The Dodgers vs. the Swamp Giants

Maury Wills

With the Dodgers coming to AT&T Park today for the start of a three-game series against the Giants, I thought I would relate one of my favorite Dodgers-Giants rivalry stories. It took place in August of 1962, as the Dodgers and Giants played a three-game series at Candlestick Park.

The Dodgers were in first place in the National League as the series started, five games ahead of the Giants. (In 1962, there were no separate divisions in baseball, and therefore, no formal playoff series. Whichever team finished first in each league won the pennant.)

The Dodgers’ running game was a big part of their success that year. It was the year base-stealing great Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record of 96. Wills stole 104 bases.

Giants manager Alvin Dark asked the head groundskeeper at Candlestick, Matty Schwab, if there were anything he could do to help slow Wills down. Schwab had an idea. He and his son went out early the morning of the first game of the series. Sports Illustrated writer Noel Hynd describes what they did:

Working by torchlight, the Schwabs dug up and removed the topsoil where Maury Wills would take his lead off first base. Down in its place went a squishy swamp of sand, peat moss and water. Then they covered their chicanery with an inch of normal infield soil, making the 5- by 15-foot quagmire visually indistinguishable from the rest of the base path.

By the time the Dodgers took batting practice that afternoon, however, the wet, loose soil became noticeable. When Dodgers coach Leo Durocher saw it, he got down on his knees and dug through the topsoil.

“What the hell is this?” he asked.

The Dodgers brought it to the attention of the umpires, who forced the Giants’ grounds crew to remove the soil or forfeit the game. The grounds crew complied, carting out several wheelbarrows of the stuff. But instead of replacing it with the regular infield soil, they carted back the peat moss mixture and laid it down again, then watered down the area. Now the soil was looser than before, and wetter. Yet, for some reason, the umpires approved it.

Back on the field, the Dodgers started making duck calls. “What time does the tide come in?” Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly asked Alvin Dark. Dark shrugged. Fairly built an impromptu sand castle.

“What could you do?” asked Dodgers left fielder Tommy Davis. “It was their park. They were going to get away with anything.”

The swamp did its job, slowing down the Dodgers’ otherwise superior running game. At one point, center fielder Willie Davis rounded first on a base hit, slipped, and was thrown out. After arguing with the umpire, he was tossed from the game.

Wills stole no bases that game, nor did any Dodger. The Dodgers lost the game, 11-2.

Word about the incident got back to National League headquarters, and the Giants groundskeepers were ordered to remove the soil. They did so, but they watered down the base paths for the second game, and it was so wet the umpires had to halt the game and have the grounds crew sand down the infield. This just made it swampy again. The Dodgers lost the second game, 5-2, and the final game, 5-1. They left Candlestick Park just two games ahead of the Giants.

The Dodgers and Giants would go on to tie for first place that year, leading to a three-game playoff that the Giants won, sending them to the World Series. You know the rest. The Giants lost to the New York Yankees, 4 games to 3.

The Giants would have to wait another 40 years before their next World Series chance, and another 48 before winning it for the first time since moving to San Francisco.

 

The Dickens Matt Cain

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Then, miraculously, it was the best of times again.

Sort of.

Last night for the first three innings against the Diamondbacks, Matt Cain looked like his old self. He was controlling his fastball. He was getting Diamondbacks hitters to pop out. He had three strikeouts in three innings. He even struck out Giants killer Paul Goldschmidt.

What’s more, Giants hitters were doing something they rarely do: giving Matt Cain run support. And they did so right out of the dugout, scoring two runs in the top of the first and adding another run in the top of the second. They had already matched the total number of runs they had given Matt Cain during his first five starts.

Dawn seemed to finally be breaking on Matt Cain’s dark night of the pitcher’s soul.

Then came the bottom of the fourth inning.

It started with a walk to Cody Ross, Cain’s third walk of the game. That should have set off alarms that however good Cain looked, something wasn’t quite right. Jason Kubel came up next, and on the first pitch launched one into the right field stands.

Thousands of Giants fans—sitting in Chase Park, watching on television, listening on the radio—shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They shifted again, perhaps even let out a curse under their breaths, after Eric Chavez belted an opposite field solo home run over the left field wall, tying the game, 3-3. Cliff Pennington, who doubled during his previous at bat against Cain, also got hold of one to right field. Fortunately, it fell into Hunter Pence’s glove on the warning track. Pitcher Ian Kennedy grounded out to short. With two outs, it looked like Cain might limit the damage.

Martin Prado came up and quickly got behind in the count, 0-2. The next pitch was a ball, low. The count was 1-2. Prado fouled the next pitch into the stands deep along the right field line. It was a loud foul, and, in retrospect perhaps, a portent of what was to come.

Cain threw a fastball down and in, and Prado catapulted it into the left field stands.

In case you’re wondering what a pitcher who has just given up three home runs in an inning looks like…

Matt Cain

…yeah, Cain doesn’t give away his emotions as readily as he’s giving up home runs this year. I, on the other hand, looked like his wife, Chelsea, during the final three outs of his perfect game last year. Really. I checked in the mirror.

I’ve never believed in curses, but I was beginning to believe Cain was as marked as his namesake in the Bible. No matter how well he seemed to be pitching, he carried that big run inning with him always. You didn’t know when it would come, but as surely as the sun rises in the east or an ‘L’ car follows another ‘L’ car in a downtown Muni station, it would come.

Gerardo Parra’s strikeout to end the inning hardly seemed a consolation. The Diamondbacks led, 4-3.

It was only the fourth inning, but after five consecutive losses, it appeared the Giants were being set up for a sixth. The Giants managed to tie the game in the top of the fifth, 4-4, after Scutaro singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Ian Kennedy. Pablo Sandoval knocked Scutaro in with a ground ball to right, somehow reaching down to hit a pitch that almost bounced off the plate.

