It was supposed to be Old Timers Day in Oakland, but it turned out to be the Day of the Rookies, especially the Giants September call-up Jarrett Parker. Just hours after hitting what may well be the longest homer to center field in Oakland Coliseum history last night, he launched one, two, three more home runs, the last one a grand slam that won the game, 14-10.
Parker has hit six homers in 17 at bats. But he wasn't the only rookie to shine: Kelby Tomlinson had four hits and an RBI, catcher Trevor Brown had three and Matt Duffy had two and an RBI. But Parker's 3 home runs and 7 RBIs were the most of any Giants rookie in history, and the most for any Giants player since Willie Mays in 1961.
The Old Timers were starting pitchers Tim Hudson (SF) and Barry Zito (Oakland.) Both had started their careers with Oakland in the 90s and won many games there, and both got World Series rings with SF in this decade. Both are finishing their final season.
But the game didn't follow the storybook. Hudson had a 7 pitch first inning but fell apart completely in the second, unable to find the strike zone. He walked in two runs and hit a batter for a third. Zito gave up 4 runs to the Giants in his first inning. Both came out early, both got ovations, but very quickly Old Timers Day was over.
Their ineffectiveness only began what looked to be a clownish game, with sloppy play and the novelty act of the A's "switch-pitching" reliever, who throws left or right according to the hitter. Jarrett Parker had his clown moment in left field when he fought the sun glare and tripped over his own feet to let a fly ball fall.
But Parker changed everything with his second and third homers. Last night he faced the A's reliever named Dull and hit that titanic home run into the center field upper deck, for one of the longest home runs by anyone this season. The very next pitch he saw from Dull was in this game, and he smacked it for another epic shot, a grand slam homer that gave the Giants their four run lead.
Meanwhile, the Pirates kept the pressure on with a 4-0 victory over the Cubs, behind pitcher Francisco Liriano. However, the Cards took a commanding lead in Milwaukee when their game started later. So the Pirates didn't gain on them. If they can manage not to fall back by the end of Sunday, then they could tie St. Louis for first with a sweep next week. At the very least, they've demonstrated that their best pitchers can dominate the Cubs. That fact and their experience could provide an edge in the wild card game, still the most likely scenario.
While the SF Giants seem in pursuit of a record--how many games in a row a team can lose by the score of 5-4--the Pittsburgh Pirates are once again making things very interesting in the NL Central.
In what is likely to be the pitching matchup of a wild card game between the two teams, Garrit Cole faced John Lester, and the Bucs were one run better against the Cubs 3-2. Combined with a St. Louis loss to the Brewers, the Pirates moved to 3 games behind the Cards for the division crown.
The Pirates have won 7 consecutive road games, but they are playing the Cubs in Chicago for 2 more games this weekend, and then the Cards come to Pittsburgh for 3. The pressure is on, but unlike last year, the Pirates have not jiggered their rotation to face the Cards with their best. They tried that in 2014 in a last ditch effort to win the division, they failed, and were left with a lesser starter against the Giants in the wild card game, which of course they lost and the rest is history.
So it is still likely that the Pittsburgh will host the Cubs (who clinched tonight anyway when the Giants lost) in the wild card, while the Cardinals hold home field advantage throughout their series as division winner. But it is still possible that the Pirates win the division--in which case they will hold home field advantage over the likely western winner, the Dodgers.
For the third straight year--each season on September 23, now to be enshrined in Pittsburgh as Clinchmas--the Pirates clinched a playoff berth for 2015. They did it with a resounding victory over Colorado, with more power than pitching, but enough to get the job done. Congratulations and we had 'em all the way.
The Cubs lost but the Cards won, so positions hold for the Pirates to host the wild card game. An article at CBS Sports suggests that this year's Central Division leaders make this an historic division. If current rankings hold to the end of the season--that is, if the Cards, Pirates and Cubs are 1-2-3 in total wins in the majors, it will be the first time that the top three have come from the same division. And that seems pretty likely to happen.
Meanwhile in San Diego, the Giants bullpen pitchers ran out of gas, all nine of them. Jake Peavy pitched very well and had a shutout after 6 innings. But the exhausted bullpen gave up 5 runs, and although the Giants hitters kept fighting back, in the end Casilla had a terrible ninth and the Padres won 5-4.
If the Giants hadn't had a ton of bad luck this year, they would have had no luck at all. Mostly from injuries, which unbelievably continue to mount. That ball that hit Adrianza last night resulted in a concussion--another concussion on this team! And he's probably done for the season, which is mercifully only 11 more games.
