Game 1 Rehash

Just got back from sec. 138, where the sun was strong, the breeze was cool and Conine had something the matter with him.

Jason Schmidt was brilliant, looking like a veteran pitcher who doesn't need strikeouts to dominate. Lots of lazy fly balls, ground balls, and a couple well-struck liners to right on which Cruuuuuuz made nice plays.

A couple comments on the ESPN.com game notes:

whoever wrote them said that Bonds had gotten into the head of Jack McKeon. Hmm. Let's see:

1st inning, 2 out, Durham on 2nd: Bonds walked intentionally, Alfonzo hits ball fairly well but Pierre runs it down in left-center. McKeon's strategy works.

4th inning, no outs, Aurilia on 1st: Bonds walks unintentionally. The Giants eventually score 1 on Fonzie's bunt and Cabrera's throwing error, but Beckett sacks up to kill the rally. Bonds' walk has nothing to do with "getting into McKeon's head."

6th inning. Bonds leads off, gets a pitch to hit, smacks it to the warning track in left-center where Pierre catches it. McKeon's head is nowhere in sight.

8th inning, 2 outs, no one on. Ah, here we go. Bonds intentionally walked. Steals second because Chad Fox has a stomach cramp in his brain. Fonzie smacks one high and deep to center, very well-struck, but it should have been caught. Bonds gives Giants an insurance run. Strategy would have worked if it weren't for crappy defense, which McKeon's head is not responsible for. His head cannot catch deep drives to center or make proper pick-off throws to first.

Will McKeon's head think twice about walking Bonds, now that Alfonzo has proved he can drop nice bunts down 3rd and hit deep but catchable drives to center?



An Invocation

I am not, by nature or by nurture, a religious man. I do not take the name of deities sacredly, and for this, many in this world would no doubt turn away from the words to which I am about to give life. I have sinned and sinned again, and will do so many more times, but if there is any deity, or Deity, or higher power that has any sway over the events of the next 30 days, please cast aside your suspicions and your grudges, O Higher One(s), and hear me with loving heart.

Please let the Giants win the World Series. I understand that others in this nation have suffered greater heartbreak; I consider them my brethren. I understand that cities larger and older and slightly less expensive to live in have poured more of their souls into the travails of their Local Nine, their horsehidesmen, their Ball-Players; I nod my head and wish healing balm upon the open wounds of their lost seasons.

But not this year.

This year, I want to see what I have never seen, what my father has never seen, what no one has ever seen: the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Just one sweet glorious moment when Barry Bonds throws his glove high in the air and runs into the center of the infield to join a big pile of sweaty guys wearing French vanilla uniforms; when, wherever I am, I suddenly remember -- no, not remember; I re-live, I re-inhabit -- my own eyes, my own ears and body as an eight-year-old in the Candlestick centerfield bleachers with 50,000 other people roaring and cussing and simply not believing that Mike Ivie has hit a pinch-hit grandslam to beat the Dodgers; when the wonder and the joy eclipses the absurdity of being almost 34 and totally, completely obsessed, 6 months of the year, with a group of big lummoxes who run around on grass in tight pants.

Let this be the year.


Key Matchups

Willis vs. Fonzie.

Richie could also play a key role, given how hot he was in September, but he's never fared well against Beckett.

Elbo: Four wide ones, and you face the Fonz

Jack McKeon is already saying the Marlins won't be giving Barry anything to hit in the Division Series. And ESPN's Buster Olney has just declared that the #1 matchup to watch in the playoffs will be between the Marlins' pitchers and the Giants' #5 hitters.

With that in mind, aren't you glad Edgardo Alfonzo picked the last three weeks to finally start hitting the ball with the kind of authority that people expected from him?

Alfonzo didn't really win the hearts of Giants fans during the first month of the season, when he hit a pitiful .167. And although his power didn't really show up until the second week of September, Alfonzo has hit a very reasonable .278 since May 1 - just ten points below his career average. Not everyone knows this, however. His BA never did climb above .260 this year -- indeed, the Fonz's April albatross followed him around all season, much to the chagrin of some fans. For awhile, it was even bad enough that the boys and girls down at Hockey Haven were calling for the Mighty Pedro. (If you start talking about OBP or walk-to-strikeout ratio at the Haven, you'll just get blank looks from people. Sometimes you can say "Damon Minor" and they start to understand what you're getting at. And then they ask where he spent 2003, anyway.)

So Alfonzo has picked the right time to get hot -- that's 16-for-55 (.290) with 11 walks (.409 OBP) against only 5 strikeouts, plus 6 HR and 21 RBI over the past 20 days. He's slugged .673 during that time. The Fonz has turned into a serious weapon, and he should be effective in the fifth spot in the batting order. He ought to get plenty of chances to come through with Barry on base, that's for sure.

Only worrisome thing: Alfonzo's strange performance against lefthanders. He only hit .236 against them, and although he hit 4 HR and slugged .377 (vs. 9 HR and .395 in about four times as many ABs against righthanders), he managed only 3 doubles and no triples. That season-long power outage (not really in line with his career numbers, by the way) doesn't bode too well for Games Three and Four, against southpaws Redman and Willis. But it shouldn't be too big of a concern -- the point is, he's been turning in his best performances of the year over the past few weeks, and he may finally be comfortable in a Giants uniform and in their ballpark.


Reading Between the Lines

When, just after the Astros roll over like fat pugs for the Milwaukee Brewer's Yeasts and lose the NL Central, closer Billy Wagner says,

"I hope I will be here. I hope things change. I know my contract allows me to be trade eligible, and I have a lot of value based on this year. This team could get younger and better with me being gone."

What he's really saying is,

"Trade me to a team that knows how to make smart personnel moves and doesn't have a Fisher-Price ballpark with left-field bleachers right in Rey Ordonez's power zone."

Or maybe he's simply saying,

"I can't take one more day of Jeff Kent's moustache!"



El Nuevo Lefty Extra Malo

Notes from a final tune-up weekend...

The girlfriend and I sat in gorgeous sunshine Saturday afternoon and watched two impressive rookies on the mound. J-Will looked strong, and looked uncannily like Livan Hernandez at his peak. Incredible mix of speeds, pitching with deadly precision below the knees, even with a similar big leg kick from the side. Edwin Jackson of the Dodgers looked great, too, with a reach-back fastball that he saved for two-strike situations. Worrell looked bad giving up 4 runs in the ninth (although two of the hits against him were bleeding grounders that somehow got through) , and there was grumbling a plenty in section 138. "He scares me in big situations," was one comment.

Come on, folks, look at the numbers. Since coming to the Giants, Worrell is one of the best non-closers and certainly better than a mess of closers out there. Not overpowering like Nen, but hey, Nen has blown his fair share of saves. Hell, Mariano Rivera has blown his share the past two years. Worrell's not Gagne and he's not Smoltz, but otherwise he's fine. He's got my confidence.

Speaking of Gagne, best line of the day came from the same guy who's worried about Worrell. He asked a Dodgers' fan wearing one of those "Game Over" tees that prominently feature Gagne's goggle-and-goatee'd face, "Hey, man, how'd you manage to glue that blue pubic hair onto your shirt?"

I wasn't at Friday night's heh-heh-heh-heh-heh laugher, but I wish I had been to witness this, as reported in the next day's paper:

"A grease fire caused a popcorn machine to blow up between the third and fourth innings, but nobody was hurt. Smoke could be seen over fans along the first-base line."

And after today's game, I'm also thinking something I never would have dared to say before: Pedro Feliz....en fuego.

Peter's happy and hot, folks. That smoke certainly wasn't coming from Noah Lowry. He pitched two scoreless innings Friday night and 1 2/3 again today in mop-up duty, and is now officially El Nuevo y Tremendamente Suave Rookie Lefty Malo: 5 2/3 scoreless innings to start his career, a funky-ass delivery that looks like the mating dance of a waterfowl, and nothing over 85 mph. Plus he has the worst baseball name ever: Noah Lowry. We're talking bagels and artificial meat seasoning. We're talking soft-spoken non-profit public legal assistance intern. We're talking a nice boy who reads the Bible. He's no Merkin Valdez, a.k.a. Pubic-Wig Oil Tanker Guided by a Drunkard.

Welcome aboard the Giants' ark, Noah. We'll see you when the spring rains fall gently on McCovey Cove.

And on to the playoffs... if anyone wants to come meet El Lefty Malo in person, he'll be in Sec 138, Row 3, Seat 3 or 4 both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Elbo: Boldly making playoff predictions in print

*I'm not too worried about the whole home-field advantage thing, because I think the Cubs will knock off the Braves in four games.

*I think Mark Redman might prevail over Kirk Rueter in Game Three, but otherwise I like the Giants in four. I see that Jerome Williams is slated to face Dontrelle Willis in Game Four, by the way. Awesome.

*The Yanks should take out the Twinkies quickly. Not too sure about the Sox and Oakland, but I like the A's in five.




When the Marlins Come to Town, It's Bye, Bye, Bowa

As my mom always says, if you can't write good things about your own team, find another team to trash.

