Saturday, October 04, 2014

A Giant Epic

The superlatives start with this one: 18 innings, tied for the longest postseason game in Major League history.  Epic pitching on both sides but particularly by the Giants bullpen, which has held the Nats scoreless for 14 consecutive innings.  The Giants tied this game at 1-1 with two outs in the ninth, when the Nats made the fatal mistake of lifting the unhittable Zimmerman.  It was the length of a normal game later that (under the wind and temperature conditions prevailing in Washington) probably the only Giant capable of homering, did: Brandon Belt belted one more than 400 feet to right, it was gone off the bat and he knew it.  The Nats could not answer.  Now the Giants need just one of two games at home to take the series.

It was a pitcher's duel from the start, with Zimmerman getting stronger as the game went on, but Tim Hudson finding his pitches to mesmerize the Nats hitters.  But his wasn't the only "quality start" for the Giants in the game (as their announcers quipped): Petit--who figured to start a game in the series--was called in to pitch 6 innings of extras.  The flamethrowing kid, rookie Hunter Strickland, got the tense 18th inning save.

Bruce Bochy severely outmanaged the Nat's Matt Williams, who in addition to taking Zimmerman out, got himself thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes.  Catcher Buster Posey managed the parade of Giants pitchers brilliantly, got a key hit and almost scored the lead run in the ninth.  Pablo Sandoval doubled in the first Giants run and--though he's not having a particularly good postseason--has a record 12 postseason game hitting streak going.

The statistics and superlatives will continue to be compiled about this classic game, which clocked in at six hours.  But here's one stat that stands out: Brandon Belt's home run in the 18th was the first extra inning home run in a postseason game since one of the most famous homer in Giants history (in this case the New York Giants): Dusty Rhodes 10th inning homer to win the first game of the World Series in 1954.  That was the year the Giants swept the favored Indians.

Could these Giants sweep the favorite Nationals?  They have Madison Bumgarner on the mound for their first game at home on Monday.

I couldn't listen to every pitch for six hours, although I did hear more than 3/4 of the game.  Some of the announcers kind of got hoarse but it also meant 18 innings of Mike Krukow talking baseball, and that's worth it.  At one point he said that even when a batter decides to take a pitch, he should be watching and measuring velocity and so on, with his body as well as his eye.  He noted with some disgust that a Nats player hadn't done that, just spaced out for a pitch.  It's that kind of observation that adds to my baseball knowledge (I personally got maybe two or three tips from my so-called coaches in little and pony leagues, the rest I learned from other players, baseball novels by John R. Tunis and Joe Archibald and biographies, and mostly from Major League announcers) and that enhances my enjoyment of the game.

Friday, October 03, 2014

One Giant Step

Joe Panik
The San Francisco Giants played their game, and they won the first in the five game set with the Nats at Washington, 3-2.  Jake Peavy, a much underrated pitcher probably because he faltered in previous postseason game, outpitched his glorified opposite number Strasburg.

The Giants won the way they had to win, with pitching, stubborn hitting and above all with players who are new to the team this year to supplement their veterans on the field and in the bullpen.  They got the biggest out of the game from rookie Hunter Strickland, who struck out a fast ball hitter who often cleans up with the bases loaded, with a 100 mph fastball, with the bases loaded.

Strickland gave up the only runs the Nats got, two bases empty homers.  But the Giants veteran bullpen shut the door after that.

But the rookie of the postseason so far is second baseman Joe Panik.  A kid who looks like he stepped out of the cast of The Natural and with that perfect baseball fiction name, has done what no Giant did before in the team's long history: he's had five hits in his first two postseason games.  He had two in this one, including an RBI and a run scored.  He made some excellent plays in the field as well.

The two Brandons (Crawford and Belt) and now the two Hunters (Pence, who got a run with his running, and now Strickland) were among the standouts.

