Ducks Named Bonds 

Viewers advisory: the following post is not suitable for small children and season ticket holders.

Going into tonight's game, Barry Bonds has walked 36 times and hit safely 15 times (not including home runs). In other words, he's been on base 51 times for the #5 hitter's pleasure. Fifty one ducks named Bonds on the pond.

Here's how his teammates have fared immediately following a Bonds walk (intentional or not--really, what's the difference?), single or double:

*51 plate appearances
*11 hits (all singles)
*10 double plays
*7 RBI
*2 BBs
(I didn't count strikeouts.)

That comes out to (for sadomasochistic purposes I'm going to put this in boldface type)....


In case you want to know:

After a Bonds walk: 8-34, 7 DP, 5 RBI, 2 BB
After a Bonds non-HR hit: 3-15, 3 DP, 2 RBI

No wonder Barry said the other day, "I'd walk me, too."

*UPDATE: The Giants' DNB (Ducks Named Bonds) numbers improved a bit in last night's melee. Throughout the season I'll keep a running total in the right-hand column.


Elbo: Pierzynski catches hell 

Boy, it sounds like A.J. Pierzynski would've gotten along great with Milton Bradley.



Bad Idea 

The Giants just lost today to the Marlins, and you can blame either a bad scouting report or the inability to follow a good one. The Giants had just tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the 8th by loading the bases with no outs and scoring exactly one run on a -- surprise! -- Pedro Feliz double play grounder. This is known as snatching a tie from the jaws of victory.

Felix Rodriguez came in to pitch the top of the ninth. He fell behind Miguel Cabrera 3 and 1, then jammed him with a fastball and Cabrera popped to left. Good pitch. That's the way to come inside, Felix.

The next batter was Mike Lowell, and Felix again fell behind in the count. Jon Miller was on the radio broadcast and immediately noted that although Felix had made a good pitch to come in and jam Cabrera, Lowell was an excellent inside fastball hitter. Miller then noted that Pierzynski was indeed setting up inside. At that moment, I froze in the middle of my mid-afternoon snack-making and said, "Oh, no."

When Lowell deposited the pitch in the left-field bleachers, Miller somehow refrained from ripping off his headset and screaming, "I told you so!"



The Panic Button 

I just turned on the game to hear Pedro Feliz hit into a -- surprise! -- double play with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first.

Then I turn on my computer to find out that Ray Durham is on the 15-day disabled list, Robb Nen is on the 60-day DL and tonight's leadoff hitter is Michael Tucker. Other than Felipe Alou deciding that Neifi would make a better leadoff option, how could things get worse?

Well, I know the answer, but I won't say it for superstitious fear of making it come true.

Here's the big question: is it time to push the panic button?

The 2001 A's started the year 7-18. They won 102 games.
The 2002 A's started the year 19-25. They won 103 games.
The 2002 Angels started the year 6-13. They won the World Series.
The 2003 Marlins started the year 18-29. They won the World Series.

The Giants' 8-13 record is better than any of those starts.

I'm sure there are plenty of 8-13 starts that have ended in crap, too, but the point is, other teams have looked far worse for far longer into the season and turned it around. But with no prospect of Nen and no Miguel Cabrera-like prospect lurking in the minors to come save the day, the problem is that, as my phriend the long-suphering Phils phan said today, "the raw materials are lacking."

*Hey, wait a second: Neifi just drove in two with an opposite-field single...batting left handed! Maybe things are turning around...*

OK, we're back. Another problem is that this team has so many holes, one big trade isn't going to be enough. The Giants need bullpen help. They need another horse in the starting rotation. Even if A.J. and Alfonzo and Tucker turn on the afterburners, they'll still need another bat.

*Hey, J.T. Snow just drove in two more, and the Giants have scored 5 in the inning off Russ Ortiz...maybe things really aren't that bad!*



Another Heh Heh Heh Heh Laugher 

In the post-game (w)rap last night, Krukow mentioned that Barry Bonds before the game had decreed that the game would show what the team was made of. I didn't realize Barry reads El Lefty Malo. Welcome, Barry.