As I type this tonight, all is quiet on the Giants front, so a quick scan of the scoreboard reveals the Marlins comfortably in front of the Phils and about to clinch the wild card. Oh, you can just hear those happy Philly fans right about now; I think they're headed over to the new ballpark site with torches and pitchforks in hand. The team had it right there for themselves and blew it. The Marlins, the same Marlins run by the same Jeff Loria who wouldn't spend money on English-language radio broadcasts for the Montreal Expos, went out and got a very good reliever, a pretty good reliever and a veteran power bat down the stretch. The Phils got Mike Williams. (Hey, says GM Ed Wade, the guy was on the All-Star team!)

Nice job, Ed.

And how about that field stewardship from Larry Bowa, who brings his troops into Miami for a crucial series and gets swept like a month's worth of dust bunnies. Gack. Bowa will never succeed in a close race until he unclenches his butt cheeks just a bit. Loosen up, Larry.

On the flip side, congrats to the Red Sox for bruising their way into the playoffs, where Pedro will no doubt be pitching games 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the first round.



Dusty's Gut

I almost snarfed my coffee this morning when I looked up and saw that the Chicago Cubs, clinging to a one-game lead in the NL Central, were sending Shawn Estes to the mound. The same Estes that hadn't started a game since SEpt. 4. The same Estes whose ERA was as bad as my ERA this year. (Mine was actually worse, but a couple rather unsightly games somehow were left off the stat sheet.)

Lo and behold: Estes, who was booed off the mound when the Dodgers eliminated the Giants from contention in 2001, threw a frickin shutout.


Dusty's gut seems to be working overtime. Hopefully it will tell him to bat Tom Goodwin lead-off in the playoffs.

Elbo: Seven pitches

For his second start in a row, the Giants backed Sidney Ponson with their second stringers, and again lost the game. It doesn't really bother me because the Giants have already clinched their division, but unfortunately it made for pretty bad TV. Roy Oswalt did his part to make up for that by making a lovely start for the 'Stros, but Billy Wagner's seven pitches to pinch-hitter Barry Bonds were the highlight of the afternoon for me.

I don't think any of them was slower than 98 MPH -- maybe even 99 MPH. He definitely hit three digits on the gun at least once, maybe twice. As I recall:

1 - Up high
2 - At the letters, fouled back
3 - Up high again
4 - Up and away, but called a strike. Barry didn't like the call and neither did I.
5 - Over the ump's head and all the way to the backstop
6 - Above the belt, fouled back
7 - Two inches higher, swung on and missed for strike three

That's what Krukow calls "country hardball." I don't know whether Houston's day game fans were smart enough to get really excited all by themselves or whether the scoreboard was goosing them into GETTING LOUD, but they sure seemed like they were into it. And despite the outcome, I was too. Moments like that are what makes me love this game.

Praise Jesus, but Go Giants

From a classified ad posted on Craig's List:

TRADE TIX- Jesus Christ Superstar for GIANTS

Reply to: anon-16732932@craigslist.org
Date: 2003-09-24, 12:49PM

Would like to trade 2 tickets for Jesus Christ Superstar at the Orpheum, Sunday, Oct. 12 @ 2:00pm. Face value - $124 for Giants playoff games 1, 2 or 3 with similar face value.



List of Sabean Trades

I found this with one of Peter Gammons' columns. I've added 2003 and a couple other missing trades, plus some snarky comments in bold. Looks like the Giants have traded one young player who's gone on to establish himself: Keith Foulke. Ainsworth will likely make it two.

Mark Leiter to Montreal for Kirk Reuter and Tim Scott. Sabean lands his first Lefty Malo.

Matt Williams and Trenidad Hubbard for Julian Tavarez, Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Joe Roa.

Allen Watson and Fausto Macey for J.T. Snow. Ah, Fausto, we hardly knew ye.

Keith Foulke, Lorenzo Barcelo, Bobby Howry, Ken Vining, Brian Manning and Mike Caruso for Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez. Foulke for a division title? Plenty worth it.

Joe Fontenot, Mike Villano and Mike Pageler for Robb Nen. Thievery.

Darryl Hamilton, Jim Stoops and Jason Brester for Ellis Burks.

Darin Blood for Joe Carter.

Dante Powell for Alan Embree. Not only did Embree have one great year with S.F., he was really fun to boo when he sucked.

Troy Brohawn and Chris Van Rossum for Felix Rodriguez.

Nate Bump and Jason Grilli for Livan Hernandez.

Bill Mueller for Tim Worrell.

Chris Magruder, Todd Ozias and Erasmo Ramirez for Andres Galarraga.

Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong for Jason Schmidt. But at least Armando had a certain charm about him, didn't he?

Kevin Joseph and Jason Farmer for Jason Christiansen. And an elbow ligament to be named later.

Calvin Murray for cash. A.K.A., "Steal Tom Hicks' Money."

Felix Diaz and Ryan Meaux for Kenny Lofton. Even if Diaz and Meaux go on to win Cy Youngs, simply watching Lil' Kenny make Tony LaRussa poop in his doubleknits during last year's NLCS made this well worth it.

Jeff Verplancke for Bill Mueller. In other words, Jeff Verplancke for Tim Worrell and Bill Mueller.


Russ Ortiz for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez.

Livan Hernandez and cash for Jim Brower and Matt Blank.

Clay Hensley for Matt Herges. Kevin Towers gets a booty-spank.

Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman for Sidney Ponson.

Greg Bruso for Eric Young.

Gee, M's

There hasn't been much room for hand-wringing or tooth-gnashing or general foreboding for Giants fans these days. Even Jimmy from Sacktown hasn't made any "Richie Macho" jabs in several weeks. It's quiet...too...quiet. Creeeaaaaak. Makes the hair on my back, I mean, on the back of my neck stand up. To relieve the tension and get some good healthy bitching out of the way, I turn to the subject of general managers and their methods of mystery.

First, a tale that really gets my panties in a bunch, and I'm not even from Seattle. In fact, I'm not even wearing panties. (At the moment, that is.)

It's called "The Sad Ballad of Stand Pat." To get a flavor of what the Mariners fans are feeling right now, here's a quick excerpt from an M's blog:

"As a public service announcement, I'd like to remind everyone that Pat Gillick will be making a public appearance today at the downtown R.E.I. He is going to give a one hour demonstration on how to properly fold up your tent and go home."

My heart cries out for those fans. It's a crime, I tell you. No, not a crime, a self-parody. The guy's nickname is Stand Pat, and when June comes along everyone's saying that, no, there's no way he'll do it again, the M's have to get better, it's so obvious, blah blah blah, and boom (or, more accurately, profound-lack-of-boom), he does it again. Rather, does nothing again. When Michael Lewis writes Moneyball II: Beane and Beaner, he'll have to credit half of the A's success not to sabermetrics or scouting-by-laptop or Harvard grads who like to smash furniture, but to Pat Gillick.

I can't imagine the Mariners players, let alone the fans, having any respect for a GM who won't (or can't? are his hands really tied by ownership?) upgrade at the trading deadline. He's got a rich farm system and the prospects with which to deal. He's got a captive audience that will pack the house during a pennant race and dutifully buy Ichiro-brand used Kleenex if they put it on the market. Pull the goddamn trigger, Pat!!.

I told you this gets me worked up.

This also relates to something I mused about a few days ago when Giants call-up Noah Lowry pitched a couple nice innings of September garbage time. Lowry, a lefty malo, posted some uncannily Woody-riffic numbers on the radar gun: curveball at 70 mph, changeup at 80, fastball that topped out at 86-87 but averaged 83-85. Steve Shelby of the Giants daily news roundup wrote me to say he noticed the same thing, and that, curiously, he saw Lowry pitch in May and throw 87-90 mph: "I can't figure out this drop in velocity. It seems too much to be that he has just become very good at subtracting from his fastball and changing speeds."

Well, it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said on a visit to Paris, Texas. This exact same thing happened when Jesse Foppert came up in April. We're all sitting on the edge of our sofas, waiting to see a mid-90s fastball that topped out at 99...and the kid barely cracks 90. Now that Foppert's torn his elbow ligament and is out til 2005, we might speculate that between the minor-league scouts watching him hit high-90s in 2002 and his call-up in early 2003, Foppert's elbow weakened and cost him several MPH on the gun.

But I think something else is going on.

As I mentioned before, some GMs can't pull the trigger on the big trade, and some can. Obviously it's not just a matter of having prospects -- the Mariners system is constantly churning out viable (Ryan Franklin), often excellent (Gil Meche, Rafael Soriano), major league pitching. Some of these guys are keepers. Others are trade bait. The trick is knowing which is which, and how to convince your trading partners (Chuck LaMar, come on down!) that the trade bait smells like fine, upstanding All-Star-in-a-Box.

Now let's look at the Giants: kinda strange, isn't it, how so much of the Giants trade bait, once in someone else's dugout, turns out to be just that: a bucket of squirming worms that get swallowed in the deep ponds of major league baseball? (I'm talking prospects here, not established big-leaguers like Russ Ortiz.)

To wit: Jason Grilli. Nate Bump. Michael Caruso. Bobby Howry. Lorenzo Barcelo. Joe Fontenot. Ryan Vogelsong. Armando Rios. Jim Stoops. (Darryl Hamilton and Jim Stoops for Ellis Burks: oh my.) What Giants' bait has gone on to a solid big-league career? Yes, Keith Foulke. Um...am I missing anyone?

