To get the awful taste of that Toronto series out of our mouths, and to prepare for Matt Cain’s start tonight in Colorado, here again is that awesome play turned by Cain last Friday against the Atlanta Braves at AT&T Park. It happened in the top of the second inning with one out and nobody on. With the count 1-2, Braves catcher Brian McCann hit a sharp comebacker that deflected off of Cain’s right thigh and rolled toward the first base line. Without missing a beat, Cain ran for the ball, grabbed it with his right hand just as it reached the line, and flipped a quick off-balance throw to Brandon Belt at first, getting McCann by a couple of steps. Belt was equally terrific on the play, stretching to his left in foul territory to glove the throw from Cain while keeping his foot on the bag.
It was only after the play was over that Cain showed how much the combacker stung. Now that’s a major league player.
Cain pitched beautifully that game, going eight innings and giving up only two earned runs on three hits. The Giants won, 8-2.
We need another one like that.
Madison Bumgarner is on the bump tonight for the Giants’ first in a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park. The last time Bumgarner pitched against the Phillies was April 17, 2012, also at AT&T Park. Joe Blanton started for the Phillies. The Giants won that game, 4-2, thanks to a strong outing by Bumgarner, some nice situational hitting by the Giants, and three shutout innings from the Giants bullpen. Bumgarner pitched six innings total, giving up two runs on seven hits and one walk and striking out two.
The surprise of the night came from Buster Posey. Remember, it was Posey’s first season back after sitting out most of 2011 with a reconstructed left leg. If there was concern about how Posey would perform on his return, this game went a long way in alleviating it. Posey went 3-for-4 at the plate. More encouraging, however, was when he put his leg to the test before 42,000+ by stealing third base in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Yep, Buster Posey stole third base.
The throw from Philly catcher Carlos Ruiz beat the none-too-fast Posey by a country mile, but thanks to a headfirst slide by Posey and a high tag by Philly third baseman Placido Polanco, Posey’s left hand touched the bag before Polanco’s glove brushed Posey’s shoulder. The stolen base would set up the Giants’ final run of the game as Posey scored on a ground ball to Blanton by Brandon Crawford.
“It kind of surprised all of us,” Bruce Bochy later said of Posey’s steal. “He knows if they forget about him at second base he has the green light to go. I think he thought he was moving faster than he was and made a nice slide to avoid the tag.”
Even if you’re not Superman, it helps to feel like Superman.
Tonight, Cliff Lee toes the rubber for the Phillies. Last Wednesday, Lee went six innings against the Cleveland Indians, giving up five runs on nine hits and two walks and striking out four. The Indians won that game, 6-0.
The talk of last night’s 2-1 Giants win over the Dodgers was, of course, Buster Posey’s bottom of the ninth inning walk-off home run, a line drive hammered into the left field stands. Believe it or not, it was Posey’s first MLB career walk-off hit. Not just his first walk-off home run, but his first walk-off hit, period. It was a thrilling, satisfying end (if you were a Giants fan) to a tense, strange game that saw Giants pitchers put the lead runner on base seven of the nine innings and Dodgers hitters unable to bring them home. The Dodgers had 11 hits in the game, but scored only one run. The only Dodger to cross home plate last night was pitcher Clayton Kershaw, which was also the case during Kershaw’s first outing against the Giants this season at Dodgers Stadium, a game the Dodgers won.
Yet for all the excitement of Posey’s home run, the most compelling moment last night, as far as I’m concerned, was Sergio Romo’s ninth inning, nine pitch battle against Matt Kemp. Kemp ultimately prevailed with a line drive single to right field. Still, the match-up was a thing of baseball beauty.
Put away your pitchforks. I’m no turncoat. But the Romo-Kemp struggle was what major league baseball is all about, with two talented players facing off in a war of wills: Romo, painting both sides of the plate with fastballs and sliders against the powerful Dodger right hander; Kemp, fighting off close, tricky pitches with foul balls, fouling one particularly meaty pitch, offering at another way out of the strike zone, spitting at still others, and seeing at least one–the first pitch of the at bat, a fastball inside–get called a strike.