Turns out that as a barometer of the season, the game was inconclusive. Jason Schmidt proved he could wiggle out of jams with only his change-up working. Jim Brower turned in his best performance of the year; Felix, too. Durham, Alfonzo and Feliz each had a clutch hit, but Alfonzo also failed to get a run home from third with less than 2 outs. Hammonds watched a called third strike after Bonds was walked intentionally to load the bases.

It was a nice win, not a statement.

However, with Deivi Cruz's debut with the team--a pinch-hit double that should have led to an insurance run if Alfonzo had more than one at-bat's worth of clutch in him--El Lefty Malo is now on the "Deivi Cruz, Starting Shortstop" bandwagon. Unless his defense is so horrific that his presence on the infield would counteract any potential gain on offense, play him. (And come to mention, is anyone thrilled about Neifi's defense this year? Remember that play in S.D. when he took his time and Sean Burroughs beat the throw, which led to a rally? ¡Qué coño!)

Wait a second--Deivi's career OPS is seven points lower than Neifi's (.674 to .681). How is this possible? Their career OBPs are virtually the same (Deivi .290/Neifi .301). Their career SLG%s are virtually the same (Deivi .385/Neifi .381). Their names are virtually the same: -ei-i -r-z! Good God, have they ever been seen in the same dugout together at the same time?

As of last night, yes, they have. So what makes them different? Without actually crunching park-effect numbers, I think it's fair to say that four full years of Coors Field helped inflate Neifi's SLG.

His Coors SLG: .444, .382, .403, .427, .445.
His post-Coors SLG: .302, .303, .348.

Meanwhile, Deivi put up some decent numbers at the cavernous Comerica Park, at least for one season (.302/.318/.449, including 46 doubles, in 2000). That was his career year: he hasn't topped a .670 OPS since. Camden Yards and Qualcomm, Cruz's home fields the past couple years, are hitters parks, but not mile high. So let's give Deivi's "true" slugging percentage an edge over Neifi.

Given neither player will get on base much, why not go for the guy who'll at least hit the ball to or over the wall once in a while? Especially when he's hitting 8th, where a bunt single with two outs and no one on doesn't really help much.

Unless someone can show me that Deivi's glove has fingers missing, I'm riding this horse hard.



Big Game, Pitcher 

It's probably folly to read too much into one game, but I won't be surprised if, two months from now, we look back on tonight's game versus the Braves as a touchstone of the season.

The Giants need a long outing from a starter. Jason Schmidt needs to go deep, and he needs to dominate. Other than Jerome Williams on Saturday night, the team hasn't had a clutch pitching performance all year. The bullpen is wrecked. Dustin Hermanson looks dustined for the DL. With every start by Brett Tomko and every emergency start by Brian Cooper, the lunatic fringe trades up for an ever-larger surrey. Dave Veres and Mike Crudale are not exactly pitching themselves into shape in Fresno. The stockpiles are wearing thin.

If Schmidt can prove he's back with a vengeance, it'll give the team a huge shot in the arm. If he gets cuffed around like he did against the Padres last week, it'll be time to press the panic button. More on that later tonight.



Mess With the Bull, You Get the Neifi 

In the midst of this grim period, one needs some comic relief. Seeing how he can't contribute with the bat, Neifi Perez figures he'll help cheer Giants' fans up with his sparkling, mischievous wit. (In the Dominican Republic, he's known as "Señor Seinfeld.")

Discussing his decision to bat right-handed exclusively, Neifi told the Chronicle:

"I just have to make the adjustment, but don't hang a curveball. If you hang a curveball, you're going to pay."


Every blogger has a pet peeve, some topic or trope that rankles him (or her) out of proportion. Mine is the repeated assertion by the Giants' front office and members of the media that it doesn't matter who hits behind Bonds, or where Bonds hits, because he'll get walked no matter what.

Like the proverbial elephant in the room, no one follows the simple logic that if Barry is going to get walked no matter what, the Giants need someone behind him who will hit the ball out of the park. Plain and simple. OUT...OF...THE...PARK.