Someone in Moneyball describes Brian Sabean as the "master of the dry hump." Translation: you think you're getting a lot, but you end up with a weird teenage longing for something more and maybe a stain on your jeans.

So how does this relate to Noah Lowry (whose uniform, as far as I could tell, was stain-free)? Is it possible that the Giants deliberately exaggerate the performance of their prospects, or somehow manipulate the reports coming from minor-league parks to boost their value in the eyes of potential trading partners? Is that even possible? After all, it's a free country. Any fat scout with a straw hat and zinc oxide on his nose can sit behind home plate with his own radar gun.

Another possibility: the Pac Bell gun is a few MPH on the light side. I don't think that's true, as I've seen it hit 99 with Robb Nen on the mound, the high-90s with Felix on the mound, etc.

Adding to my suspicion is the out-of-nowhere success of Kevin Correia. With so much focus on the Giants' farm pitchers, with everyone slobbering over Williams, Foppert and Ainsworth these past two years, how could Correia be so overlooked? Could it be that the Giants knew what they had and put strict orders on everyone not to let the cat out of the bag?

It all sounds mighty conspiratorial, but when you start wondering how the hell the Giants have sustained this run, and squeezed so much out of a farm system that has absolutely no positional talent to speak of, the conspiracies start to make a little sense.



No Vlad?

Along with a mushy little tribute to Felipe Alou, this week's Gammons column on ESPN.com reports that P-Mag, aka the General Managing Partner, aka Peter "It's Safeway or the Highway" Magowan, won't be spending on "major free agents" this winter. You know what they say: No-Vlad news is bad news.

As we all know, there's a lot of money coming off the books this year; does this mean Sabean will be under order to try to go the Red Sox route and sign 10 guys each to $1-million-a-year contracts?

On the bright side, Gammons also reports that San Diego wants to sign either David Wells, Sterling Hitchcock or Chuck Finley. Hey, Pods, be our guest.

Fellow Bleacher Creature Gets Ink

One of the true delights of having season tickets in the Pac Bell bleachers (Section 138, Row 3, just close enough so my Mom, who goes to a few games a year, can see Barry's "nice tushie") is the cast of characters.

There's Mark, a.k.a. Superfan, who comes down from Trinity County and often sports an orange-tinsel mop wig; there's the guy a few rows up who brings his Barry Bonds towel, a cross between medieval tapestry and black-velvet trailer-park art; there's the guy who loves the "Whassa matta with [opposing left-fielder]" chant but who fucks up the rhythm of it, always speeding through it too fast; there's the diminuitive Greg Minton lookalike who once bearhugged a thuggish shirtless teenager who was running back and forth trying to encourage the Wave, prompting the kid and his friends to descend upon the guy and threaten an ass-beating; and best of all, there's the man my friends and I know as "Bunny Ears," but whom Scott Ostler in his column today deifies as "Chicken Man."

As Ostler notes, he has a bag of props, including the bunny ears, which he dons and hops across the walkway at the bottom of the bleachers as he whistles through his teeth. My favorite is the tape measure which he unfurls like one of those streamers they've started including in Olympic gymnastics whenever a Giant blasts one out of the park. The rubber chicken head is OK, but what makes it unique is his finger-over-the-nose gesture, directed at the opposing team when they walk Bonds, a big "You stink" that Lou Seal couldn't act out better.

Me? I have no gimmick, just the occasional barb. My best wasn't even verbal. It was the spring of 2000, the year after Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla, then of the Mets, were caught in the clubhouse playing cards in the middle of a playoff game. Rickey was back with the Mets, who were at Pac Bell for a 4-game series in May. During a pitching change, Rickey turned to the bleachers and delighted the crowd by actually acknowledging our taunts, mugging and jabbering back. (Most likely with something like, "Rickey can't hear you when you talk trash at Rickey, cuz Rickey's ears are fast and your mouths too slow!")

With Rickey facing us, I stood up, pointed at him, and pantomimed the act of dealing out a deck of cards. Rickey saw me, pointed back as if to say "You got Rickey that time!" and doubled over with laughter.



Shooter Meets The Crime Dog

Jimmy from Sacktown, a former colleague of mine and a perpetual pessimist, got a hold of a classic piece of Giants angst (all the sweeter because of Brian Johnson two days later), not to mention a tiny gem of sportswriting from ex-Chron beat writer Tim Keown. I believe the date is Sept. 16, 1997. All 786 words follow:

ATLANTA -- FRED McGRIFF'S homer was in somebody's hands, on its way to some suburban outpost to be treasured and bragged upon and maybe even taken to school. Rod Beck had long since made the painful, embarrassed walk off the mound, and the Giants' clubhouse was filled with a quiet so overwhelming it seemed alive, the kind of quiet that fully understands the moment.

It was a game that might be remembered for a long time. It might be the one everyone looks back upon after the season, and for many seasons to come. It might be the one, justified or not, that everyone singles out as the one that tipped the scales.
The quiet said that.

Total strangers who share nothing more than the mutual agony of believing in the Giants might turn to each other and at some distant game and say, ''The game in Atlanta, man -- that was the worst.''

Beck took the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth and walked off to the sound of fireworks ringing in his ears. He got the first out before allowing three sharp singles. Chipper Jones then hit a hopper to second and ran hard from the start, beating Rich Aurilia's throw by a toenail to avoid a double play.

If Jones had tossed his bat or taken a split-second to moan in frustration, the Giants would have won. Beck would have wiped his brow and laughed about it.

Sometimes, it's that close.

Two guys were up in the bullpen, Rich Rodriguez and Julian Tavarez, when McGriff stepped in. Beck's third pitch caught McGriff's bat perfectly and the ball sailed to left-center, carrying and carrying and gone.

Beck kept looking over his shoulder as he walked off, thinking maybe something would change. He heard the fireworks and saw McGriff jogging with his head-down lean, but something inside him made him hope it was all a joke.

Darryl Hamilton crouched under the spot where the ball landed and banged the wall a couple of times. He said he thought he had a chance, but mostly he hit the wall because there was no other reasonable option.

Five or six players leaned on the dugout rail, like blackbirds, frozen in place while the fireworks pounded and the players straggled off the field.

Beck stood there afterward, his eyes red and empty, and said, ''There's not many tomorrows left, and that's what bothers me the most. I let down a whole bunch of teammates who battled their butts off fo! r eight innings.''

He said, ''Those are the three toughest outs of the game, but you're paid very well to get those outs and I expect to get them every time.''

Beck knows what you're thinking. He knows what Roberto Hernandez can do, because he saw him do it again last night -- two-thirds of an inning, two strikeouts. Hernandez strikes fear in the opposition, and Beck has to fool them.

Beck said he wouldn't let his ego stand in the way of anything, but his job depends on his ego. Asked how he would handle being taken out of a game, Beck said, ''Depends on who it is and what the situation is.''

''It's easy to second-guess now,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''But Fred hadn't hit Shooter that good, and Rod's better against lefties than righties. Plus, that's his job.''

It's Baker's toughest call. He wouldn't address it last night -- he could barely speak, given the circumstances -- but it'll come up again. He loves Hernandez as the setup man, the guy to come into a tough situation and strike somebody out.

The idea of Beck starting the ninth is usually a safe call.

But on the other side, the idea of closing with Hernandez, with the season reaching critical stage, is a strong temptation.

The Dodgers won, in 15 innings, and they lead the Giants by a game. Today, the Giants play the Braves again, and a win is nearly imperative.

''We can't lose games like that,'' Hamilton said. ''We're getting down to where we've just got to find a way. We've had our share (of tough losses) but this is a tough one, a tough one.''

Damon Berryhill took one bite of an ice-cream sandwich and tossed it into the garbage.

Someone turned on the Dodgers' game (no sound, of course) just as the Cardinals started to rally ! in the ninth. A short, hopeful cheer came from the training room. Somebody started talking. Beck watched the game with a series of furtive glances. ''I could be feeling a lot better here soon,'' he said.

Beck smiled, but his eyes didn't.

The Cardinals tied the game, providing temporary and false hope. McGriff's homer and the whole ninth inning gradually left them, filtering out of the room, into the hallway and into some space where it wouldn't be felt or noticed.

Beck took a swig from his beer and a drag from his cigarette. Being a closer is murder on the liver and the lungs.

He looked at his feet and shook his head. He cursed quietly.


My favorite part of September baseball, other than watching the Dodgers eat pounds and pounds of annual manure as they fizzle toward the end of another underachieving, Rupert-Murdoch-is-my-daddy season...wait, where was I going with this sentence?

Oh yes. My favorite part of September ball is watching the scrubbies play. Todd Linden, come get yer four at-bats, son. Noah Lowry: Next year's surprise Lefty Malo? He threw two very impressive innings today with a fastball that never topped 87. Tony Torcato: I hope the real estate market is soft right now in Fresno, because you should think of buying a house and settling in. Plus, that Van Dyke with no sideburns look is killing me. Might as well grow a mullet while you're at it.

Elbo: Wringing his hands despite a division title

How many people, in and out of the Giants' dugout, have confidence in Felix Rodriguez?

