Saturday, September 05, 2015

Weird Enough Yet?

The game tonight is as good a microcosm of the Giants season as any.  Having lost two more players to injury, probably for the rest of the season (Aoki, Susak), after Lincecum's season-ending surgery was announced and news on the return of Hunter Pence was fairly doleful, the Giants had to scratch first baseman Brandon Belt from the starting lineup because of a stomach issue.

 Since manager Bochy was determined to give a banged-up Buster Posey the night off, that meant that Nick Noonan--called up this week--had to play first base, which he had never done professionally. Alejandro De Aza batted cleanup, for the first time in his big league career.

Then in the third inning, third-string catcher Hector Sanchez sprained his ankle trying to beat out a bunt.  With Susak gone, the only catcher the Giants had was Posey.  His night off was over.  

So what happened?  Giants announcers began the game carping on the lack of homers by the team.  The only one in forever was the eye-rolling blast by pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.  It was his first homer--in his entire career. How weird was that?

Apparently not weird enough.  Because in this game, starting pitcher Jake Peavy, in addition to handcuffing the Rockies, hit a double.  Then he hit another one, and got an RBI.  Peavy is not only a pitcher, but he's about as close to legally blind as any player allowed in the bigs.

And the Giants got a home run--by Angel Pagan.  Not the first in his career exactly, but the first all this season, and most of last season.

Nick Noonan doubled in a run--his first big league hit in a year.  And when Duffy made a difficult backhanded grab at third and his back foot slipped as he made his throw, Noonan stretched to get it like he's been playing first base all his life, and got the out.  Duffy had three hits, including a double that drove in two, giving the Giants a 4-1 lead.  De Aza had two hits, and on his day off Posey had one.

Then another Giants power hitter got a home run.  That would be Blanco.  His fourth of the year.

So the good starting pitching and the great relief pitching that the Giants have been getting in this losing streak this time got runs behind them, and the Giants won 7-3.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, the Cards defeated the Pirates.  That pretty much settles first place, barring a Cardinal dive and a Bucco surge.

Oh, also in Colorado, league home run leader Arenado hit another one--so he's homered in six straight games. That's a Rockies record.  So what's the major league record for homers in consecutive games you ask?  Well...

Return with me now to yesteryear (1958 or so), to an afternoon outside the confectionary (as they called themselves--the neighborhood store) about midway on my paper route where I often stopped for a frosty bottle of Verner's root beer from the cooler outside, and maybe some penny candy and a pack or two of baseball cards and the enclosed slice of pink bubble gum. (This was also the place where I once heard a local wit ask, how much are those nickel candy bars?  A question I've been asking ever since, and getting increasingly shocking answers.)

 This store was just a few doors up a sidestreet from Hamilton Avenue, catty-corner from the brick Knights of Columbus hall, behind which my grandfather occasionally played bocce, and next to the barber shop with the barber whose daughter was my 7th grade math teacher.  I think we were vaguely related, but then just about all the Italians in western PA were vaguely related.

Besides color photos of a player on one side and his stats on the other, the bubble gum baseball cards had a baseball quiz question at the bottom, with the answer upsidedown beneath it.  The question this particular sunny day was precisely the one I just asked.

The answer on that card was Dale Long, who homered in eight consecutive games. I remembered that today.  And dang if that still isn't the record, although a couple of more recent players also own it: Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey, Jr.   But Dale Long did it while he was on the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956. which was only a couple of years before I read about it on that baseball card.  I hadn't started really following the Pirates then--not until 1958, when they astonished everyone by finishing in second place.

Dale Long, by the way, remains the only National Leaguer to hit homers in 8 consecutive games.  Arenado has a shot to be the second.  But he's probably going to have to hit one off Madison Bumgarner, who starts for the Giants Sunday.

Update Sunday: Arenado's streak ended at 6.  The only homer in Sunday's game was by Buster Posey, the 100th of his career.  Giants won 7-4, MadBum got his 17th win. Dodgers won over Padres.  Cubs won. Pirates rang up the Cards behind Gerrit Cole, to get 2 of 3.  Close game until late innings, 7-1.

Friday, September 04, 2015

A Winter's Tale

The three game sweep of the Giants will be talked about in L.A. for some time to come.  Every game was hard-fought, all settled by one run--the first in 14 innings, the next two by the score of 2-1.  Clayton Kershaw had a career game in the last one, pitching a complete game, and inducing more swings and misses that he ever has, or anyone else has this year.