If the opposition is going to give you free baserunners, maximize your chances of those baserunners scoring, not with a line-drive, gap-to-gap, warning-track-power guy who might get Barry to third and leave the RBI opportunity to the next guy in the lineup. Do it with a home run hitter. That is the end-all and be-all of this discussion. Bruce Jenkins hints at it but as usual can't hit the mark in today's edition of three-dot faux-crustiness:

As frustrating as it was to watch Barry Bonds repeatedly standing in the on-deck circle as the Giants made their last out, manager Felipe Alou is right: Give Bonds a crucial at-bat in the late innings, and he's intentionally walked. He needs to bat fourth because the Giants have no one else even remotely qualified for the job, and because Bonds -- who makes every key decision when it comes to his own status -- won't have it any other way...

Bruce, the Giants don't have anyone remotely qualified to bat ANYWHERE at this point, save for Durham and Grissom. Batting Bonds third, fourth or twice an inning won't help until someone comes along who hits behind him and hits the ball out of the park. Even if Alfonzo or Pierzynski get hot behind Bonds, their hits won't drive Bonds in most of the time unless they get one all the way to the wall in a cavernous park.

I can hear the retort from the front office. "Don't you think we know this? Don't you think we've tried, within our budgetary means, to get the best hitters possible?"

My answer is no, I don't think you have. You've raised my season ticket prices every year anyway--might as well raise them a little bit more and pay for a big bat behind Barry. What's the alternative? A mediocre team and a notoriously fickle fan base, smelling blood in the water, losing interest. Attendance, as it did vs. San Diego this week, starts to fray around the edges. (Did they top 35,000 once?) Soon the sellouts come only during Dodgers series, A's series, and the occasional Cubs visit.

If Paul DePodesta turns the dysfunctional Dodgers around this year (trading for Milton Bradley was an excellent start), you're going to start seeing calls for Magowan to reevaluate his front office strategy and look for someone a little more stat-savvy to run the show.


Elbo: Policing the lineups 

*That was pretty sneaky of Felipe to put Edgardo Alfonzo (BA .200) in the two-hole last night. It wasn't sneaky at all for Alfonzo to go 1-for-6, though.

*Jeffrey Hammonds batted sixth and walked three times. Behind him were D.P. Pierzynski, Neifi and the pitcher's spot. Pierzynski had one useful at-bat, producing the grounder that went off two Dodger gloves before settling in shallow left field. Neifi didn't come through at all. The 7-8-9 spots now look so weak that the Giants appear to be prepared to give away whole innings, not just at-bats.

*Barry stole his first base since #500, which came last June 23 in that great game against the Dodgers. (Honestly, I thought he'd never steal another.) Eric Gagne took the loss that night, although he still hasn't blown a save since time immemorial. In fact, Barry appears to be the only player who can beat Gagne all by himself, unless you count Hank Blalock. (By the way, Barry has made only three outs in six games over the past week.)

*Speaking of outs, Dustan Mohr is down to .067. He's just been passed by Terrmel Sledge in the race for worst hitter in the National League. (For some reason, Frank Robinson put Sledge in the seventh spot, ahead of catcher Brian Schneider, who leads the team in home runs with two.)

*Are we worried about Herges yet?



Elbo: A familiar hangover 

Boy. Now that it's fashionable to suggest that Barry try to hit .400 this year, just like I did last month, maybe it's time to mention the familiar feeling I've been feeling this spring.

I lived in Baltimore during the Orioles' wire-to-wire division championship season of 1997. That team had the swagger. They had two closers, if you count the emerging Armando Benitez. They had three 15-game winners. Even the fourth starter won ten games. They jumped out to a huge lead and then coasted, winning 98 games. They were the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.

And then what happened? Well, they wiped out the Mariners, but then the Indians smacked around their bullpen and won the series in six games. (MVP of the ALCS: Marquis Grissom.) Oh well. It happens, right?

But when 1998 rolled around, suddenly the O's looked terrible. One good player retired, and they were down to one closer. Everyone else was a year older, meaning that the entire starting lineup was suddenly over 30. Everyone who had a great year in 1997 suddenly played below average in 1998. The new acquisitions looked like hell. And the team won only 79 games, finishing below .500 and below all expectations.