Amazingly, he has a 2.30 ERA since the All-Star Break, though he's only pitched 15-2/3 innings. That 10/12 BB/K ratio isn't dazzling anyone, though, and when you throw in a hit per inning, you've got 26 baserunners against 47 outs. Friends, the National League has a .457 OBP against Felix since the All-Star Break, supposedly his most successful run this year. Troubling, don't you think?

Take a peek at his game log, too. It sure looks like he's had a bunch of good performances against bad teams. His recent success has come against San Diego and Milwaukee, two of the worst four teams in the National League. Honestly, would you give Felix the ball to protect a 5-4 lead in an ALDS game?

Last night, when he threw his first pitch 95 mph in the dirt and to the backstop, I blurted, "Keep him off the playoff roster." And I'm not sure that'd be a bad idea. Aren't Nathan, Herges and Brower three strong righty setup men? (I still think Herges is underused, but that's another entry.) Would it be merely fashionable to say that even Kevin Correia might be more reliable to get two crucial seventh-inning outs in the playoffs?

I guess our lefties will be Eyre and Christiansen, and not Zerbe, which is basically OK with me.

Felix has fallen a long way since 2001, when he had a closer's stuff in a setup man's role. I find his performances terrifying, honestly. Yeah, keep him off the playoff roster. I know he won't face Tim Salmon this year, but still....

Off to PacBell...




Lefty Dos

I just found out there's another Giants-related blog run by a lefty: The Southpaw. (I've added a link in my list to the right.) I don't know how malo he is; or if he's a she. But as George W. Bush might say, we Giants-loving lefties must come together and solidaritize.

Giants Get the A-Hed

No, it's not a sexual maneuver performed by hotel-bar groupies, and it's not the nickname of an up and coming star.

The "A-hed," in journalism parlance, is the Park Ave. of newspaper real estate: the fourth column on the Wall Street Journal front page. Amid the stories of corporate titans, mergers and acquisitions, and macroeconomic bombshells, the a-hed is reserved for the personal and whimsical, the Journal's showcase for some of its best writing and sharpest-eyed reporting.

This morning, the Journal's George Anders (a veteran tech reporter who lives in the Bay Area) reports on the grizzled dean of McCovey Cove, kayaker Tom Hoynes, who's out there game after game to try to catch splash hits from (as the article refers to him) "Mr. Bonds."

It's a great portrait of the Cove scene and yet another wet kiss to the supreme coolness of Pac Bell Park.

(The ultimate tribute so far has been Roger Angell's love poem to the park in an April issue of the New Yorker. I believe it was April 12, probably the only issue from the last 6 months that my girlfriend promptly recycled.)

I'd link to the Journal piece, but it's subscription-only. Here's an excerpt:

Mr. Hoynes has paddled into McCovey Cove for about 220 games in the past four seasons. He has lost one radio in the water and more snacks than he can count. He can't see any of the action on the field.

Even home runs become visible to him only at the top of their arc, more than 300 feet from home plate, as they begin their descent into the water. Mr. Hoynes has kept three home-run balls and has sold six, fetching a total of about $15,000 in auctions. His day job as a city medical investigator tracking infectious diseases pays better.

Yet Mr. Hoynes keeps coming, slowed slightly in recent times by lingering soreness from two automobile accidents. When Thursday afternoon games beckon, he sometimes takes a few hours off from his job. Even on raw, windy nights, he remains in the cove until the final pitch of the game, chatting with other diehards in the water, long after the casual passersby have headed home.

"It's like family in the cove," he explains. "We all know each other. We tell stories. We listen to the game on the radio. We're regulars."

Mr. Hoynes coaxes friends with cellphones to order pizza for everyone in
the cove. He shags water-bound balls in batting practice and tosses them to
children standing on the shore. He hands out mock baseball cards with his picture on the front and some whimsical sports data on the back: "Position: McCovey Cove. Nets: Right Hand."

Then, when the games are over, he puts his kayak on top of a small powerboat
and travels eight miles across the bay to his home. It's a small houseboat tied
up in the Alameda, Calif., marina.

Ozzie Sezz

Ozzie Smith and I have always had a love-hate relationship. It must have started when I was a teenager watching the Giants and Cards battle each other in the mid-80s, and I'd stare darts at Ozzie through the TV. That was the 'hate' part.

Remember Candy Maldonado's flying haymaker from off-screen in the brawl in St. Louis? I don't remember the year, but I think it started when Ozzie took exception to Will Clark's perfectly legal take-out slide at 2nd base. The Wizzard had muchas palabras for the Shrill, and El Candido came leaping in, fist extended, horizontal to the ground like Superman, from what seemed like out of nowhere if you were watching on TV. Ozzie got it in the schnozzie, and the fight was on. Someone hit Willie McGee so hard it made him prettier.

Not that I condone violence or anything, but that was a great baseball fight.

I like Ozzie now. (OK, so it's been more of a 'like-hate' relationship.) I dig those backflips. Any crappy hitter who can make the Hall of Fame on defense, as long as he's not a Dodger, deserves respect. And now, Ozzie is making me look good. Remember what I said a couple days ago about Bonds' talk of retirement? In sum:

"This has been going on for years, folks. Barry says a lot of things, often quite candidly, often without much finality."

Here's what Ozzie, in town for a prostate-cancer benefit, said in today's Chron:

Regarding the issue of retirement, Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was at the game to preach prostate-cancer awareness and huddled with Bonds. Afterward, when asked about Bonds' comments, Smith smiled. "He always says, 'I'm going to retire. I'm going to retire,' " Smith said. "He always comes to me with retirement stuff. He did that 10 years ago. I said, 'Don't tell me that.' Great players seem to deal with adversity that comes their way."


It looks like Alou has decided that Jerome Williams, aka the Little Kahuna, aka the Death-Defyin' Hawaiian, will be the 4th starter in the playoffs. OK, not what I would have chosen, but in a way it makes sense. Let the kid start (if the Giants have a 3-games-to-none lead, perhaps), and if it goes awry, Hermanson, who doesn't like pitching out of the bullpen but certainly can do it well as he showed against the Brewers Sunday, can jump in. This probably means Zerbe is off the playoff roster. Too bad: as a lefty malo, Zerbe is one of my favorites, especially after his great work in last year's World Series. He's pitched OK this year but seems to be odd-man-out and quick to enter Felipe's doghouse.



Just Add Boof

Ah, yes, how could I have forgotten? Elbo, your question whether nicknames count or not, it doesn't apply to Bonser, because he legally changed his name to Boof a couple years ago. This kid sounds nuttier than a Fidrych. I can't wait to see him in a big-league uniform, just like someone else.

Elbo: Down from the mountain

*After spending a few days at a remote location in Alpine County (elevation 7300 feet), far from a television and out of KNBR's broadcast range, I rewarded myself with a trip to section 139 last night. (In the highlight film, that's me raising my arms in triumph a few feet to the right of the scramble for Barry's home run ball.) And anyone sitting near me surely heard me shout "Wild pitch!" about a minute before it happened. "Watch that slider, Witasick!"

*Speaking of wild pitches, Jim Brower couldn't find the hoop at all last night. Wasn't it just a couple of days ago that we were remarking on how nasty his stuff is?

*I don't believe Barry will retire this winter, not with two more sluggers to pass on that list. I also believe he will put on another show in the postseason, provided he doesn't get four wide ones every time up.

*Just to clarify, I'd rather see them take the words "Most Valuable Pitcher" off the Cy Young Award plaque, than see them give it to a pitcher for a contending team every year. (Incidentally, I haven't seen the plaque in a long time, but I do remember seeing one when I went to Cooperstown in my early teen years, and being surprised to find those words on it. I can't be 100% sure they're still there.)

*Great baseball names: I figured this would be a good time to mention Boof Bonser.... but I'm not sure whether nicknames count. (I guess they do, because so is "Coco", he of the Crisp.)



From Leather Recliner to Rocking Chair?

All of a sudden, ESPN.com is squawking that Barry Bonds is likely going to retire after this year. The front MLB page is dedicated to the notion, with some Insider article that I'm too cheap to pay $5 a month to access, plus some totally speculative and slapped-together column by Rob Neyer (c'mon, Rob, leave the speculative, slapped-together stuff to the bloggers) about the Giants' Bonds-less lineup in 2004.

What in the name of Dennis Littlejohn is going on? Did Barry actually say he's going to retire? Can someone e-mail me the text of the for-fee ESPN article? Did some national writer overhear one of Barry's frequent top-of-mind, stream-of-consciousness verbal promenades, in which he likes to talk about a) being traded; b) being underpaid; c) being humble; d) being a DH; e) being tired and sore?

This has been going on for years, folks. Barry says a lot of things, often quite candidly, often without much finality.

On a friend's Web site, I documented a particularly lively run of Bondsiana published during last year's playoff frenzy and national media "conversation" on the Who, What, and Why of Barry. Or, as I called it, The Tao of Barry.

Barry retire? I"ll see it when I believe it. And then I'll lock myself in my room and cry for a couple days.



Give Em the What-For, B!