Giants fans however may remember a very odd but telling detail about those last two games.  In a crucial late inning in both of them, with the Giants threatening, an umpire named Winters made a crucial call that some Giants strongly disagreed with.  When manager Bruce Bochy defended his players, Winters tossed him from the game.  Both games.  Both of the games that the Giants lost 2-1.

As Bochy said after the first instance, that kind of thing just isn't done--not in games like this, between teams like this, at this time of year.  The idea that Bochy, acknowledged as the best manager in baseball, would do or say something so flagrant to earn such a quick hook is pretty much unthinkable.

Something really wrong there.  Wonder what it is, and if anybody will try to find out.

In the two games since that epic series, both teams showed exhaustion in their first game out but the Dodgers recovered for a win tonight, while the Giants did not.  They lost by that same awful score of 2-1, in usually hitting-friendly Colorado.  Chris Heston pitched well, but gave up back to back homers to the league's home run leaders in the first inning, and that was all.  Once again, Marlon Byrd struck out in the game's most crucial at-bat.

This was the Giants' seventh loss in a row, and unless this streaky team suddenly goes on an epic winning streak, the front office attention turns towards winter, and the moves the team needs to make for next season, beginning with a new starting rotation.

There is still some potentially intriguing baseball to come.  What will it be like to have Joe Panik, Brian Crawford (both injured) on the field again with Matt Duffy (showing signs of wear) but with Kelby Tomlinson in the mix?  What will it be like to have Hunter Pence in the lineup, but with Byrd and their latest acquisition Alejandro De Aza available, as well as Blanco?  That infield may happen soon, the outfield before season's end, maybe.  (More bad news on the injury front came Saturday: Aoki is out again with recurrent concussion symptoms, Susak reinjured--both may miss the rest of the season.  Meanwhile the return of Hunter Pence may not come until the season's final week, if then. Earlier it was announced that Tim Lincecum will undergo hip surgery, so he won't return this year.)

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates broke a four game losing streak to beat their rival Cardinals in St. Louis and move to 5.5 games out of first.  But they'd have to sweep the series to make a real dent in that lead.  Not easy to do in St. Louis. J.A.Happ, acquired in July, gave the Pirates 7 scoreless on Friday, and with Burnett coming back, pitching seems even stronger.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Reality Check

For awhile now, the Giants getting into the postseason was an unlikely possibility.  Now after dropping the final two games at home with St. Louis, and the first two games of three at Los Angeles, that has grown more remote.  Not impossible, not on the first of September, but some dramatic stuff will have to happen.

But you know what?  They still give you your money's worth.  Bruce Bochy said he was proud of how they played in the L.A. opener on Monday (into Tuesday), even though they lost in the 14th inning.  (Had it gone 15, they likely would have won, because the Dodgers were out of pitchers.)  Credit the Dodgers relievers, otherwise that team's weakness.

Things could have hardly gone worse in that epic opener.  On the last day before roster expansion, the starters had to stay in the game for 14 innings and the bullpen, already overused, got stretched to the limit.  And Brandon Crawford got injured all over again, in his first game back.  They just never got the one hit that might have salvaged at least the win, in the game of the series that on paper they were more likely to win than the other two.

Tuesday night an exhausted team, fielding some players who had just joined or rejoined the club, couldn't support MadBum's start, and they lost the second game 2-1.  The Giants have learned how to win without Pence, but they haven't without Crawford.  Buster Posey, who caught 14 innings in a game that ended after midnight, was back behind the plate, and got one hit. That's heroic.  Manager Bochy as well as pitcher Jake Peavy were ejected for arguing a key strikeout call in the 7th, when the Giants had runners on second and third.  Once again, Matt Duffy made a stellar play and got a key hit.

Some will say the Giants' season is over, but you know, it just ain't.  They play good ball, heroic at times, fun to watch.  This road trip may have already turned deadly--especially if they lose the third game (and the pitching matchup says they probably will)--but they are at home for most of the rest of the season.  There will be great days and evenings at their San Francisco park, fans will see terrific baseball and have fun.  Kids will get their certificate for seeing their first Giants game, as my pal Beckett did last weekend.

It also looks more and more likely that the Pirates will get into the postseason only as a Wild Card.  They lost Tuesday while the Cards won.