Does any of this sound familiar? I have seen a championship-quality team come apart at the seams, see. Watching the 2004 Giants, I feel like I've seen this movie before. And the end is, unfortunately, not a pleasure to watch.

What the Orioles did next may strike a chord with you, dear reader, as well. While they made a mild effort to win in 1999 by signing Albert Belle (whoops), they wound up within a game of the previous year's finish. (Their "youth movement," oddly enough, consisted of a young Aruban pitcher who was not yet royalty in his home country.) But mostly, what the O's did was keep promoting Cal Ripken Jr. as the star of the team so that people would still come to the games. And their great new stadium, just six years old as 1998 began, was still full of fans over the next few years, and most of those fans recognized most of the players. And that was enough to keep most people interested, until the Great One retired. They've been in fourth place ever since.

Orioles fans have had to learn to love the little things over the past few years. They've loved great half-seasons by Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie. They've loved Melvin Mora's freak 2003 campaign. They've loved the emergence of Jay Gibbons as a pretty good player. They've loved the decent season by Rodrigo Lopez, and some good starts by Josh Towers. And now, six years after they went into the toilet, management has waited for the kids to gel together, and spent some dough on Miguel Tejada. Which could get them up to third place this year.

No one likes hangovers, but most of us have learned to live with them when they happen. What do you do? You go to sleep for a long time and hope that when you wake up, it's gone.


Schmendrick Pierzynski and Other Conundra 

I wrote yesterday morning that Aardsma needed to be demoted, and boom, he was sent down to Fresno, where he'll have to change his name to Aaardsma. Sometimes comedy happens in the subtlest of ways.

So let's see if we can exploit the hole in the ethereal cosmic wainscotting one more time...

Boy, the Giants really need to trade for Carlos Beltran. In exchange, the Royals could use Todd Linden and some promising young pitching. Noah Lowry, for example. He showed promise last night taking over for Jason Schmidt. I mean, it's promising when a young pitcher, just up from the farm for an emergency appearance, has a nice even out-to-hit ratio. Nine outs, nine hits. Next time, spread the hits around a bit more so all those runners don't score. And Aardsma. Allard Baird, forget what I said yesterday. The kid's ready to help. He just needs the relaxed atmosphere of Kauffman Stadium and the craggy face of Benito Santiago behind a catcher's mask to soothe his jangled nerves. What, the Royals would want more than that? Um, Carlos Valderrama? Matt Cain? Boof Bonser? Wait, no, sorry, he's already been traded for A.J. Pierzynski's identical twin brother Schmendrick. OK, you crazy Pierzynski Brothers, the fun's over, time to end the gag. Let A.J. do his baseball thing, and Schmendrick, you go back to your dental practice.

Speaking of which, and I am absolutely not kidding, I had a dream last night that the Giants had traded A.J. back to Minnesota because he was having severe family problems (a cheatin' wife, I think it was) and needed a cozy atmosphere for a while to get his head straightened out. Once he got his personal life under control and his swing fine-tuned, the Twins would send him back to S.F. It was quite a sporting deal, but A.J. didn't seem so thrilled. He packed his bags in shock and left without talking to the media. My dream media, that is. To fill the roster hole, the Giants brought up Jesse Foppert even though his arm was still in a cast.

Only two weeks into the season and I'm already having bad dreams about the Giants. Dr. Leffti Mallot will observe this situation closely and would like the patient to think about coming in twice a week, or on the days someone other than Bonds, Durham or Grissom reaches base safely.

Questions to ponder:

What would happen if the Giants quietly moved back to Candlestick and no one told Michael Tucker? Would he show up, day after day at Blah-Blah-Blah Park, scratch his smooth pate in bewilderment, and eventually go home to South Boston, Va.?

When does Andy Pettitte come off the DL? Neifi Perez wants to know. If it weren't for Pettitte, Neifi would be hitting .120. Oops, sorry. That would be his OPS.