A couple thoughts after the Giants extra-inning win today over the Brewer's Yeasts:

1) Hermanson should be the 4th starter in the playoffs. I don't know if Alou will go with four, or simply go Schmidt, Ponson, and Woody, but if a 4th is called for, Hermanson looks like the man. He had great movement and nice change of speed today. Jerome, I love ya, kid, but it's the playoffs. Correia? He's pitched well, but today's start shows that the youngsters can get wild and have trouble getting back on track. Alou made a great move pulling him early (top of 3? 4?) before things got out of hand, and turning it over to the deep September bullpen. (And how about Brower today--whoa nellie. Lights out. Nasty. When he has everything working, he's got the best stuff on the club, even better than Schmidt. Problem is he rarely has all his stuff working.)

2) I have never seen Bonds argue like he did today. The home plate ump was all over the place, inconsistent for both teams, and lots of players were getting steamed. After Barry pinch-hit, walked, and was removed for a pinch-runner in the 8th, he said a few words from the dugout rail in response to Rich Aurilia getting called out on strikes.

Barry was already out of the game, which I'm sure entered into the equation, but once he got the thumb, he stepped over the rail, walked up to the plate and got in the umpire's face. It was beautiful. Barry in effect played the role of manager. He had Aurilia's back. Richie was steamed, too, but Barry got himself thrown out, intentionally or not, and in the process signalled to everyone that he would step up and argue the case. The fans definitely took note.

Call it Item #367 of Why Barry's A Lot Different Than Rick Reilly Thinks He Is.



Watch Out For the Fla's

After their big comeback win Friday, the Marlins pounded Russ Ortiz tonight (in front of 40,000 fans, to boot) to beat Atlanta again, with the D-Train picking up win #13. On the phlip side, the Phils are phading phast, with the phigurative phingers of Larry Bowa around their collective necks. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, I say. Until Bowa learns to live a little more rico suave like Dusty and Felipe and Joe Torre, his teams can drink a case of Choke Soda every September for all I care.

But the Fish, uh-oh, watch out. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the wild card comes from the East, the Giants draw them in the first round, no matter if the G's finish with a better record than Atlanta or not. (If the wild card comes from the West, ie, the Dodgers, then I believe Atlanta gets that draw.) With exuberance and devil may careness and hot young pitchers (Dontrelle, Beckett, Penny and Redman: not a bad playoff rotation), the Marlins are going to be dangerous.

As the Ducking Fodgers will be if they make it, thanks to their filthy, dirty, disgusting, nasty pitching. (And that's just a description of Eric Gagne's cap.) Jeez Louise, even Wilson Alvarez threw a complete game shutout the other night. In a short series, even if your own pitching is on, Brown, Nomo and Odalis Perez (or Kaz Ishii) could conceivably throw three shutouts in a row, while their pathetic offense scratches out a run or two they don't deserve per game. Of course, the same could happen for Schmidt, Ponson and Woody and the Giants' not-quite-as-pathetic offense, but the point is, in a short series, it's just a matter of who gets hot, even for a brief bright shining moment.

Remember Springsteen's album about the 2000 playoffs, The Ghost of Bobby Jones? No? How about Benny Agbayani on the Edge of Town?



My Fellow Merkin

Termell Sledge: Pretty good.

Coco Crisp: You makin' that up?

Marquis Grissom: Old-school, very cool.

What do these three baseball players have in common? They're not all major leaguers: Sledge is currently in the Expos' farm system. They are all African-American, but that's not what I'm after.

The answer is they all have fabulous baseball names. Ducky Medwick, Monte Irvin, Harvey Haddix...no wonder crusty old New England poets love baseball so much. Baseball players have better names than football players: Joe Montana? Lunkhead. Johnny Unitas? How cliche´d. Chike Okeafor? That's not a name, it's a $9 appetizer.

All the good names in hockey are either Swedish or Russian; in basketball they're just the warm-up to the hip-hop street name, which all sound like dot-com companies: T-Mac, J-Rich, E-Vite.

And just when you thought baseball monikers couldn't get better, along comes Brian Sabean. His isn't so great, although I like the surety of closure at the end of his first and last names. It's like the lady who runs her tongue over teeth in the old toothpaste commercials: "Nnn."

His own name aside, Sabean engineered one of the least popular trades in recent Giants' history, Damian Moss for Russ Ortiz (no great names, there, sorry), but almost as an oversight there was an additional agate-type throw-in, a Braves' low minor-league pitcher named...

Merkin Valdez.

Doesn't do much for you? For starters, his last name is the same as a certain oil tanker that crapped up the northern Alaskan coast for the good part of a decade. Perhaps not such a good sign for Giants fans, but entertaining. Still, being the cousin of an environmental disaster doesn't qualify the kid for baseball-name immortality, until you open the dictionary and discover that a merkin is a pubic wig, either for actors doing nude scenes or for private citizens who, due to the ravages of disease, have lost their hair down there.

I don't think merkins are in much use anymore, but who am I to say? I've never seen one--or at least, I don't think I have.

But the passing of the merkin from the zeitgeist is no doubt good news for Mr. Valdez. He's unlikely to receive much teasing from his fellow Giant farmhands (Merkin? Teasing? Giant farm hands? I'm sorry, did I suddenly start writing gay porn?), most of whom aren't familiar with the ins and out of Elizabethan theater. Or for that matter, recent Alaskan environmental disasters.

Better news for Giants' fans, and for all fans of fantastic baseball names: Young Merkin is one of the more promising pitching prospects in the Giants' system. He finished the year at low-A Hagerstown with a 2.25 ERA, 49 BBs and 166 Ks in 156 innings. He turns 22 in November.

God Bless Merkin. God Bless us all.

Mo' Cash

A-Ron, Son of Ron, follows up with a few words:

"with a heavy heart...

the true birth of simple, stripped down, real-deal american rock and roll died this morning.

play yourself some cash today - it feels good.

i hope everyone is doing well.

p.s. if only cash had done a cover to the three's company theme song, i'd be jamming it right now."

Da Haven

So there we were, carousing at the Hockey Haven, me, Laz, Elbo and The Boss, where, as if in some self-parody of a sitcom about wild and crazy guys in the Outer Richmond, we slump steadily on our barstools as an unidentified assailant plays and replays at least half of the only Johnny Cash record on the Haven's jukebox. And this is before we heard the news this morning that the Man in Black had gone to meet his Lord, to walk through the gates, to get his final release from this worldly prison. I'm not into Jesus, but when Johnny sang about Jesus, I'm glad Jesus was there for him. Good man, hard life.

[In fact, as I type this the sound of Cash's voice is drifting from a car stereo outside and through my open window, mingling with the clang of the scaffold that three hairy shirtless guys are constructing half a block away.]

Cash, Cave, Wilco and Billy Bragg, then, good god, Def Leppard. ("Just spell their name the way it should be spelled, and you'll realize how truly awful they are," says Elbo.) Thursday night at the Haven, it's just about what you would think. Three TVs, two tuned to the Giants taking a brief lead on Snow's 10th inning home run off the Shooter, then Worrell coughing it up in the bottom; the other to a soundless 10 o'clock news broadcast, images of flags and firemen holding signs that read "Never Again" and computer-generated models of the Twin Towers' poisonous plume of smoke.

It's all a low-energy muddle of too much media and fractured conversation, the type of DeLillian situation that a depressive can feed upon for weeks, until Elbo decides to drop a big contrary magilla on us:

If the MVP should not go to a player on a non-contending team (ie, A-Rod), then the Cy Young should not go to a pitcher on a non-contender. After all, he says, the Cy Young plaque in Cooperstown reads "Most Valuable Pitcher," and Elbo is not one to get this sort of thing wrong. So, Roy Halladay? Fuggedaboutit. Eric Gagne? Borderline, baby. (Me, I say Loiaza and Gagne, unless Jason Schmidt throws a few 2-hit shutouts between now and Sept. 28.)

Our ears pricked up. Boss shook himself free of the torpor that only a giant side of white rice, wolfed down with Thai chicken curry, can induce. I slumped just a little bit less. Tom Petty's song about Mary Jane came on the jukebox, its absolute horrificness stoking our fires even more.

The night had been salvaged.



A Study in Contrasts

In today's Chron, Henry Schulman writes about two Giants making adjustments. Kirk Rueter, after three months without a win and several weeks on the DL, finally had a great start last night, vintage Woody stuff: tons of ground balls, no walks, and a prompt hook from Alou after 90 pitches. Rueter is a finesse pitcher par excellence, and he needed a few starts to regain the touch and the sink on his 80 to 85 MPH stuff. The Giants beat the Padres, 7-1.

The other Giant who has needed to make adjustments might surprise you: Barry Bonds. Apparently he's getting even fewer strikes to hit than usual (just wait til the playoffs, B). When he does get strikes, they're on the outside corner. So, as Schulman reports, Bonds has spent a couple batting-practice sessions taking balls on the outside corner the other way.

And last night? First two at-bats, two doubles to left, one just a couple feet from clearing the fence. The night before, he had two singles, one to the opposite field (and one off the right-field fence).

Even when you're the best, you have to make adjustments.