Buster Posey walked. With two men on and one out, Hunter Pence hit into an inning-ending double play, although the replay showed he was safe at first. Bruce Bochy thought so too. It was the second such call that didn’t go the Giants way, and that, perhaps along with the big run inning, was too much for Bochy.  He unloaded on first base umpire Bill Miller and got himself ejected.

We were all Bruce Bochy at that moment.

The game stayed tied until the top of the eighth. Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler came in to replace Ian Kennedy. Nick Noonan, who replaced Pablo Sandoval at third in the sixth inning after Sandoval’s elbow did its thing, doubled to left. Buster Posey moved Noonan to third base with a sacrifice fly to right. Hunter Pence grounded out. Gregor Blanco walked. Another walk to Brandon Crawford loaded the bases for Brandon Belt. In what seems to be becoming a welcome trend for Belt, he hammered a ground ball to center, scoring Noonan and Blanco. The Giants took back the lead, 6-4. It would remain that way as the Giants bullpen shut down the Diamondbacks offense.

It was another come-from-behind victory for the Giants, though it didn’t feel that way. Yes, the Giants had finally broken a five game losing streak. But it’s a game they should have won from the beginning.

Still, we’ll take it, even as the big run inning for Giants starters looms large.

An Odd Fight Between a Giant and a Snake

Bonds and Hayes

It was one of the strangest brawls in baseball history. The Giants were playing the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), April 16, 1999. It was the Diamondbacks’ second season in existence, and they were clobbering the Giants 8-3 in the top of the sixth when Giants third baseman Charlie Hayes charged the mound to get a piece of Diamondbacks pitcher Todd Stottlemyre.

Only Hayes wasn’t charging from the batter’s box after getting beaned. He was charging from second base.

Here’s what happened. Hayes came to the plate with a man on first. His career record against Stottlemyre was abysmal, 0-for-13, and it wasn’t about to get better. Hayes hit into a fielder’s choice force out at second. As he reached first base, he started cursing, later saying he was cursing at himself. But Stottlemyre assumed the blue language was meant for him.

On the next at bat, as Hayes advanced to second on a single by Giants catcher Brent Mayne, Stottlemyre tossed an F-bomb his way. “I thought he was yelling at me from first base,” Stottlemyre explained, “so when he got to second base I had something to say to him.”

A nasty exchange ensued. Then, as Hayes rounded second, he charged the mound and threw a punch at Stottlemyre. “I was trying to knock him out,” Hayes told reporters. “I didn’t want to wrestle. He talks like he’s Bob Gibson. I’m the only one he can get out.”

Hayes was referring to his struggles at the plate against Stottlemyre.

Stottlemyre managed to avoid the punch. “He missed me all night, at the plate and on the mound,” he later quipped.

Diamondbacks third baseman and former Giant Matt Williams rushed to the mound and tackled Hayes as Giants third base coach Sonny Jackson got a hold of Stottlemyre. Both dugouts and bullpens cleared. Curses and taunts flew back and forth. Hayes was still livid when Barry Bonds grabbed him and led him back to the dugout.

Both Hayes and Stottlemyre were ejected from the game.

In the melee, Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson lost his cap. He picked up a Giants hat by mistake and put it on, thinking it felt a little tight.

“I guess I was a Giant for a half-minute,” Johnson said.

The Diamondbacks went on to beat the Giants, 10-4. Not that that will happen tonight.

Big Unit

My Silly Theory about Why the Giants Aren’t Winning–and Everyone Else’s

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:

Zito  .750

Bumgarner  .333

Lincecum  .333

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.

Zito .600

Bumgarner .250

Lincecum .125

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.

Play of the Week: Panda Blows Bubble, Doesn’t Blow Play

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.

On This Day, April 26, 2005: J.T. Snow Goes 4-for-5 against the Padres

J. T. Snow

It was the J.T. Snow Show when the San Francisco Giants played the San Diego Padres on April 26, 2005, at AT&T Park (then SBC Park). Snow went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple. If that weren’t enough, he knocked in what would become the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning against Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka, paving the way for the Giants a 6-5 victory.

It was a much-needed win for the Giants. They went into the game having lost six of their last eight. What’s more, the aged team was ailing. Barry Bonds was on the DL, recovering from knee surgery. Moises Alou had just returned after being out two weeks with a strained calf muscle. Giants closer Armando Benitez would end up pulling his right hamstring on the final out of the game, as he ran to cover first base on a routine grounder to Snow. Benitez had to be carried off the field, casting a shadow over the Giants’ late inning come-from-behind win.

Jason Schmidt pitched 6-2/3 innings for the Giants, giving up three runs on eight hits. Two of those runs were solo home runs, one by Padres first baseman Mark Sweeney (who would end up being traded to the Giants the following year) in the second inning, the other by catcher Ramon Hernandez in the sixth. Benitez also gave up a two-run home run to Padres pinch-hitter Phil Nevin in the top of the eighth, tying the game at 5-5. This came after the Padres squandered a 3-2 lead in the seventh, allowing three runs on three errors, two by Sweeney and one by Hernandez.

Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Giants rookie outfielder Jason Ellison got on base with a broken bat infield single. Ellison then stole second and advanced to third on a groundout by Omar Vizquel. Coming to the plate with two outs, Snow hit a double that scored Ellison and moved the Giants ahead, 6-5.

The Padres managed to put a runner in scoring position in the top of the ninth, but the game ended when Padres shortstop Geoff Blum hit a ground ball to Snow, who underhanded the ball to Benitez for the force out at first.

It was manager Felipe Alou’s 200th win with the Giants.

The Padres manager? Our own Bruce Bochy.