Finally, for Jake Peavy: Oh, no, really, I was trying to throw you a strike. It just happened to end up in your ear-hole. Punk.


This just in: Matt Cain won his first game for the single-A San Jose Giants. He's now thrown 15.2 IP and K'ed 25.



Raw Aardsma 

I listened to last night's ballgame on the radio, so I couldn't see the specifics of David Aardsma's pitch selection or location when he gave up two insurance runs in the ninth inning. But having seen him pitch a couple times live, plus once or twice on TV, it seems obvious that he's not ready for the bigs.

Yes, he's got a great fastball. But he hangs his off-speed pitches up in the zone, or can't get them over, which tells me that he's having a hard time controlling the adrenaline. He's out there with nothing but his fastball and shaky control, which is why he's getting lit up (6 IP, 10 H, 7 BB, only 3 Ks).

When a pitcher is really pumped up, his arm speed increases. This might affect location on the fastball -- or, in the case of a sinkerballer like Rueter, it'll speed up the pitch so that it no longer sinks -- but more dramatically it'll cause the pitcher to lose "feel" for the breaking or off-speed pitch. If you listen to Mike Krukow enough, you'll hear him talk about pitchers "throwing through the breaking pitch," i.e., throwing it too hard and losing the break.

If my diagnosis is correct, Aardsma needs more minor-league seasoning to experience tense game situations and practice keeping calm and focused. It's hard to say if he needs to work on his curve and change; I haven't seen him throw either for a quality strike. That may be due to mechanics or to nerves. Either way, he's not cutting it at the major league level.



Moneyball Is Whiteyball? 

Cranky SF Chron columnist Bruce Jenkins writes today about the disappearance of the African-American professional baseball player. From comprising 25 percent of all MLB opening day rosters in 1975 to 10 percent this year, African Americans are becoming scarce on pro diamonds.

This is not a new trend. But Jenkins puts an interesting spin on it. He posits that if more black men played baseball, Billy Beane's sabermetric "Moneyball" approach -- high on-base percentage and home runs = good; stolen bases, defense and speed = overrated -- wouldn't work. Because walks and home runs are white people's thing, while stolen bases and defense are black people's thing, Jenkins implies. He cites a number of black NBA and NFL stars and wonders what would happen if they all had grown up playing baseball. Then he quotes an anonymous scout to back up his musings.

"There would be heavy emphasis on speed and quickness," said one American League scout. "We'd be back to the days when guys like Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson had such a huge impact. Billy Beane (preacher of patience and station-to-station ball) would go out of business, because he wouldn't want any of those guys."

This is such baloney. First of all, extra base hits are not "station to station ball." They are "express train to victory ball."

Second, if Billy Beane had a team full of Rickey Hendersons, I think he'd not only stay in business, but business would be real, real good. (Whether he would want a team full of Lou Brocks or Maury Wills, neither of whom could hold a candle to Rickey, is another matter. But certainly Beane wouldn't sneeze at either of those two, at least in their primest of prime years, leading off his batting order. One further aside: compared to nostalgia, Maury Wills wasn't really that good. Only once in his career did he have a season OBP higher than .350.)

What Jenkins, whose anti-stathead, good-old-days stance seems at times so cliched I wonder if it's just his columnist persona, doesn't understand (or perhaps refuses to understand) is that Billy Beane's philosophy is a product of limited resources. When you can't afford a team full of A-Rods, Vlads, Bondses, etc, etc, you have to choose ballplayers with skills that are undervalued so you can get them on the cheap. Until recently, skills such as on-base percentage were undervalued by most.

The declining number of African American players and fans is a problem for MLB, to be sure. To paint Billy Beane as a white man stuck in and benefitting from a boring white man's strategic world is silly.



It Could Be Worse... 

As Marty Feldman tells Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, it could be raining. And then there'd be no baseball at all. As I pack my rain gear for tonight's game at the yard, I cheer myself with these thoughts:

from May 10-May 26 last year, the Giants went 5-11.
from June 13-June 22 last year, the Giants went 5-7.
from July 26-Aug 18 last year, the Giants went 7-13.