Buster Posey came back from his "normal" injury after a game to play first, provide key hits and heads-up play in the ninth to score the tying run on a wild pitch. Brandon Crawford, who started coming out of his batting slump last night, had key hits, including the first two RBIs. But he showed signs of injury, almost came out of the game, and may be out tomorrow. If this game had gone to the 10th he probably would have come out. It's way too brutal to imagine this as an extra-inning game. Losing in the 9th may have been a mercy.
Latest newbie to impress is Jared Parker, who launched a homer, his second, and has previously looked good with situational hitting and baserunning. And these guys are probably going to be the main reason to keep watching the Giants, apart from the extra resonance of games in Oakland and with the Dodgers. Who won tonight.
The furious stasis in the Central continues Tuesday, as the Pirates, Cards and Cubs all won. The Pirates have to be happy that they've shaken off their September losses, frustrated that they're not gaining ground, and excited that they are very close to clinching the postseason for the third season in a row.
Yes, sports writers and commentators, that's the correct use of the word "clinch." When you have games yet that you're definitely going to play no matter what, but you could lose all of them and still reach the postseason, that's called clinching. When you win the fourth game of a seven game series, and no more games will be played, that's called winning.
Anyway, the Pirates could clinch tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers are finally tanking--losing four in a row-- but it may be too late for the Giants. Or whatever team is in the field wearing Giants uniforms. On Tuesday, exactly three regular starters out of eight positions were playing. And the three included an exhausted Matt Duffy. Adrianza played first base for the first time in his pro career, and it showed. Nevertheless, somehow, even against a pitcher who struck out 8 Giants in the first three innings, they won 4-2.
The two rested regulars came through big--Pagan with a 2 run homer, Brandon Crawford--despite being in a deep slump, batting cleanup--got a hit and an RBI, plus a spectacular over the shoulder catch in the ninth. But the newbies did well, too, especially catcher Trevor Brown, whose first hit as a Giant finally came--a double and an RBI. He promptly got his second--a catcher who beat out an infield hit and then stole second. He's doing well behind the plate, both in his defense and in handling pitchers and the game. Yes, he's a keeper.
The Dodgers are still 6 games in first with 12 to play. They will have to tank in epic fashion--and they are capable of this--and the Giants have to miraculously keep winning with a patched together lineup. They might not even have Adrianza tomorrow--he got beat up on a hot shot in the ninth that bounced off his shin and hit him in the mouth. If he's out and Buster Posey's back and hip aren't better, it's anybody's guess who will be playing their first game at first base tomorrow night. (And as feared, Perez did suffer a serious injury last game and is out for the season.)
And since the theme here is San Francisco and Pittsburgh, duly noted is the Steelers easy victory over the Niners on Sunday, 43-18. Memo to Steelers: receivers so consistently and completely open is not likely to recur very often.
Tim Hudson pitched six innings of shutout ball in San Francisco Sunday, and his Giants teammates broke recent precedent by scoring some runs, so he notched victory number 222 of his career, soon to be ending.
It might have been Hudson's last start in the SF ballpark (though he's scheduled for one more), and the run that almost stood up for the game winner was Alejandro De Aza's first RBI as a Giant. A few batters later, Buster Posey busted a three run homer for the victory.
Speaking of homer, Homer was one of the topics discussed by the Giants' announcing team Sunday, an erudite bunch that Saturday discoursed about regression to the mean. Sunday it was Homer, Socrates, and the Pittsburgh Pirates--actually much more about the Pirates, who were in the process of applying their formula of pitching and power to the Dodgers, to take two out of three in L.A. As they praised the Bucs, they gently mocked the Pirates announcers. So I'm not alone.
Brandon Crawford was back for the Giants--no rust in the field, dazzling there as ever, but plenty of rust at the plate. Now Brandon Belt is out, with concussion symptoms. Perez may have hurt himself in this game. It became official a few days ago that Joe Panik won't be back until next year. On the brighter side, Brown, the catcher recently brought up who has been behind the plate these two games, looks like a backup option. He's a converted infielder but catches well, and has some speed on the basepaths. Hasn't gotten his first hit yet, though. New outfielder Parker did get a hit and an RBI.
Nothing new in the standings really. The Giants need to gain a few more games on the Dodgers to make their series consequential. The Pirates are at least winning in September after a mini-slump, although their remaining schedule is pretty tough, while the Cards have only their head to head with the Bucs to worry about. The Pirates have shown they can handle the Dodgers in L.A., but I'm sure Pittsburgh fans are worried about how well the Cubs handled the Bucs in Pittsburgh. Right now that looks to be the teams and the place for the sudden death wild card game.
But before that the Bucs go to Chi-town. That Central Division is the most exaggerated in the majors. The Cards with the best record, the Bucs with the second best, and the Cubs two games behind them, 6 behind the Cards. And the last two teams are each 30 games out of first.