So the Giants got the game they probably had to win.  Now they can afford a split in DC, pitch Bumgarner at home, and see where they are after 3.  They go into the game tomorrow even more of an underdog than today, despite their win, knowing that Tim Hudson is capable of throwing a gem, or of getting really roughed up.  He'll have to recapture his magic and again keep it a low scoring game, the most likely scenario for a Giants win.

Meanwhile the O's have gone two games up on Detroit.  As of this moment the Dodgers and Cards are in a tense and testy opener to their series, and the Royals play the Angels later.  Update: The Cards got to Clayton Kershaw, wound up winning an improbable 9-8 pitcher's duel, upending that series with the first game.  And the Royals took down the Angels again, and again in extra innings--with a homer in the 11th.  Not a boring game in the postseason yet.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mr. Peavy Goes to Washington

I'm too lazy to check the actual odds, but from what I've gleaned, the smart picks to win the World Series this year are either the Los Angeles Angels or the Washington Nationals.

Well, the Angels lost the first game of their series to Kansas City, who may be replacing the Pirates as the "destiny" team.  And the Orioles looked awfully good chewing up the superior pitching of the Tigers in their first game.

The Nationals are called a "complete team," excellent in all phases of the game, starting with starting pitching.  Based on the season, they do have a definite advantage over the Giants. Gone (for now) are the days of dominating Matt Cain (injured) and Tim Lincecum (who will likely be in the bullpen.) Bumgarner is the Giants' ace, and he won't pitch again until the 3rd of five games.

Jake Peavy gets the first game start Friday, with the former wonder boy Strasburg getting his first postseason start for the Nats.  After Peavy, there's a falling off in quality starters for the Giants.  Petit has pitched well, at times brilliantly, since he's become a starter late in the year. Tim Hudson is scheduled for the second game--he's been brilliant during the season but in recent games he's been uncomfortably hittable. He's facing Jordan Zimmerman, who pitched a no-hitter his last game.  So it's pretty important for the Giants to win the first game.

As for Lincecum, I have a feeling we're going to see him in this series, probably if a starter falters.  He did relief work in the 2012 postseason I believe, and did very well.

This is the early game--it'll be high noon around here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Giants Move On

Madison Bumgarner was the better pitcher and the San Francisco Giants were the better team in the Wild Card game on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.  Bumgarner's complete game shutout will go down as one of the best pitching performances of this season.  The air went out of the stadium and the Pirates' game when Brian Crawford dinked his grand slam but even without it, the Giants were in control.  The Pirates' depleted bullpen could do no better than starter Volquez did, their third best starter.

This loss is pretty directly attributable to the Pirates trying so hard to win the division in the past two games, which they also lost.  I thought (and said here) that the Giants were looser and the Pirates could be deflated by two tough important losses in a row to end the regular season.  The Giants, with nothing to gain or lose, could rest Bumgarner and give their starters some rest and easy innings.  But as the game with the Pirates went on, the Giants playoff experience also figured in.

I heard the game from the Giants radio announcers, and since they weren't doing TV, with the addition of Mike Krukow, whose comments I really miss all season--although he usually joins in for the analysis afterwards which is broadcast on both radio and TV.  (There's a nice ESPN piece about Krukow and the crew.)

Maybe they were a little hard on Clint Hurdle, talking about him limping out to the field every time he moved, and on the Pittsburgh fans, describing their exodus over the Clemente bridge in the late innings as looking like refugees, bundled up and forlorn.  But they are a fun group, and so I'm happy that I'll be listening to them for the Giants series with Washington, when the Giants will be definite underdogs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gamecasting Problems

Night before the game I really care about, checking in with the wild one in Kansas City.  And glad I'm not going to have to rely on ESPN gamecast for play by play tomorrow--I get the crack SF Giants radio team.  Gamecast is weird, with some information outrunning other pieces, and some stunning irrelevancies and mistakes.  Irrelevant: the percentage chance a team has of scoring 2 or more runs when it's the bottom of the ninth with the score tied.  Mistake: a foul out to second, very difficult to imagine.  To the second baseman maybe, I suppose, but the middle of the infield is kind of by definition not foul ground.

