Thursday, October 01, 2015


Tim Hudson threw his last big league pitch on Thursday afternoon in San Francisco, across the bay from where he threw his first.  In fact the same man who was umpiring at second base that first day, was umpiring second base on the last.

But in between 1999 and 2015 Tim Hudson had a pitching career that may get him into the baseball Hall of Fame someday.

He'll be honored officially at the ball park Friday.  But the Giants announcing crew talked about how deeply he was part of this team, and the lives of his teammates.  How he was a mentor to Madison Bumgarner,  close to him every step of the way in MadBum's extraordinary postseason performances a year ago.  Their families even lived together for a time.

They spoke of his ongoing relationships with teammates that has extended to several looking for homes in his neighborhood so they can stay together.  One of them is pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, who before Thursday's game announced his own retirement at the end of this season.  He pitched in Hudson's game, and if he's faced his last batter, let the record show that he struck him out.

Meanwhile the Pirates had an off day while the Cubs won their game against the hapless Reds.  And the hated Ravens won their first game of the year against the Steelers in overtime.  The flaw in the Steelers game turned out not to be their substitute quarterback but their kicker.

 And of course the coaches--that's a burgh staple, though in this case they may be right.  And isn't this the third case of a failed pass on an obvious short yardage running play in a crucial moment, beginning with Seattle in the Superbowl?  Which was called the worst coaching decision ever made?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

After Over

In the past two days, the Giants and the Pirates had to endure watching their division rivals clinch the championship by defeating them.  In both cases, the decisive game wasn't close.

Tuesday's game in San Francisco was dominated by Clayton Kershaw, who threw a one-hit complete game shutout, getting stronger as the game went on.  Madison Bumgarner was not nearly as sharp and gave up three homers in a game for the first time since his rookie season.  Manager Bochy apparently said he'd run out of gas.  Once it got to 7-0, Giants fans started leaving the building, not enthralled with watching the Dodgers celebrate.  But the Giants posted congratulations on the scoreboard, a characteristically classy move.

But Tuesday in Pittsburgh it rained--and I mean rained: 3.5. inches, which is a lot anywhere, but the most in the burgh ever on the date.  So today became a day/night double header, and in the first game the Pirates did their pitch and power thing with Cole on the mound and a grand slam by Cervelli for an 8-2 victory.  But the pitching fell apart in the nightcap and the Cards had all they could handle to keep from celebrating long before the final out.

Both final outcomes were likely but these games made it reality.  We'll see how the Bucs bounce back, with home field advantage in that stupid wild card game still somewhat at issue.   It's just a week away.

But we've seen how the Giants bounced back.  Out of the postseason completely, they played a solid, energetic game behind pitcher Mike Leake, who threw a two hit complete game shutout--remarkably, the first shutout of his career. 5-0.

 September rookie Nick Noonan playing first base for I believe the second time got only his second hit, but it was a soaring homer that almost made it into the water.  Matt Duffy got his 12th homer in the first, but even more impressive was later in the game when reliever Jansen threw at his head.  Duffy responded with a single and promptly stole second, in case message wasn't received.

Kelby Tomlinson doubled in a run, and made an athletic play picking the ball out of the air after it bounced off the heel of Crawford's glove and getting the runner at first.  The large crowd was into the game.

So for a no postseason season, almost unbelievably, the Giants are a better team.  They suffered, as Bochy said, "four concussions and three obliques" and you could probably count on one hand the games in which their starters in the field actually started.  Late trades helped,  but their farm system really came up big.

They lost one, two, three, four starting pitchers, and Chris Heston came up to give them important games and wins for much of the season.  Only one injury I can think of to the relief corps but age and wear take their toll, and while Strickland matures, up comes lefty Osich to become a go-to guy.

They lost one, two backup catchers, and discovered Trevor Brown, who was solid behind the plate from the start, and then started hitting.  Looks to me like they finally found the catcher who can alternate with Buster Posey and extend his career.  Even this year he became a godsend when first base starter Brandon Belt went down (again), and has just had surgery.

Their All-Star second baseman goes down, and up comes Kelby Tomlinson, who wins them some games with his bat, becomes a solid second baseman, and a fan favorite.

From the outfield they lose Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, and after a hot-hitting first half, Ayoki, as well as veteran Blanco.  Up comes Jarrett Parker, and hits six homers.  He drove in the Giants final run tonight with a line drive single off the Dodgers closer.  Up come Williamson and Noonan to play solid defense, and get some timely hits.

 In fact, when contemplating the Giants lineup the night after their season became an end in itself, the only real differences were that Posey got a night off and veteran Marlon Byrd--not really expected to be the starting right fielder-- gets the rest of the season off as a starter.

So next season suddenly looks very interesting.  Pagan came back and is pretty frisky--he still has mental lapses in the outfield, but physically he seems rejuvenated.  Kelby Tomlinson will get offseason work at other positions including outfield with an eye to being slotted as the ultimate utility fielder, but--back injuries are really difficult, and the Giants need insurance at second if Panik can't play every day.

Even if he's cooled off at the plate, Parker's power can't be ignored--and power is something the Giants need.  (And what a strange year-- no big power hitter but more grand slams and more pitchers with homers than anybody.)  Williamson at worst is a late innings defender and pinch-hitter.

