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.
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.
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.