Friday, April 24, 2015

Giants Over Dodgers

The first place Los Angeles Dodgers went into San Francisco with a seven game winning streak.  They left with a three game losing streak.  The Giants swept the series, comfortably outhitting the Dodgers in the first game, then getting the timely hits in the last at-bats of the following two.  A key was excellent starting pitching from Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong, and some key relief work.

The final game in the series went 10 innings and the Giants won it in Giants fashion--Pagan singled, stole second, and after an intentional walk to Belt, the Giants latest new hope Justin Maxwell roped one down the third base line to score Pagan with the winning run.

It was a great end to a dismal home stand, as the Giants particularly used the home field last at-bat to good advantage.  They have to feel good especially about the pitching they got.  Newer players are finding their space and veterans are starting to come around.  Pagan is showing he can again be a catalyst---his problem has always been staying healthy.  When Buster Posey gets going and Hunter Pence returns, the pop in the lineup will improve.

But out of this triumph the Giants go into the sinkhole of Colorado, where they don't often do well at that altitude.  They do have their rookie hope Chris Hatcher on the mound tonight, their best starter so far this season, and good starting pitching is weirdly infectious.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Early Baseball Blues

A terrible start for the San Francisco Giants, and not much better for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Both have won three games each.  The Giants started well, plucky and opportunistic until they got hit with more injuries.  Thursday night I listened to the last several innings of a home game (it went 12 innings) with the surprise first place club of Colorado, in which they came back several times to tie the game but could not seal the deal (which could have been taking that ball four with the bases loaded).   They lost their seventh in a row, and have yet to win at home.  Their pitching is wobbly (starting, relief), their hitting pale, their scoring nonexistent and their fielding is not great.  Can't get much worse.

Adding insult to much injury even before the season started, Pablo Sandoval starting bad-mouthing the entire team (except for a few) and its management (except for Bruce Bochy), stating that he'd decided very early last year that he wasn't returning to the Giants because salary negotiations showed a lack of respect to him and his agent.  This despite his postseason declaration that he wanted to remain a Giant forever.

Though Sandoval has been doing pretty well so far on his new team of the Boston Red Sox, and they are leading the league at the moment, his comments probably helped the separation process in San Francisco, among fans as well as players.  Turns out he's a hypocrite.  So good riddance.

The Giants faltering is expected, though not so early or so thoroughly--they're bound to get better than this--but the Pirates slow start is more puzzling.  Still, they may well be coming around, with the Cutch feeling better.

When I lived in or near Pittsburgh, going to opening day of the Pirates was a tradition.  This year the opening day crowd--which looked large and enthusiastic--was treated to a Pirates home run on the first pitch of the game, by Josh Harrison.  They also have the early season distinction of being the only team so far to beat the Detroit Tigers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Play Ball!

Baseball!  I paid no attention to NCAA this year, and though I'll probably follow Golden State through the NBA playoffs, I can't help feeling the dislocation of a league in which the two most prominent franchises--LA Lakers and New York Knicks--are among the worst teams.

So baseball.  The season starts with my Pirates pretty highly rated, and my Giants holding onto respect but not high hopes among the baseball writers etc.  And despite the opening day loss for the Bucs and the MadBum victory for the Giants, it's hard to argue with the writers.

Already the Giants are facing injury problems with their aging starting pitchers.  It's amazing how well they did late last year with several key injuries, but with Brandon Belt going down, both hitting and pitching are a mess to start the season.  Belt is due for a big year, so is Angel Pagan, but neither has been able to stay healthy.   It really looks like the off year, the odd numbered year, for this team.  They added no discernible power to the lineup, and lost a lot that they had.  And that starting corps is worrisome.

The Pirates look better than the Giants at least on paper, and I'm sure it's going to be an exciting summer at PNC Park.  They certainly have more power, and potentially very good pitching.  So the Pirates seem to have a much better chance of getting into the postseason than the Giants.  But that's how it looks.  They still have to play the games.  Play ball!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Stupid

Tom Brady did not win the Super Bowl for New England.  Coach Pete Carroll lost the Super Bowl for Seattle.

All Seattle had to do was make a half yard into the end zone in the last 40 seconds of the game to repeat as Super Bowl champions.  They had this year's most dominating short yardage back in the NFL.  It was second down.

Instead Coach Carroll got cute, called a pass play, the pass was neatly intercepted in traffic--and the game was essentially over.

How many ways can we count that this play was a stupidly wrong call?  The likelihood of an interception versus a fumble?  The lack of risk involved in a pass defense when an interference penalty would have resulted in meaningless yardage?  The time that could conceivably be left on the clock after a touchdown and extra point?

I watched only the fourth quarter, on my computer, and that turned out to be too much.  I didn't really much care who won, but a game decided on a play like that is just such a bummer that I regret watching any of it at all.

In another NFL note, Johnny Football (currently on the Browns roster) has reportedly entered "treatment" for an unspecified reason.  It's pretty clear from accounts of his behavior that they constitute a textbook pattern of alcoholics.  I'd be surprised if that doesn't turn out to be the case.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blount Talk in Pittsburgh

Let the moaning in Pittsburgh begin.  I guarantee it's already happening, and will happen big this week, after the New England Patriots blew out the Indianopolis Colts to represent the AFL in the Super Bowl.  They did so with 148 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carried by LeGarrette Blount.

