heart of Billy Beane's innovative and successful "Moneyball" Athletics of the early 2000s.

Zito was the star then, with his back-breaking curveball and 24 wins and Cy Young season in 2002. Though he never reached that peak again, he parlayed his success and reputation into a seven-year, $126,000,000 contract with the Giants as the new "face of the franchise" to replace the departed Barry (Bonds, that is). "New Barry" soon saw his "Face" role intercepted by Tim Lincecum, while he himself took on the "Albatross" tag. But the 2012 season, with 15 wins and two mighty post-season starts, forever changed that. Though to be honest, we'd forgotten he was still in O.B., and toiling in the bullpen for his original team, when this Sunday start was announced.

Hudson, meanwhile, went on to anchor the last few years of the Atlanta Braves' unprecedented championship continuum, and he leads all active pitchers with 222 wins. His own contribution to the Giants is easy now to forget, but early in 2014 he was the team's most reliable starting pitcher, winning seven of his first nine, generating some All-Star Game conversation, and keeping the team in contention through midseason.  Jake Peavy essentially duplicated Hudson's effort over the final two months while "Huddy" himself struggled, but the ace within emerged again with two strong starts, in the Division Series against Washington and in the NLCS against St Louis. Ultimately it was with the Giants that Hudson, after years of shortfall, finally earned his World Series ring.  

The magnificent poster above was sent us courtesy of our old friend Michael Winters, of "OOO! REEBAY!" fame. It was a Labor Day afternoon in 1916 as the season drew to a close, and the two great old National League rival aces, Christy Mathewson and Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, squared off against each other for the last time. Both would retire after the season. Matty was 36, and recently traded from the Giants to the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he assumed managerial duties, with the blessing of John McGraw. "Miner" Brown was almost 40; he had returned to the Cubs after a brief sojourn in the Federal League, where he too had managed. Brown hadn't entered the major leagues until the age of 27, but for a decade he and Mathewson established a great rivalry as the Cubs and Giants traded supremacy in the National League. Matty was by any measure the greater pitcher, but Brown had a special "whammy" on him, winning eight straight decisions between the two during the Cubs' phenomenal 1906-1908 run, when they averaged 107 wins per year. It was kind of like Dave Stewart versus Roger Clemens back in the late 1980s, if you remember that rivalry.

Anyway, as you can see, the promoters spent no little effort promoting this Final Showdown in the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader between two lousy teams, though as you can see there's no hint of anybody's impending retirement here. As it happened, the Reds, and Mathewson, won the game 10-8, scoring in seven of the nine innings. Both Brown and Matty pitched the complete game, Brown surrendering a staggering 19 hits and all ten runs, while Mathewson was touched for 15 hits, including a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that made the game close. But he persevered and got the win, beating his rival for the last time, although it was clear both were well past "done." Indeed, the two probably had more value as hitters than as pitchers by that point: Matty went 3-for-5 with a double off Brown, and Brown responded in kind with two singles and two runs scored in four at-bats. The notorious crook Hal Chase played first base behind Mathewson, and made his 15th (!) error of the season, though it doesn't appear to have resulted in any unearned runs. "Laughing Larry" Doyle, Mathewson's former Giants teammate, got three hits off his old friend. Whether or not the two former aces were mere shadows of their former selves was probably irrelevant to the fans, though attendance was not reported. And despite 34 hits and 18 runs, the whole thing was concluded in a sprightly two hours and ten minutes.

It was 24 runs and 30 hits (and three and one-half hours) all told by the time last Saturday's Hudson-Zito finale concluded. The Giants won, 14-10, although the A's banged out nineteen hits to match the 1916 Reds. The big star of the game was Giants reserve outfielder Jarrett Parker, a September callup, who belted three home runs, including an eighth-inning grand slam that essentially settled the issue. Most unlike their legendary counterparts from 1916, neither Zito nor Hudson lasted more then two innings. Hudson was uncharacteristically wild, walking three of the 11 batters he faced, while Zito was eminently hittable, tagged for six hits and four runs while retiring only seven batters. 36,000-plus turned out for this short walk down Memory Lane, a nice payday for a team expected to contend for the World Series, not to lose more than 90 games. See, we Giants fans don't have it so bad.

This 'n' That

While we don't want to get all het up about "Parker power"-- remember, he's older than Madison Bumgarner and has never spent a full year in the big leagues-- it is nice to see a homegrown Giant with some real long-ball capability. Parker seems to have the Dave Kingman/Rob Deer schtick down pat: power, low average, and a ton o' strikeouts. But he will take a walk, about half as often as he gets a hit, which is good; his .261 average becomes a .365 OBP. He'll be 27 in spring training next year, and while the number of 27-year-old rookies who secure starting jobs is lower than the average Bernie Sanders voter's IQ, it says here Parker deserves a fair chance to crack what is looking to be a most unsettled outfield.  By the way, the last Giant to hit three home runs in one game was Pablo Sandoval in the 2012 World Series, Game One.

Last night Mike Leake made his bid for a 2016 job with the Giants, pitching a complete-game two-hit shutout against the now-coasting Dodgers. It's been a rocky road for Leake since the trade; he's 2-5 with a 4.07 (including last night) with San Francisco. His innings pitched per start is about the same as it was in Cincinnati, where he went 9-5, and his WHIP (1.19) is comparable. There's some evidence the move to a more spacious park has made a difference; both wins have come at home and his ERA at AT&T is more than half a run lower than on the road. Lord knows, he's the right age (27), he throws the right kind pf pitch (sinkerball), and he seems to be tough enough. Whether the Giants will offer him more dough than he makes now, and whether he'd take such an offer if made, is impossible to know, but what is possible to know is that there is, almost certainly, a team somewhere that is willing to overpay for an established free-agent pitcher under the age of 30.

Whither Marlon Byrd? Is there a place for him, his power bat, and his terrible defense, in the Giants' outfield at his age, in this park?  Unless Parker can deliver a similar dose on a consistent basis, Byrd is the only hitter of his type on the roster, and that value has to be weighed against the preponderance of line-drive hitters the team currently carries.

And going beyond statistics, injuries, positional assignments, and other details, we'll close today by stating our great satisfaction with an organization that has, in less than two years, produced such a fine crop of young players as Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Kelby Tomlinson one after the other. All these guys, if physically capable, deserve to be in the lineup that will contend for the championship in 2016.    

No comments:

Post a Comment