The Malingerer Revisited 

Remember Chris Brown? A Giants 2nd round draft pick, he was their starting third baseman at the age of 23 and turned in a decent year for such a green kid. But things went downhill fast, and he was included two years later in the trade that brought Kevin "Vapo-Rub" Mitchell to the Giants.

The book on Brown was that he refused to play hurt. He was labeled a malingerer, a tag that's hard to shake once it's applied, as every subsequent injury looks suspect in the eyes of one's teammates and front office.

I just heard an interview with Michael Sokolove, whose new book The Ticket Out chronicles the Crenshaw High School team of Darryl Strawberry, deemed one of the best high school teams ever assembled. The book follows Straw and the other players as they continue in life: some to the big leagues, some to college ball but no farther, others to a wide variety of jobs. Chris Brown was on that team.

Sokolove talks about Brown today on NPR's Fresh Air. Turns out he's currently in Iraq driving a fuel truck for Halliburton, and just in the past few days his convoy came under attack from insurgents--he's reportedly OK. Sounds like he's not a malingerer anymore.

I recommend the interview with Sokolove for insight into Strawberry as well as the factory-farm atmosphere of big-time college and pro athletics.


The Beard of Fenway 

Much has been blathered about Johnny Damon's new 'do, which has upped his drag coefficient so much he can no longer steal second base. But the new look has also reinvigorated El Lefty Malo's hackneyed love for "Separated at Birth" comparisons, which due to lack of third-party enthusiasm I eliminated from the site over the winter. (I still contend that Vlad and Jimmy Cliff have never been seen sitting in limbo together.)

You think you know what's coming. Passion of the Johnny, Damon of the Christ, blah blah blah. The easy way out is to compare Damon to Jim Caveziel and leave it at that (especially if you can meld Damon's current image with how he looked after suffering for the sins of Red Sox Nation last October).

But as Morse-san points out, there's a far more intriguing cinematic muse for Damon's hirsute pursuit.



Stupid, Stupid, Stupid 

I just got back from the game. Now, I don't want to sound mean or anything. But when it comes to in-game smarts, the Giants should have a ton with all their veterans, right? And no one is more veteran and wizened and savvy than Marquis Grissom, right?

That, ladies and germs, is known as a rhetorical question.

Grissom made one of the all-time bonehead plays in last year's playoffs, trying to steal third base off Pudge-Rod when the Giants were rallying in Game 3.

Today, he nearly equaled it. The Giants had Gag-Me on the ropes in the 9th. A Feliz home run (to right field, natch--I'm telling you, he's coming around), a walk to Hammonds, a bunt by Neifi, a walk to Snow. 1st and 2nd, only one out. "Please," I said to A-Ron, Son of Ron, who was rally-capping it next to me in the 1-3-8, "anything but a double play."

Now, if you knew that Bonds was up next and that you had to do whatever it took to get him up, would you swing at a slider down and away? Even after taking a strike, wouldn't you rather strike out than risk the chance of a double play? Wouldn't you even consider dropping a bunt down the third base line with Adrian Beltre playing deep and guarding the line?

Not if you're Marquis Grissom.

As I mentioned in that post way back when, I'm tired of the punch-and-Judy, Barry-Bonds-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs crap, the good clubhouse chemistry that doesn't mean shit once the players take the field. I want Milton Bradley in center field. I want Juan Gonzalez. I want a group of malcontents who break things in the dugout and hit the crap out of the ball.


Elbo: Two quick hits 

*Kirk Rueter's first strikeout victim of the season was Alex Cora. Thanks to everyone who participated in The Woody Pool. [[No one won the pool.]]

*A.J. Pierzynski finally got his first extra-base hit in a Giants uniform, and he did it while wearing Neifi Perez's batting helmet. I'd hate to think his offensive contributions have been so minimal that he's started looking to Neifi for inspiration. Back in his own headgear a few innings later, Pierzynski reverted to form by hitting into a double play.


Straight Cheddar 

That's how Barry Bonds described the reportedly 101-MPH fastball from Eric Gagne that Bonds deposited in the center field bleachers last night. As Gagne might say, "Incroyable."