For most of this season, Blount was a Steeler.  But after a game which saw Le'Veon Bell dominate the running back carries and install himself as the starter as well as a league leader, Blount left the team early and was soon released.

Then in the final game of the regular season, in which the Steelers won their division, Bell was injured and could not play in the first playoff game.  Without Blount, the Steelers had no experienced quality backup and no running game.  They lost, badly.

The Steelers may have had few good choices but at the moment it's going to look to many like they managed themselves out of a Super Bowl.  With Blount they would have had a good chance to win their playoff game against the Ravens at home.  And on Sunday, Blount showed what he could do against Indianapolis, and perhaps what New England lacked without him.

(The counter-argument is that the Steelers offense actually outgained the Ravens, but their defense couldn't hold. But then there are all those trips to the red zone with only field goals.)

There's a real possibility the Steelers were punked.  Blount saw that he'd lost the starting role, and knowing how Belichick operates on both edges of the rules, I wouldn't be surprised if Blount had already been in touch with the Patriots (or that the Patriots "informally" got in touch with him), and deliberately got himself thrown off the Steelers so he could sign as the Patriots feature back.

Could the Steelers have kept Blount somehow?  Could they have promptly replaced him with an experienced backup, instead of assuming in what now looks like wishful arrogance that they could always depend on Bell?  Some of this discussion has already been raging, but now all of it will be hashed out endlessly and angrily in Pittsburgh this week and probably next.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Memories R.I.P. 2014

With the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the playoffs, and my annual Pittsburgh-themed Christmas gift from one of my sisters (this year, a Pittsburgh scenes calendar) I pay homage to my hometown city and some of the people from its past--and my past--who passed away in 2014.
Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 1970s glory days, winning 4 Super Bowls.  I met him after their 1979 championship, on a story.  I asked him about Pittsburgh fans, and his face lit up.  He loved them.  And they loved him.  In football he was above all a teacher.  In the rest of his life, a civilized man.  He was a class act, and Pittsburgh learned from him.

Ralph Kiner was probably the first baseball player whose name I knew.  He was not just the Pirates' best player in the early to mid 50s, he was just about their only good player.  He led the National League in homers for seven straight years, with little help from the rest of the lineup.  Later he became an affectionately remembered baseball announcer, though in a different town.
Bill Nunn, Jr. was the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the premier African American newspaper in the US.  He then became the first African American executive of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hal Smith was one of two catchers on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Smoky Burgess was the hitter--he was kind of the Pablo Sandoval of his day--he hit bad pitches, and came up big in big games.  But in the seventh game of the World Series, Hal Smith came up in the eighth with the Pirates behind, and hit a three run homer that put them temporarily ahead, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's tie-breaking ninth inning solo homer.

Another former Pirate who passed away in 2014 was Eddie O'Brien, from their not great 50s team.  But when his brother Johnny played, he became half of the first twins to play for the same team in the same Major League game.

But life isn't all about sports, not even in Pittsburgh.  There's also music!  And Porky Chedwick was a legendary DJ in Pittsburgh and beyond, the original daddio of the radio, the platter-pushing papa, whose most influential era (even beyond Pittsburgh) was the doo-wop 1950s.  I was just a little too young (and a little too far away for good reception from his station) to catch him in his first flush of local fame, but everybody knew his name.  He brought a lot of attention to a lot of black acts in particular, not only on the radio but with live shows.

Pittsburgh had some great mayors, two of whom became PA governors.  Another great one was Richard Caliguiri, who I once interviewed at length.  But there was no Pittsburgh mayor who screamed Pittsburgh! in every way than Sophie Masloff.  As president of the City Council she became mayor upon Caliguiri's death in 1988, and was later elected in her own right.  Her proposal for a new baseball-only park was laughed to oblivion, but she lived long enough to attend games at PNC Park.  She left office in 1994.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Giants Trouble

Here it is late December and the World Champion San Francisco Giants are unable to attract the players they need while other teams in the division--notably the Dodgers and Padres--are trading like crazy, and at least on paper, improving immensely.

The Dodgers are putting together a formidable rotation of starting pitching, while the Padres are adding lots of power.  But the Giants, who need starting pitching, power and two key position players, are seeing their championship team losing important pieces without gaining any.  The Padres are in the midst of installing an entirely new and very impressive outfield.  The Giants can't seem to find a left fielder.  Or someone to play third base.

The Giants have lost two keys to their 2014 success: Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse.  While the Dodgers add pitching, the Giants don't have a starting rotation.  They signed reliever Romo, who was shaky for a period in 2014.

Sure, there's still time and other ways to get good players.  But it does seem mysterious.  In the competition for big name free agents (including Sandoval) their money offers were close if not the same.  And their reputation for a close-knit clubhouse, an exceptional organization, and great fans, presumably would have been an attraction.  The mystery is why it wasn't.

 It may be that San Francisco doesn't draw nationally.  The ratings for the 2014 World Series were pretty bad until the seventh game.

Last year the Giants had a great first half, then barely made it into the playoffs.  The competition within the division is likely to be greater this year.  Nobody knows of course whether all those new Dodgers and Padres will jell into a team, or when.  But the Giants will likely need to find some players somewhere just to remain competitive in 2015.