That first pitch strike came at an interesting time. Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto, who led off the inning, had just got called out looking on a slider from Romo that hit almost the same spot on the right side of the plate (viewed from the pitcher’s mound). The left-handed Punto thought it was outside, and argued furiously with home plate umpire Joe West. With a dismissive wave of the finger, West silently warned Punto to head back to the Dodgers dugout.
Reviewing the replay, it’s clear the pitch was outside.
The first pitch to Kemp hit nearly the same spot, yet this one caught part of the plate. Kemp appeared to disagree. Unlike Punto, however, he kept his thoughts to himself, choosing instead to stare in disbelief into the stands along the first base line (was he staring at the scoreboard there to confirm the pitch got registered as a strike?). After all, it was the first pitch of the at bat, not the last. Still, Dodgers hitters must have been confused at the end of a game in which Joe West, throughout most of it, had stuck to an unbelievably tight strike zone. All of a sudden, in the ninth inning, that zone expanded.
Which is perhaps part of what set up the battle between Romo and Kemp.
Something interesting happened after that first strike. Kemp stepped back into the batter’s box, took a practice swing, then signaled time out to West before stepping back out.
Then he did it again.
Was he trying to get the bad taste of that first called strike out of his mouth? Or was he attempting to throw off Romo’s timing? Perhaps a bit of both. Both times, Romo went into the stretch, only to have to start over and set up again. Before Kemp stepped back into the box a third time, Romo went into his stretch, as if he were going to quick-pitch Kemp. West was having none of it. He stepped out from behind home plate to warn Romo. Romo threw out his arms, as if to say, “What did I do?” Giants fans started screaming at West.
On the next pitch, Romo threw Kemp a slider that curled and fell away from the plate outside. Kemp swung and missed it by a mile. The count was 0-2.
Kemp bounced the next pitch foul off to his left. Then Romo threw a cutter outside that Kemp spit on. The count was 1-2.
The crowd started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”
Kemp fouled another pitch into the stands off first base. Romo was lucky this time. He had hung a fastball over the heart of the plate. Kemp next took a low slider inside that was called a ball. The count was 2-2. Romo went back inside with a front door slider but missed. Barely. The count was 3-2.
Seven pitches had been thrown in the at bat.
Kemp fouled off the next pitch, a fastball in on his hands.
The ninth and final pitch of the at bat was a fastball on the outside edge of the plate. Kemp reached out and punched a line drive into right field.
Battle over. Kemp won.
But Romo would go on to win the war. After falling behind Dodgers shortstop Justin Sellers, 2-1, Romo got Sellers to foul off the next pitch. He then struck Sellers out swinging with a wicked slider that broke off the plate out of the reach of Sellers’ bat.
A.J. Ellis came up next and popped up the third pitch slider to Joaquin Arias at short for the third out.
Posey would lead off the ninth inning. But you already know how this story ends.
Eureka, I’ve found it!
I’ve finally zeroed in on the source of the Giants’ problems: their pitchers aren’t hitting.
After starting the season with their bats on fire, of late, Giants pitchers might as well be going to the plate holding an icicle. First, check out their batting averages a week into the season:
OK, Vogelsong and Cain didn’t have a hit, but you see my point. Now let’s look at these same pitchers’ averages a few weeks later.
I know what you’re saying. Zito is still hitting a remarkable .600, and Bumgarner’s .250 isn’t too shabby for a pitcher. But Zito’s average has dropped by .150, Bumgarner’s by .083, and Lincecum’s by an embarrassing .208! Meanwhile, Cain and Vogelsong remain hitless.
How can a ball club win games when their starting pitchers suddenly aren’t hitting?