Watching that guy pitch is awe-inspiring, even if he's a Dodger. To toggle back and forth between a nearly 100 MPH fastball and a 75-MPH curve, then throw in an 85-MPH changeup and a slider (doesn't he throw a splitter, too?), and I don't see how he ever gives up a hit, let alone a run. It's a testament to how damn good major league hitters are.

After Bonds' homer, Feliz came up and swung over the top of two perfect changeups (maybe splitters) that started knee or thigh high and dove like a splitter out of the strike zone. Nasty. Unhittable. Feliz then took two fastballs that just missed the outside corner by whiskers. Next pitch, another change, but it hung ever so slightly and Feliz whacked it to right field, but straight to Encarnacion. Great AB, as Krukow would say. A little more to the right or left, and Feliz would have had extra bases. Maybe he's rounded the corner after all.

As for the silent bats vs. Odalis Perez, the guy threw one of the best games of his career. He's got the stuff, and when he's spot-on, as he was last night, he's hard to hit.

I'm off to the yard to see if Woody can register his first strikeout of the season. There's still time to enter the Woody Pool.



Tenderloin de Elbo 

We're at la Casa de Elbo, who's broasting a pork tenderloin as we watch the Yanks-Sox on primetime Fox. Tim McCarver is in post-season form, which is to say, unlistenable. Bill Mueller is 3 for 3 with a two-run homer. He's better than Edgardo Alfonzo, but I'm not bitter.

Confounding all Malo expectations, the Giants have optioned Kevin Walker to Fresno to make room for Jason Schmidt.

We have a guest commentator tonight: Andrew Morse, Red Sox fan and Wustahmass native. Elbo and I worked with Morse-San for a couple years, and we value and honor his long-sufferingness. He wants to write a few lines about Scooter, Fox's new horrific gimmick:

Tradionalists loathe any attempt to modernize sports. Remember a few years back when Fox introduced the glowing blue puck to its NHL broadcasts? Long-time hockey fans back in Massachusetts, where I grew up, were enraged. It was a gimmick, they railed. It was a way to boost ratings, they conspired. Worst of all, it was a break with the way the game had always been presented, they groused, getting closer to their true feelings. In fact, it was all of those things. But the glowing puck was also something else: a way to make the fast, confusing game they cherished accessible to a new group of potential fans who didn't understand all the shoving going on behind the boards. Was it flashy? Yes. Did it make sense? Absolutely.

There are other examples, like the fading lines used to demark the distance needed to a first down in an NFL broadcast. Tell me you don't appreciate that additional guidance in following a team's progression down field, particularly when it's the Patriots doing the marching. How many people really understand the different lineups employed by the offense and defense and can follow in real-time the ability of an receiver to pull a lineman off his mark? Without John Madden's chalk talk during replays, most of us would be lost.

So when Fox said it was introducing Scooter, an animated character, to its broadcast to help explain the different types of pitches employed by hurlers, I was hopeful. (It was Fox, so I wasn't very hopeful.) If Scooter could tell me the difference in pitches -- the way the ball is gripped, released and used -- I'll be thankful. Explain the thinking behind the distribution of pitches, and how a pitcher and catcher set up a batter for the heat, and I'll be learning something.

Scooter doesn't do any of those things. Shining light on Tim Wakefield's baffling knuckleball, which shut down the Yankees for a good portion of the game tonight, the flying cartoon orb said, "I don't where I'm going. The pitcher doesn't know where I'm going. But neither does the batter." It delivered this explication while flitting along a dotted line that whipped and whirled like a bumblebee's flight path. Even worse, the anthropormorphic rendering of the sphere was creepy, as though Charles Manson had merged with a comic book baseball. The seams on Scooter form malevolent eyebrows, and his smirk suggests he'll be off on a tri-state murder spree as soon as the game is over.

Elbo noticed that Scooter is the baseball broadcast analogue of Clippy, the annoying "assistant" in the Microsoft Word program. I deactivated the Clippy feature on my computer. I wish I could do the same to Scooter.