Relief pitching is in pretty good shape with young arms Strickland and Osich joining the aging crew.  Remaining games this year will probably see more innings for call-ups, both relievers and starters.  I guess everyone expects that much of the offseason will be about the pitching corps.  Hudson is retiring--pitching his last game tomorrow afternoon.  Vogelsong is probably going.  Matt Cain has pitched some in relief and may get a start, but hasn't looked real good--certainly not as good as Peavy has since his injury.  Word today is that Lincecum may well be back in some role.

Then there's today's arm, Mike Leake, a free agent who after the game sounded like he'd like to remain a Giant, and make that decision pretty soon.  Lots of news to come no doubt, but the important thing is that fans go happily to the ballpark, without dread or cynicism,  and that's the way it is now.  That's a good place to be in planning next year--which is dare I mention, an even numbered year.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Undermanned Giants Beat L.A.

They were the Athenians facing the Persians at Marathon, the Spartans at Thermopylae, the English we happy few against the massed armies of France.  The depleted, undermanned San Francisco Giants defended their home ground, and prevented the Los Angeles Dodgers from clinching the division, with a 12 inning victory, 3-2.

Really--just look at the box score.  The Dodger column is twice the size of the Giants.  They used a total of 25 players--pinch hitters, pinch runners and a pitcher for every matchup.   The Giants used 16 players total, including 6 pitchers.

But on this night, the underdog triumphed, and the heroes were theirs.  Starting with the starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who outpitched the fearsome Grienke for seven innings.  Rookies who had never played in a pressure game like this excelled.  Kelby Tomlinson had two hits and at least two run-saving stops in the field.  Catcher Trevor Brown drove in 2 of the 3 Giants runs.  It looked electric out there--the veteran Peavy, dealing and pumping everybody up, the infield making plays.  I noticed that after his big hit Trevor Brown shouted the same thing as Jarrett Parker did on his big day in Oakland: Let's go!

Tomorrow it's Bumgarner against Kershaw, the epic matchup everyone has waited for, and now it still means something. In a war of attrition, the numerical superiority of the Dodgers (due to all the Giants injuries) should eventually take its toll.  But whatever happens, the Giants redeemed their season on Monday night.

Things turned out differently in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates were held scoreless for the second consecutive game.  They had the Cards scoreless most of the way, and multiple chances to score runs, but lost late, 3-0.  Now every game is a crapshoot in terms of pitching, but the Pirates must win the next two against St. Louis to have any hope of the division.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It Means Something After All (and the Steelers Without Big Ben)

The MLB schedule-makers could see without too much difficulty what the likely division contenders would be, and at least in the NL west and central, they arranged for them to play head to head in the penultimate series of the season.

But even as recently as last week, it looked like neither the Pirates-Cardinals nor the Dodgers-Giants sets would really mean anything.  But as each of them begins, they do.

More so for the Pirates.  Though they lost Sunday, so did St. Louis, and the Bucs remain just 3 back, with the 3 game series coming up at home.  They got extra motivation on Sunday, when their 8 game winning streak was broken by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, who took a perfect game into the 7th, and wound up giving up just 1 hit (and a hit batsman.)  Arrieta used the Krupe formula for a win: pitch a shutout and hit a home run.

 In the wild card game, the Pirates would likely face him again.  Even playing at home, they would be underdogs.  That's not the only reason they'd rather be division champs, but it seems like a big one.

In the West it looked increasingly like the division would be settled by the time the Dodgers came to San Francisco--and it almost is, but not totally.  So mathematically at least, these four games mean something.  And the last time the Dodgers came in, they got swept in consecutive shutouts.

What adds even more spice to this was how the Dodgers got swept in Colorado.  In Sunday's game, they didn't start any of their regular starters.  They pretty much threw the game (and were soundly beaten.)  There are a couple of interpretations of this.  First, they did it to rest their players.  This has been a trendy concept this year, and the Pirates have seemingly turned it into a science: paying attention to resting players and pitchers for the final push.  It's worked for the Pirates in their 8 game mid to late September winning streak.  It's probably something more teams will take even more seriously next year.

But the second (and not mutually exclusive) possibility is that they wanted to hold off clinching until they could do it in San Francisco.  The rivalry is bitter enough to make that possible, and maybe the Dodgers have felt their annual humiliation as they watched the Giants hoist their world championship trophies.  The Giants were humiliated on the field in their last trip to L.A.  The Dodgers perhaps want more: they want to kill the season of the defending world champs in their own home yard.  Not exactly a class move, but then we are talking about the Dodgers.

Back to Pittsburgh: fans there are rabid, frenzied, totally loyal, and also prone to anger and despair.  Sunday's Pirates game doubtless spread anxiety as well as depression.  But that wasn't the only such event.  The Steelers won their game against St. Louis, but Big Ben went down with an injury that is likely to keep him out for a month if not longer.

Now I wonder how the much criticized in the burgh acquisition of Michael Vick is faring among fans.  For Vick stepped in and did a credible job.  Even if he can't move as well as he used to, he still has the advantage of also being a mobile quarterback like Ben, so even if the Steelers must depend more on their running game--which should be pretty formidable, with not one but two of the league's best runners--his mobility and passing ability should keep the defenses from teeing off on the run.

But it should remind the city and the team that so far they have no future beyond Big Ben, who cannot play forever.  They don't have, and don't seem to care about having, a young quarterback they can develop.  Maybe that's not how it's done in the NFL anymore, but I do remember the many, many lost years after Terry Bradshaw.  They were painful.