As much as I love Jose Cruz, Jr.'s defense, it's obvious that he hasn't learned to make adjustments at the plate even when pitchers have adapted to him. The first month of the season, Cruz was mashing: 7 HRs, 5 2Bs, 12 BBs, .308 avg, 1.032 OPS in April. (And 5 of those HRs were in the first week.) The rest of the year: 11 HRs. He had 1 HR and 4 2Bs in August. The only thing saving him from a really crummy offensive year are his 91 walks. Having watched many many Giants games this year, I could practically see the light bulb go on in opposing pitchers' heads around mid-April: "Don't throw him fastballs over the plate." Change-ups, curves, fastballs in on the hands: they've reduced him to a high-strikeout, low-power, good on-base guy. He hasn't made the adjustments.

To a certain extent, I shouldn't complain. As the Giants' 8th place hitter a good part of the year, Cruz will likely clear 20 HRs and walk 100 times while contributing mind-blowing defense. He's already thrown out 15 or more runners on the bases and made innumerable fantastic catches. [[Whoops--I just checked the expanded stats: only about one-fifth of his ABs have come in the 8th slot; the rest are spread fairly evenly around the batting order. And his stats as an 8th place hitter are anemic.]]

But to, uh, another certain extent (a different extent??), it's frustrating because Cruz should be a 30-30 guy every year. And now that he's learned to take a walk or three, he could be a mini-Rickey Henderson at the plate. Power, patience, speed, great D...hmm, sounds like someone else back in his prime, someone who's not such a great fielder or basestealer anymore but who keeps getting better at the plate, someone who's good enough and smart enough to constantly make adjustments.



He's Mr. Shoe, But He Won't Walk

from the Giants' official Web site:

It hasn't been publicized, and to Giants infielder Neifi Perez, it doesn't have to be, but to underprivileged children in his native Dominican Republic, he is Señor Zapato -- Mr. Shoe.

Prior to Tuesday's game here, Perez purchased at least 50 pairs of shoes and some shirts from local stores and carefully put them in a new suitcase, to be shipped to his home in Santo Domingo and distributed to kids in the offseason -- personally.

California Youth redux (redux)

Thanks, Elbo, for the Lefty Eye on the Young Guy(s). And I also appreciate the image of Jayson Stark wetting himself. It should happen more often so he spends more time changing his underwear and less time writing. That would be a blessing for all humanity.

Speaking of young guys, the Giants announced today that Jesse "The Fopmeister" Foppert will have Tommy John surgery and miss most or all of 2004. Perhaps this explains why last year's minor-league reports and this year's spring-training reports clocked Foppert in the mid-90s, a speed he never seemed to reach in the bigs. He had a couple excellent games early on for the G's, but struggled with control and pitch counts as the summer progressed.

It's a setback, not al-Qaeda-blowing-up-U.N.-headquarters-in-Baghdad setback, but with the trade of Ainsworth, the question mark over Rueter's head (is he hurt worse than he admits? has the inevitable downhill slide started?) , and the probable loss of Ponson to free agency, it comes clear that Sabean will have some major rotation tinkering to do in the off-season. Assuming Ponson doesn't return, here's what we got:

Schmidt, J-Williams, Rueter (?), Hermanson (?), Correia/Brower/Jensen (???).

And even though Tommy John surgery is becoming more an inconvience than a major threat to a pitcher's career, it's disconcerting that after such a relatively short time on the mound (remember, Foppert was a 1st baseman for most of his college career) he's already injured. We just have to cross our fingers and think Joe Nathan, not Kevin Rogers.

By the way, if for some reason there's someone other than Elbo and I reading this, here's a short story I wrote last year about Darren Dreifort's rehab from his second Tommy John surgery.



California youth redux

All five rookies got decisions in last night's West Coast experiment.

Duchscherer (A's) : WP, 7 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Bootcheck (Angels): LP, 3.1 IP, 8 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 HR
Correia (Giants): WP, 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 4 BB, 3 K
Howard (Padres): LP, 5 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 5 BB, 4 K, 2 HR
Jackson (Dodgers): WP, 6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 4 K

Apart from Bootcheck's gopher balls, an impressive show.


California youth

While youthful starters Kevin Correia and Ben Howard lock horns as the Giants visit San Diego tonight, I'll be keeping one eye on the matchup in Oakland, because the A's have yet another young starter joining their ranks. Justin Duchscherer, age 25, will take the ball against the Angels in a few hours. Although Duchscherer didn't exactly distinguish himself in five games with the Rangers in 2001 (12.27 ERA), he sure did distinguish himself in the minors this year. Seems he struck out 117 batters while walking just 18 -- !!! -- for the Sacramento Rivercats of the Pacific Coast League this year. Wow.

If Duchscherer pans out in the big leagues and gets the A's a few key wins down the stretch, the credit will once again go to general manager Billy Beane for spotting the young pitcher's talent. Beane swapped unremarkable middle reliever Luis Vizcaino to Texas for Duchscherer in early 2002; the Rangers immediately traded him to the Brewers for the equally unremarkable Jesus Pena. While Vizcaino posted a healthy 2.99 ERA in his first year with Milwaukee, he reverted to form in 2003, keeping his ERA above 9.00 for just about the entire first half.

Duchscherer starts against the even more inexperienced and wonderfully-named 24-year-old Chris Bootcheck, who will make his major league debut tonight. Bootcheck, out of Auburn University, was the 20th overall pick in the 2000 draft. What an exciting night -- of the four starting pitchers in the local teams' games tonight, Ben Howard has the most big-league experience with four starts.

Oh yeah, and the Dodgers are sending Edwin Jackson to the mound to celebrate his 20th birthday with his major-league debut... against fearsome competition, too. Total big-league experience among the five starters for California teams tonight: 16 games, nine starts.

Somewhere, Jayson Stark is wetting himself.


Now Batting...Third Basewoman...Glenn...Close

"Indeed, each of the Giants' past 13 wins was settled by one or two runs... This trait should help the Giants in the postseason, when close games ordinarily rule the day." - John Shea, in today's SF Chronicle.

People love to toss this supposition around about close playoff baseball, but is it really true? Let's go to Retrosheet and look for playoff games that featured a team with a lead of two runs or less going into the seventh, or at any point in the final three innings. (In other words, because I have to draw the line somewhere, a 3-0 game through 6 innings doesn't count until the trailing team scores at least a run, but a 6-0 game in which the losing team scores 4 in the ninth does count.)


StL v Az: 2 of 3 games
SF v Atl: 1 of 5
Oak v Min: 3 of 5
NYY v Ana: 3 of 4
SF v Stl: 3 of 5
Min v Ana: 3 of 5
SF v Ana: 4 of 7

that's 34 games, 19 of which were close, not quite ruling the day.

What about 2001?

Atl v Hou: 3 of 3
Stl v Ari: 4 of 5
Cle v Sea: 2 of 5
Oak v NYY: 4 of 5
Ari v Atl: 3 of 5
NYY v Sea: 3 of 5
NYY v Ari: 5 of 7

24 of 35, much closer to ruling the day. (And not only were there a lot of close games in 2002, there were a lot of tense low-scoring games. In the opening round alone, Curt Schilling outdueled Matt Morris twice by scores of 1-0 and 2-1. 2001: a good year to be a baseball fan.)

And, before I have to do some real work, here's 2000:

Stl v Atl: 0 of 3
NYM v SF: 2 of 4
NYY v Oak: 3 of 5
Sea v CWS: 3 of 3
NYM v Stl: 1 of 5
NYY v Sea: 4 of 6
NYY v NYM: 5 of 5

18 of 31. Roughly two-thirds, the emerging pattern seems to indicate. The next question is, how many of those close games are also low-scoring games? That's the second prong of the common assumption about post-season play, and a question I will answer the next time I'm procrastinating, which should be quite soon.

Joe Angel, Shut The Fuck Up

Item #2,457 on my list of Why I Hate Joe Angel:

Sunday's ballgame on the radio, driving around my neighborhood, having a world of trouble finding a parking spot because of that pinga Opera en el Parque. (Hey pallie, take your goddamn brie and cheese to the Niners game, where they belong.) Joe Nathan starts the top of the 8th for the Giants, up 6-4 over the D-Backs, Joe Angel behind the mike. Angel starts to gush about Nathan in that choppy, annoying near-monotone of nervous exuberance: "And, yeah, he's got that *real good* stuff, I mean real good, we're talking *future closer* stuff, I mean where Felipe Alou's not afraid to use him this year in that closer role on occasion" -- yappity yappity yappity. The first two D-Backs go down weakly on a K and a pop-up, then Nathan gets all Mantei on us, walks the bases loaded and Felipe comes out to yank his future closer stuff ass into the dugout, and Joe Angel says not a single word about how dumb he must feel right now. That's why I'm saying it for him.

And if he says, "There's a foul ball down that third base line down near that visiting bullpen," one more time, I'm going to go to that ball park and shove that microphone down that throat, yeah, and you can put it in the *WIN* column with those lovely totals.



Fun Fact of the Day

According to the Giants official site, the team is on the verge of making the playoffs in back to back years for the first time since 1936-1937.

