It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Then, miraculously, it was the best of times again.
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…
…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.
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.
Take a look at the above two screen captures from last night’s Giants-Padres game. They’re both from the seventh inning.
The top one is of a man who just received a reprieve. Perhaps the governor called at the last minute. Whatever the case, the reprieved man can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and he does, even as the relief comes in with two outs and two men on. Nothing the relief can’t handle. After all, the reprieved man got out of a tighter jam in the third inning, with bases loaded, two outs, and a Padres slugger coming to the plate. The crowd knows it, too, which is why they give the reprieved man a standing ovation. The disaster inning everyone worried might happen didn’t happen. The reprieved man did well. He went 6-2/3 innings, gave up no runs and four hits and walked only two batters. He looked like the man he used to be, before the trouble started, before his life seemed to spiral out-of-control.
The second screen capture is of a man who looks like he just walked onto death row. Or maybe he received a life sentence as a result of a three strikes law. As a matter-of-fact, it was his second strike out. He went 0-3 last night, bringing his already dismal average down to .183. And his body language shows it. It’s the body language of a man who has lost hope.
Fear not, condemned man. Heed the lesson of the reprieved man. In the game of baseball, as in the game of life, there are second, third, even fourth chances. There will be dejection, yes. But there will also be renewal.
Yesterday, I wrote about the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Giants starting pitching so far this season: allowing wild, big run early innings before calming down and pitching clinical gems. Well, the potion seems to have made its way to Fresno, where the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate Grizzlies play. Grizzlies pitcher Yusmeiro Petit gave up a three-run home run in the very first inning to Tacoma Rainiers’ third baseman, Alex Liddi. Petit then went on to pitch beautifully the next five innings, giving up just one run, striking out thirteen, and walking none. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the Grizzlies to win. They lost 4-2. Petit just missed tying Tim Lincecum’s single-game strikeout record of 14 for the Grizzlies.
Fortunately, Madison Bumgarner has yet to imbibe the potion. In fact, he was spectacular all the way through last night against the Padres, going six innings and giving up just four hits and two runs. He struck out ten and gave up no walks.
In fact, it was a downright typical Giants game, for a change, a low-scoring tie into the ninth that was decided by an Angel Pagan double driving in Andres Torres. Giants win, 3-2.
The only unusual thing that happened last night was in the bottom of the sixth. And boy, was it unusual. Brandon Belt hit a bloop single into left field. Gregor Blanco moved him to second with a groundball single to right. That brought up Madison Bumgarner, whom 44,000+ fans in AT&T Park, everyone watching the game on television, and everyone listening on the radio expected to bunt. On the first pitch, Bumgarner did indeed square around to bunt. Then he pulled back his bat and slapped a ground ball right at Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera who tagged the passing Brandon Belt before throwing to second to force out Blanco. Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko avoided Blanco’s slide and threw to first, nearly getting the triple play. But his off-balance throw bounced over the glove of first baseman Yonder Alonso.
I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty sure it would have been the first time in Major League Baseball history that two triple plays were turned in a single month.
After the game, Bumgarner said the decision to hit was his. Padres third baseman Chase Headley was playing in, expecting the bunt. Cabrera shifted to his right and Bumgarner saw a huge gap between Cabrera and second. Unfortunately, he hit the ball right at Cabrera.
Tonight, Tim Lincecum pitches, and for the first time this season Buster Posey will be catching him. So much for conspiracy theories.
Last year when Lincecum faced the Padres at AT&T Park for the first time in the 2012 season, he got the win, 2-1. He went eight innings, giving up three hits and no earned runs. He struck out five and walked four. The Padres got their only run in the third inning on a bases loaded sacrifice fly by Nick Hundley. The Padres led 1-0 until the bottom of the seventh when Brandon Belt hit a line drive double to center field that scored Melky Cabrera and Nate Schierholtz.
Lincecum pitching a nice three-hit game with no earned runs and Brandon Belt knocking in the winning runs? Yeah, let’s see that again tonight.
I don’t know about anyone else, but after Tim Lincecum gave up five runs in the top of the second inning last night, I was seriously thinking about finally getting started on my taxes. Or maybe I would re-grout the tile in the bathroom, or put up those bookshelves I had been planning for years.
It was going to be one of those nights. Why put yourself through it? Why not do something useful instead?
It seemed to answer a question that every Giants fan had going into the game. What kind of pitcher will Tim Lincecum be tonight?
The note of hope battling with a symphony of dread in that question briefly swelled after Lincecum’s perfect first inning. Nine pitches, three ground ball outs. Was Lincecum getting his groove back?
But after the first inning, in which the Giants put the first run on the board, came the deluge.
The Rockies come up in the top of the second inning. Tulowitzki walks. Cuddyer grounds to Scutaro, and Scutaro makes a startling error by throwing off-balance to second when he clearly doesn’t have a play. The ball gets by Crawford and Tulowitzki advances to third. Tulowitzki scores on a ground out by Helton. Rosario walks. Nelson strikes out. Cuddyer reaches third on a wild pitch by Lincecum and a poor throw by Sanchez. Lincecum walks the pitcher, Nicasio. Cuddyer and Rosario score on a double by Fowler. Nicasio and Fowler score on a single by Rutledge. Gonzalez flies out to Blanco to finally end the dreadful inning.
Five runs. Two hits. Three walks. Four of the runs came with two outs. A 32-pitch inning for Lincecum.
Tim Lincecum has become Major League Baseball’s equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Let’s call him Dr. Timmy and Mr. Tim. If you hadn’t been watching the game and I told you Lincecum was throwing a two-hitter at the time, would you have guessed that the score was 5-1 Colorado?
The potion must have worn off after that disastrous second, because suddenly, Lincecum was a different pitcher. Except for a solo home run by Tulowitzki in the fifth, Lincecum was terrific. He would go on to strike out six more and allow just the one run before Mijares took over in the seventh.
On the night, Lincecum pitched six innings, allowed six runs, walked four, and struck out seven.
That’s our Timmy. Two pitching personalities in one.
It was the sixth inning where the Giants’ bats finally came alive. After Blanco and Sanchez walked, Brandon Crawford came to the plate. Rockies manager Walt Weiss felt that his starter, Nicasio, had had enough. He brought in reliever Adam Ottavino.
Perhaps what was about to happen was signaled by Ottavino throwing a wild breaking ball on his second pitch that advanced Blanco and Sanchez. Then, on a 94mph fastball, Brandon Crawford jacked an opposite field home run that barely cleared the wall in left field, putting the Giants within one run, 6-5.
Brandon Crawford, who came into the game batting .200, with no home runs. It was Crawford’s first opposite field home run in the big leagues and only his second home run period at AT&T Park.
It seemed to open the Giants’ own floodgates. They would go on to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth and tack on three more runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 9-6.
Things are looking up for Marco Scutaro. In the last two games, Scutaro has four hits in eight at bats. He has raised his average from .087 to .194. He finally got his first RBI of the season last night in the second inning when he drove Crawford home with a line drive to left.
He’s starting to look like the Marco Scutaro of last year.
Several Giants hitters who haven’t fared well at the plate this season got hits in last night’s game. Scutaro, Crawford, Blanco, Torres. Even Lincecum got a hit in the bottom of the fourth.
They’re still a little rough around the edges, but you can feel the Giants starting to come into their own.