Sometimes it just freezes, like right now, at the very crucial last of the 12th.  When the little box at the bottom shows that the Royals just scored the winning run. And even there the icon of the runner at first is well not even superfluous, it's wrong. Gamecast doesn't even bother to try to catch up.

Sad for Oakland.  Ahead four runs late in the game, going ahead at the top of the 12th.  Now it shows that KC leads the series 1-0.  Hey, there is no series.  This was the wild card game.  It's over.  KC moves on, Oakland goes home.  Now we wonder whether this will be the only Bay Area team to squander its commanding lead, hang on for a wild card, but stop there.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


The last day of the season turned out to be the last day of the season.  Before the games began on Sunday, it was possible for three division titles to still be decided by a game on Monday.  But none of the second place teams could earn a tie.

That included the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost to the Reds' ace (and now 20 game winner) early in the day, even before St. Louis won their game.  Either outcome meant that Pittsburgh would host the SF Giants in the Wild Card game on Wednesday, and that's what will happen.

The Pirates gambled on the possibility of earning that tie and then winning the division by sending out their ace (Gerit Cole) to pitch Sunday.  Their loss meant that St. Louis scrapped their starting lineup that evening, including their ace, saving them all for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants sent a rookie pitcher to the mound, and otherwise used the game as a tuneup for Wednesday.  They won easily over the Padres.

So it looks as if the Giants will send their ace Madison Bumgarner to the mound on Wednesday, while the Pirates will likely use a surprise starter, Edinson Volquez. The Giants seem pleased with the match-up.

So apart from the very apropos warning that in a single game, anything can happen, who has the edge?  The Pirates are playing at home, but they're coming off losing two tough games.  Volquez has been lights out in his recent starts, but that hasn't always been the case, and unless I'm mistaken this may be his first playoff game.  Volquez seems likely to be either devastating or gotten to quickly.  Bumgarner is steady, with great perseverance.

The Pirates have two hitters near the top of the league in average, and a lineup that's loaded with power.  The only significant injury might be to catcher Russell Martin, though that could be very significant.  (No word yet on whether he will play.)  And the team has the best home record in the league.  So in significant ways they should be the favorites (and they are clearly the better team for the long haul--that is, they are likely to go deeper into the playoffs than are the Giants.)

The Giants have lost the key to their lineup in Angel Pagan, and one of their power hitters in Michael Morse to injuries.  Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are in deep slumps, especially for power.  Sandoval and to an extent Buster Posey are playing hurt.  So the Giants don't seem to have a lot of margin for error.  But there are possible advantages to some of these disadvantages.  The Pirates haven't seen (or seen much of) their rookies.  And their flamethrowing rookie reliever Hunter Strickland could very well be the Giants' secret weapon.

What nags at me is how loose the Giants are.  They had two meaningless games that they won.  The players, management, and the announcers (maybe especially the announcers) seem almost giddy to be in the postseason.  They are counting on their exploits of the past, and that confidence.  That and Bumgarner (and the Pirates can be stopped by really good pitching) may give them an edge, if the Pirates are tired or tight.

So where does all this place me, fanwise?  On other occasions that they played each other I could just root for the home team and really not worry much.  But in the past week it's become clear where my deepest loyalties lie, and that's with the Pirates.  So I'm rooting for them in the Wild Card game and, if they win, beyond it.  But if the Giants win, I'll be rooting for them the rest of the way.

This game has one significant advantage for me:  I am without TV capability, but a local radio station carries the Giants and will carry this game.  So I can listen to the game on the radio, broadcast by the Giants' radio team I've been listening to with great pleasure all season.

A side note: though I haven't followed them, the other Bay Area team--the Oakland A's, got their American League division Wild Card on Sunday.  They play Tuesday.