Operation Shutdown

Both I and Lefty Malo Elbo play in an S.F. Bay Area men's baseball league, which provides us with a limitless font of funny stories (the center fielder who dropped trou and pissed against the outfield fence during a pitching break; the woman who likes to sunbathe topless in her backyard beyond the right field wall at Terra Linda High School) and nagging injuries (don't get me started).

Yesterday the league ended its regular season; my team, the 28-and-over White Sox, beat the Angels to advance to the playoffs. The final was something like 15 - 8, but I lost track after the 6th inning when the Angels, already known around the league for their, shall we say, lack of refinement, pulled a ridiculous number akin to Derek Bell's infamous "Operation Shutdown" tantrum.

We were down 6 - 2 (thanks in large part to my ineffective pitching) going into the 5th, with the Angels' top pitcher on the mound. The same guy K'ed us 13 times though 8 or 9 innings about a month ago; he can be nasty. But thanks to a couple walks, an error or two and a big triple, we tied it at 6. The next inning: more of the same, and after his shortstop booted an easy grounder, the pitcher did something I've never seen before: he intentionally threw the ball over his catcher's head to the backstop. I was the 3rd base coach at the time, and I thought he was trying to intentionally walk our hitter with a soft lob. Our team captain, who was on 3rd base, said he thought the guy's shoulder was fried. He lobbed another one, this time catchable but high and outside, then tried to throw a regular fastball for a strike. He ended up walking our hitter, plus a few more. Then he walked off the mound. We were up at that point by 5 or 6. In our league, that's not a huge deficit. But the game was effectively over for the Angels.

In their final at bat, down by 6 or 7, the first two batters didn't even run to first after hitting infield grounders. The ump, to show his disgust at the disrespect of the batter not running out his grounder, gave an emphatic Out! call when the throw arrived at first base; the batter from the dugout delivered a few choice Fuck Yous and other bon mots and got the heave-ho, the first ejection I've ever seen in our league.

It was a total meltdown, the Chernobyl of amateur baseball, even worse than our game a couple months ago when, as our pitcher was taking his warmup tosses in the top of the 1st, one of the Rockies sucker-punched his teammate in the on-deck circle.

But that's another story.



Bonds homer drought continues

Can you believe the SFChronicle's Web site used those four words tonight? Barry hasn't homered in six whole games. Six!

Can you believe he's only done that twice before this year? Once in early-to-mid-May, and once as July spilled into August. And both times, in the seventh game, he went yard.

Get with the program, Barry! You owe us big in San Diego! You rule Qualcomm like no other visiting player! Make your last visit a memorable one!

By the way, if the Padres sign a pitcher, they could be a pretty good team in 2004. The bats will revolve around Giles, Nevin and Klesko. I think they might go after Benito too. But I wonder if they'll wish they still had Oliver Perez one day.




Fourteenbacks Get Lucky

I just got back from Pac Bell, where Arizona won its first game in S.F. this year, thanks in large part to a horrible umpire's call on diving catch in CF by Grissom. The catch should have ended the top of the 7th inning with Arizona up 2-1, but Tim Tschida (we know where you live) ruled it a trap, which absolutely boggled everyone's mind. I could see it -- hell, my girlfriend, who asked why we weren't allowed to use video replay to reverse the call, could see it -- from our seats in the left-field bleachers. Grissom, not known for his outbursts, flung his glove to the ground after Felipe Alou came out to argue, unsuccessfully. After that, all hell broke loose (i.e., Felix came in to pitch) and the D-Backs put a total of 7 runs across to salt it away.

Of course, we in section 138 gave it to Gonzo when he came out for the bottom of the 7th ("Diamond-Lucks!", "Fourteenbacks!", "You even needed an error and a cheap-ass hit to win the World Series!").

There was a very sweet moment as the Giants were warming up one inning: Bonds finished his warm-up tosses, threw the ball to a little kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old, in the front row down the left-field line, then put out his glove to ask for the ball back. For about ten seconds, the kid was so thrilled to get the first toss from Bonds, he didn't see Barry asking to play catch. Bonds waited patiently for him to look up, and the two of them played catch for 15 seconds or so, the kid in the front row, Barry right near the foul line, until the inning started.

The Giants had two more baserunners thrown out tonight: Durham trying to steal 2nd with Snow up and no outs (it might have been a hit and run, but Snow took the pitch); and Alfonzo, trying to advance from 2nd to 3rd with 2 outs on a ball in the dirt to Durham. The latter was unconscionable. The caught stealing was, just a guess, their 4th or 5th in a row. On the year, they're 47 up, 34 down, a crappy ratio. Not only are the Giants not stealing more, as Alou said they would in spring training, but they're sucking when they try to steal.



Awards and Rookies

Entering the stretch run, there are traditionally two main subjects of conversation among baseball fans: pennant races and awards races. The pennant races, with the wild card possibilities (perhaps the only thing Bud Selig has ever done right), are fodder enough for hours of good yap, preferably on an Indian summer Sunday afternoon in the bleachers. The Giants and Braves are running away with their divisions, but the other divisions and the two wild cards are up for grabs.

The other "races" are for post-season awards; Bonds has NL MVP sewn up. Loiaza the AL Cy Young. Eric Gagne, barring his collapse or a month of unhittableness from Jason Schmidt or Russ Ortiz, will probably win the NL Cy. (Whether he should or not, hmm...he's a shit-eating Dodger, of course, and doesn't deserve anything other than a good loud Boo...but I'll concede that he's, OK, OK, a pretty decent pitcher, as well as a goofy French-Canadian, which is always a plus, and that my man Jason Schmidt doesn't quite have enough innings pitched to win as a starter.)

Most intriguing to me, though, is the AL Rookie of the Year award. Just as in 2001, when Ichiro Suzuki, one of the coolest dudes on the planet, seemed the AL Rookie shoo-in, this year sees another former Japanese league star leading the pack: the Yanks' Hideki Matsui, subject of much pre-season courtship before he decided to sign with the Boss.

Matsui's front-runnership will bring the inevitable bleating that Japanese-league stars who jump the Pacific after piling up big numbers for the Orix Blue Wave or the Nippon Ham Fighters (who by the way are not "Ham Fighters," they're Fighters sponsored by Nippon Ham) should not be considered Major-League rookies.

Burrshit-u, I say.

Despite the emergence of several Japanese stars in the American majors -- Hideo Nomo, Kaz Sasaki, Ichiro, Matsui -- the Japanese leagues are not the equal of the AL and NL. They are still, talent-wise, roughly comparable to the American high-minor league systems. The other Pacific Coast League, in other words. So if the talent level is about the same as our minor leagues, why shouldn't the Japanese stars who jump to the MLB be treated the same as the minor-league stars who, highly touted in AAA, jump to the next level and become rookie sensations?

Perhaps because Ichiro was already a star when he arrived in Seattle, with a million Japanese photographers trying to snap a picture of his bare ass. Perhaps because these guys just show up all of a sudden and play really well, without the slow buildup that accompanies a prospect's climb through the minors. Perhaps because American journalists are, well, not exactly racist, but Japan is so weird! They're just like us, with their digital stuff and car-lust and monster movies, but then, they're not. And that makes sportswriters' brains go haywire:

Look at this little Ichiro guy! He's got style! He's got paparazzi on his tail! He's got chicks! He's got sponsorship deals! That ain't no rookie.

Here's a little game: let's say that Alfonso Soriano had spent a couple extra years in Japan before coming to the Yanks, then had the season he had last year as a 24-year-old. (Remember, the guy's been playing pro ball since he was 15 or 16.) Because he honed his skills a little more in Japan than in the Dominican, or in Columbus, would that disqualify him from being Rookie of the Year?

Sure, there's the occasional 20-year-old phenom who hasn't really paid many dues -- Dontrelle Willis, Andruw Jones, Rocco Baldelli -- but mostly, "Real Rookies" are professionals who've worked hard for several years to hone their craft against top competition. They've played in the minors against future stars, they've played at the top colleges. They come to the bigs having ridden on crappy busses from Edmonton to Wichita Falls to Huskachoochie; they've eaten nothing but Burger King on their $23 per diem; they've cried like babies in lonely motel rooms away from their big Midwestern families for the first time. They say Bull-Durham things like "Gosh, I'm just here to help the team."

To say that Hideki Matsui shouldn't win the Rookie of the Year award, is to assume that Matsui has been facing much better competition in Japan for the past 5 years than U.S.-based minor leaguers have faced. And from everything I've heard about the Japanese leagues, that's just not true.

I'm willing to be proven wrong, but you'll have to battle me in hand to hand combat, with my giant orange wristbands that give me Excellent Long-Living Violent and Powerful Actions. Ah, Shinjo, you certainly weren't rookie of the year material, but I'm glad you patrolled my center field for at least a few months.

More Bondsian Numbers

Compiled by Ken Rosenthal of the Sporting News -- which, by the way, after months of threadbare daily Web coverage, has given up and merged with Fox Sports. Blech. It's bad enough being forced to watch the baseball post-season on that network; I don't want to contribute to their site visits, or page turns, or whatever Web-CPM rate is in vogue these days. Everytime I see Fox Sports start and end its sports broadcasts with images of jet fighters blasting off from a flight deck with the Stars and Stripes in soft-focus background, I stiffen my backbone and think, I'm glad my sports coverage is fair and balanced and pro-American.