Yes, I’m being silly. But no more silly, I think, than a lot of sportswriters, fans, and radio broadcasters who just four weeks into the season, with the Giants two games out of first place in the West, are already looking for scapegoats to explain why the Giants have seemingly lost their mojo. Last night on KNBR, Marty Lurie asked his listeners which Giants hitter needs to step up his game to get the rest of the Giants’ offense going. Like a prosecutor leading witness testimony, he limited their choices to Sandoval, Posey, and Pence. Apparently incapable of following simple courtroom rules, I was ready to burn Marco Scutaro at the stake until I realized what I was doing.
The thing is, Giants hitting has been good overall this season. They have the second best average in the National League, hitting .262 as a team. Even if we limit ourselves to the past four games, the Giants have gone 38 – 148, a .257 average.
Oh, but they’re not hitting with RISP! Andrew Baggarly points out that the Giants have gone 0 – 15 with RISP the past two games. Two whole (low-scoring) games!
The point is, you can cherry pick whichever numbers you wish to make an argument about what’s supposedly going wrong for the Giants. But we’re only four weeks into the season. Of course, we expect the Giants, who have won two World Series titles in the past three years, to be dominant all the time, and throughout their lineup. However, you could easily go back to the 2010 or 2012 season and take a snapshot of the team, or even a particular player, and make an argument explaining why the Giants were unlikely to win the division that year, much less go on to win the World Series.
Baseball is a game of numbers, and numbers are revealing–over a long stretch. We’re not there yet. Not even close.
Tuesday, April 23 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks: Dbacks lead 4 – 0 in the top of the eighth inning. Giants reliever George Kontos is on the mound. Dbacks catcher Miguel Montero is at the plate with one out and nobody on. On a 2-1 count, he hits a ground ball shot between third and short. Pablo Sandoval makes a great diving catch and throws Montero out at first.
It’s the bubble that makes it, the cherry on top of an already sweet play.
The Giants would go on to tie the game with two runs in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth on a Brandon Belt home run, forcing the game into extra innings. Unfortunately, the Dbacks would tack on two more runs in the top of the 11th thanks to a bevy of Giants errors.
Dbacks won, 6-4.
When I was a kid, I used to love the board game Clue. You know, the one where you have to figure out not only who committed the murder of poor Mr. Boddy in the mansion, but where he or she did it and with which murder weapon. Was it Colonel Mustard with the dagger in the study? Or maybe it was Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick in the kitchen.
Last night, the Giants created their own murder mystery versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. They seemed so alive coming back from a four-run deficit going into the eighth inning, picking up two runs in the bottom of the eighth then tying the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth on a dramatic two-run home run by Brandon Belt. It looked like yet another come-from-behind victory for the Gigantes.
Then, as the game went into extra innings, the slow killing of that potential victory started to occur.
There were so many suspects in so many places leaving so many clues. Let’s take a look at a few of them and try to figure out who, ultimately, murdered the Giants’ chances.
Tim Flannery in the third base coach box with the “Go Pablo” sign?
With two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Pablo Sandoval hits a ground ball double to right field. Then D-backs pitcher Brad Ziegler intentionally walks Buster Posey. That brings Hunter Pence to the plate. On the second pitch, Pence hits a ground ball to Cody Ross in right field. Ross, as any Giants fan knows, has a great arm. But despite this, and despite the fact that the hot-hitting Brandon Belt is on deck, third base coach Tim Flannery decides to send Sandoval home. Instead of scoring the winning run, Sandoval is thrown out by a good ten feet.
Andres Torres in left field with the brain freeze?
In the top of the 11th with one out, D-backs shortstop Didi Gregorius hits a fly ball between left and center that Andres Torres gives up on. For some reason, after Torres catches the ball on a bounce, he turns to look at center fielder Angel Pagan before throwing to second. The hesitation allows Gregorius to reach second easily.
Brandon Belt at first base with the hole in his glove?
Again in the top of the 11th, D-backs pinch-hitter Alfredo Marte hits a ground ball to third that Sandoval gloves. Sandoval looks Gregorius back to second before throwing a one-hopper to Brandon Belt at first. Belt has caught these kinds of throws from Sandoval a million times. But perhaps because he’s anticipating his own throw back to Sandoval as he sees Gregorius break for third, Belt takes his eye off the ball and fails to catch it. Now there are men on first and third with one out.