Uh, where was I? Oh yes, this is how Rosenthal quotes Baseball Prospectus:

"Bonds' on-base percentage and slugging percentage at Pac Bell, a park that negates lefthanded power, are the best home marks in the N.L. — yes, even better than Todd Helton's numbers at Coors Field. And after an 0-2 count — a hitter's most difficult situation — Bonds' combined percentage was 1.107, better than Helton's overall on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.083, which ranked third in the majors. Bonds, though, had trailed 0-2 in only 48 of his 455 plate appearances."

For those of you who don't speak OPS, this translates into: "Holy mother of pearl -- Can anyone stop this man?"



Welcome to El Lefty Malo, home of the Original Lefty Malo and his friends.

What is a Lefty Malo?

For readers who don't speak Spanish, "Malo" is bad or evil, and "Lefty" is someone who primarily uses the left hand for various purposes, like brushing teeth, or fingerpainting, or, as is the case with the Original Lefty Malo, throwing a baseball. It was 17 years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico, that I, the Original Lefty Malo, was pitching for my high school team during a summer trip, only to be heckled by two drunk Mexicans in the third-base seats of a rickety old ballyard. "Lefty Malo" was their insult of choice. Like a yellow star or pink triangle, I have appropriated the perjorative as my own and encourage other Lefties Malos to do the same. My mom, for example, or my brother Aaron, who is not quite 100% Lefty but close enough.

Here at El Lefty Malo we'll most often muse on baseball, although I, the Original, reserve the right to try other topics. Like poetry. Or hiking diaries.

Let's kick off this blog with a link to ESPN.com, which is asking readers for nicknames for Barry Bonds. I've already suggested El Super-Barry Grande, because it has echoes of one of my all-time favorite nicknames, El Gato Grande, and of one of my favorite meals, a super burrito.

Hot Stove in September

OK, because I'm a horrible, terrible, no-good very-bad baseball geek, I'm already looking forward to the winter's maneuverings. For instance: what will the starting rotation 2004 look like? Barring blockbuster trades or injuries, Schmidt, Williams, Foppert, Rueter will be back. Ponson? Will he command Schmidt-type money ($32 M over 4 yrs)? Is he worth it? A lot will depend on the playoffs. My guess, though, is that the Giants will spend that money elsewhere -- 1B, SS, VF (Vlad Field) -- and let the youngsters continue to develop in the rotation. Williams is already nasty; he could be a legit #2 behind Schmidt next year. Correia looks like a candidate for 5th starter next year, as does Brower. If Hermanson stays healthy, he could be another low-priced find for next year, too. Schmidt, Woody, Hermanson, J-Rome, Foppert/Correia/Brower...looks good to me.

OK, the rotation's set. (I'm sure Sabes is reading this and nodding his head.) Now how about the pen?

Felix? Gone. He'll be making something like $4 mil. Trade him to the Red Sox for Kevin Millar. Worrell? I hate to say it, but if he asks for buckets of ducats, sorry. Nen's under contract for next year, Nathan's an 8th inning guy (and fill-in closer), Eyre and Christiansen are back. There's just too much good bullpen help out there. But if Tim wants to be happy at Pac Bell and just a little less rich than he would be as, say, the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers, ink him to another reasonable 2-yr deal.

The OF: El Super-Barry Grande, of course. And 'Quis is under contract for one more, but if he's the starting CF again, they definitely need a strong 4th OF, hopefully one who hits lefty. Cruz could come back, but the Giants would pay him $4 M. Worth it? Questionable. How about these 5: Bonds, Grissom, Cruz, VLAD, and Hammonds. That's deep. But if they sign VLAD (or spend big at SS or 1B), a cheap Hammonds would be the 4th and the 5th would likely be a Linden or Torcato type.

The IF: Partially set with Fonzie at 3B, Ray-Ray at 2B. Aurilia? Snow? Unless Snow wants to come back on the cheap, it ain't happening, no matter how much the 12-year-old girls squeal in protest. Richie is now 32 and has been oft-injured since his wet-dream 37-HR year in 2000. Would you pay him $15 M over 3 years? Someone will. But Ransom's just as good defensively and has some pop. And Neifi, like it or not, is under contract next year. So put him 8th, let him hit .260 with 10 walks and 0 HRs, watch him play SS like a bow-legged vacuum cleaner with a cannon-arm attachment, and give Ransom one more year to develop the bat. Remember, Aurilia was all-glove no-bat when the Giants got him. I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar career path with the Codemeister. 1B? Derrek Lee. David Ortiz. Kevin Millar. Someone who can hit more than 5 HRs a year and isn't a butcher in the field. Kevin Correia for Nick Johnson, anyone? And bring back the Cat for another year, just to watch him hit 43-year-old bombs into the bleachers and hike his pants up even further around his tummy. Mi encanta tu sonrisa, Gato.

C: Unless Bennie wants to sign for a year on the cheap, it's Yorvit time. Enough of this throwing from the knees crap.

Barry Es-pectacular

This is becoming the All-Bonds Blog, but these days, why write about anyone else? Except L. Paul Bremer, of course. But Bremer isn't winning too many games in extra innings. We were talking about Bonds' effect on the structure of the game -- I think the operative phrase here is "Personal Destruction of the Opposition" -- so let's have a look at what he's done recently in his "valuable" at-bats, ie, when it's close, or better yet, close and late:

9/3 Wed: Bottom 9th inning, tie game, missed a walk-off 2-run homer by three feet; settled for single off the top of RF wall that put eventual winning run at 3rd base.

9/2 Tues: B-2nd inning, no score, doubled to lead off and scored first run of game. (In B-8, with Giants up 2-1, he struck out looking to lead off.)

9/1 Mon: T-9, no score vs. Ariz., bases loaded no outs, 2-run game-winning single.

8/31: in hospital

8/30 Sat: returned from Dad's funeral, hit mammoth HR off Big Unit to put Giants up 2-0. Left game with irregular heartbeat.

8/23 - 8/29: on bereavement leave.

8/22 Fri: B-6, Giants down 2-1 to Fla. Singled off D-Train with 0 out, 1 on, to help start 5-run rally.

8/21 Thurs: Walk-off HR in B-10 vs. Atl.

8/20 Wed: Intentionally walked in B-9 to load bases and set up Alfonzo's GW single.

8/19 Tues: Walk-off HR in B-10 vs Atl.

Since 8/19, the day he returned from his first bereavement leave, El Super-Barry Grande is 9 for 22 with 12 BBs, 7 runs, 3 HRs and 5 RBIs.



Flash update on Marquis Grissom minus Barry:

I isolated all the games in 2003 in which Grissom appeared and Barry didn't. (I think there were 24.) In those games, Grissom hit a respectable .271 (23-for-85), although that's 29 points lower than he hit in games when Barry played (.300 on the nose). But in those 85 at-bats, Grissom got only 7 extra-base hits, and slugged .411 -- a full 56 points lower than the .467 he cut with Barry around. So the power disappears before the batting average. It must be the breaking stuff.


Regarding Bonds' ability to change the way opponents play the Giants, and therefore his value to the team (as in Most Valuable Player, an award he deserves for plenty of reasons other than sentimental ones), one need look no further than Marquis Grissom's at-bats without Bonds in the lineup. I don't have the full stats available for Grissom's performance in games with and without Bonds in the lineup, but watching Grissom hit during Bonds' recent bereavement stays was like seeing a whole different hitter.

In the nine games when Bonds was away from the team, either with family or in the hospital, Grissom went a combined 6-for-32 (.188). Grissom has hit .302 the rest of the year, mostly batting second or third while Bonds hit third or fourth. I know 32 at-bats is a small sample size, but the pitchers were obviously treating Grissom differently when the biggest bats behind him in the lineup were Jeffrey Hammonds, Edgardo Alfonzo, or even the Mighty Galarraga.

Grissom has credited Barry with his increased productivity this year, saying that Bonds taught him how not to give away at-bats. (He's really not doing much better than last year, but that's another post.) But is that the only reason? Obviously Grissom's seen quite a few fastballs down the pipe this year. No pitcher wants to nibble around the corners and risk walking Grissom (like that's going to happen anyway), then face Bonds with first base occupied. Grissom has enough 0-for-4 and 1-for-5 nights this year that pitchers can go right after him with fastballs, and expect a reasonable likelihood of getting him out once the ball's in play. But without Bonds in the lineup, the pitchers can afford to nibble. Grissom had to get reacquainted with the breaking stuff, and the groundouts added up.

The effect of Barry's absence contrasts starkly with what happened when the Cardinals' Albert Pujols went missing in mid-August. Now Pujols is having an astounding year, and could be the MVP just because the writers are sick of giving it to Bonds (and because writers and Bonds get along so well). But when Pujols was ill (and suspended) during the Aug. 17-21 period, his team went 2-2 and scored 23 runs in four games. Bonds' absences produced a 4-7 record, with the Giants scoring 28 runs in ELEVEN games -- an average of just 2.5 per game. (They've averaged 4.7 runs per game the rest of the year.) That, my friends, is what the Most Valuable Player award is all about.

Thanks, El Lefty Original, for hosting me. I'll weigh in on a few more things soon.



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