Buster Posey behind the plate with the hole in his glove?
D-backs left fielder Gerardo Parra is up next. One the second pitch, Santiago Casilla throws a ball in the dirt that Buster Posey allows to get by him. Gregorius scores from third and Marte advances to second. 5-4 D-backs.
Santiago Casilla on the pitcher’s mound with the fastball?
Casilla then throws a fastball down the middle that Parra lines into the gap between left and center. Marte scores. Parra reaches second. 6-4 D-backs.
Brandon Belt between first and second with the poor base running skills (or, alternatively, Andre Torres at the plate with the double-play ball)?
With the Giants down to their final three outs in the bottom of the 11th, Brandon Belt comes to the plate and hits a line drive single to center. Andres Torres then comes up. He hits a ground ball to D-backs second baseman Martin Prado. The ball reaches Prado before Belt does, but instead of stopping and forcing Prado to either a) throw to second for the force out and possibly allow Torres to reach first, or b) try and tag him, thus allowing Torres to reach first, or c) throw to first, thus allowing Belt to advance to second, Belt instead runs right into Prado’s tag, which allows Prado time to throw the ball to first for the double play.
Brandon Crawford would then ground out, killing the Giants’ final chance.
So many clues. But it has been so long since I played the game. I’m a little rusty.
I leave it to you to decide.
You know Buster Posey is coming out of a slump when KNBR’s Dave Flemming starts gushing about him like a schoolgirl in the postgame wrap. You could already see signs of Flemming’s excitement seep out last night immediately after Posey hit his game-tying two-run home run over the centerfield wall in the eighth inning. Flemming
wrote on his Pee-Chee tweeted to his followers:
Tell me more, tell me more, Dave. Like does he have a car?
I kid Dave because he has no idea who I am or where I live, so he can’t physically hurt me. But I have to admit, I was feeling a bit of a crush on Posey myself last night after that home run. It arced so beautifully against the night sky. The stars and planets had nothing on it.
See, I’m moved to poetry.
The two-run shot put the Giants back into the game, a game it didn’t seem in the stars for them to win thanks to Ryan Vogelsong’s less than stellar pitching performance. The home run was especially impressive after the D-backs’ David Hernandez brushed Posey back with the previous two pitches.
“He can hit,” Duane Kuiper said after the home run. “He can hit,” Mike Krukow confirmed.
But the big star of the night was Brandon Belt. There’s nothing like a game-winning knock to bring back a struggling hitter’s confidence. Granted, Bruce Bochy made Belt his pet project before the game. And Tony Sipp helped set up the hit by throwing Belt three straight sliders. But give the kid some credit. After jumping out of his shoes on the first pitch and watching the second go low and outside, Belt waited for the third pitch, a slider that was up and caught too much of the plate, and looped it for an easy line drive to center. And it was a pressure situation. Tie game, bottom of the ninth, a runner in scoring position. Making these kinds of adjustments during an at bat is exactly what Belt needs to do. Props to Bochy for putting him into the game at a key moment. Bochy knew Belt needed the lift.
How about Cody Ross last night? He knocks in two runs in the first inning and makes a spectacular sliding catch in right field in the sixth to rob Buster Posey of a hit. Almost makes you wish the Giants didn’t trade him. Almost.
Tonight, Matt Cain takes the bump. The last time Cain pitched against the D-backs was on September 26 of last year at AT&T park. He pitched seven shutout innings, struck out six, and allowed only four hits and one walk. The previous two games, his control had been an issue–he walked nine batters–but this game he was mastering his pitches, getting ahead of hitters early. All his pitches were working for him. “It seemed like he was really effortless tonight,” Buster Posey told reporters after the game. “The ball was coming out good, and he was moving the ball around to both sides of the plate. He did a nice job.”
After Cain’s last two disastrous starts, it’s the kind of “nice job” he needs to do tonight.