Over Under Sideways Down 

Buried in Scott Ostler's column today, Felipe Alou says Barry Bonds will be walked no matter what, but the key to success is the two guys hitting behind Bonds.

That's funny. Brian Sabean likes to say that the key is getting guys on base in front of Bonds so that walking him is less of an option. Ned Colletti said the same thing after opening day, pointing to the fact that after singles by Durham and Tucker, Roy Oswalt pitched to Barry and gave up the 3-run dinger.

So which is it? Should the Giants cover Barry's front or get his back? Why is there still disagreement between Alou and the front office on such a fundamental question?

I find the Sabeanesque answer (to the tune of, "Hey, if Babe Ruth were batting behind Bonds, he'd still be walked all the time") totally disingenuous. Sabean is as skilled an evasive answerer as any politician, but no one asks the follow-up question when he trots out the "Barry will get walked no matter what" schtick. The truth is, Bonds being walked all the time in front of a legitimate power threat means a lot more runs than Bonds being walked all the time in front of Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski. And Sabean, for whatever reason (financial, philosophical, spiritual...OK, it's financial), refuses to sign or trade for the big power bat to hit behind Bonds.

I could understand it if they thought Todd Linden was on the cusp of being such a bat, ready to take over right field and the 5-hole next year. But he isn't. He's gotten off to a decent start in Fresno, but with his typical lack of patience and power. He could improve. He should improve. But he's no Dan Johnson or Justin Morneau, making a mockery of AAA pitching right out of the gate and practically begging for a big-show roster spot. He's no reason to wait and save money.



Ain't No Sunshine Without Ray

I just got back from the yard, where the Giants' bats slept soundly against the mighty Wes Obermueller. Obermuller actually hit better than any of the Giants' starters--he cracked a single up the middle against David Aardsma and drove a ball to the center field warning track where Grissom caught it.

It was a taste of life without Bonds and Durham. Feliz hitting fourth. Neifi leading off. Alfonzo also had the day off until he pinch hit in the 7th. Bonds had just pinch hit before him but was intentionally walked to load the bases. Fonzie hit for Ransom and represented the tying run. First pitch (after the new pitcher had thrown four wide ones, no less), Fonzie swings and pops feebly to short center against some doof who wears the bill of his cap flat and hits himself in the head with the resin bag to get psyched up to pitch.

Everyone took terrible swings. Tucker and Pierzynski looked especially bad. Are we sure A.J. hit .300 with gap power the past two years? Is there another Pierzynski we didn't know about? Other than a few shallow singles, I haven't seen him hit the ball hard all year. Same with Alfonzo, who's re-enacting the start he had last year, in case any of you missed it.

The good news: even with half their starting lineup hitting with wiffle ball bats, they're over .500. Even as Neifi quickly regresses to the mean, we can expect Snow, Fonzie, Pierzynski to hit somewhat better and Tucker to hit at least a little better. Gulp. Can't we?

Kudos to Brian Cooper, who had one bad inning and five excellent ones in his start today. He's a little guy, and with his "37" and sinker-slider repertoire reminded me of Kelly Downs. Cooper replaced Torcato on the roster. There's talk of Durham going on the DL, which would be a huge bummer. Both Aardsma and Franklin looked shaky today. Either could be a candidate for the boot. We'll probably find out when Schmidt comes back Friday.

Final thought: I hadn't seen Aardsma pitch until now. I don't want to jinx the guy, but he's the herkiest, jerkiest, slingin'est pitcher I've seen since El Duque Hernandez. It makes my joints hurt just to watch him. I wonder if the Giants are worried about injuries with him...

Really final thought: U.S.S. Mariner has an interesting take on the M's really bad start. It's all about the defense. According to their calculations, a lot more balls in play are falling in. I haven't run the Giants' numbers and would be overjoyed if someone else wanted to, but it makes me suspect that, despite having several regulars hitting with badminton rackets and a baling-wire-and-glue pitching staff, the Giants are above sea level because of their defense.



The Woody Pool

Looking past the Brewers for a moment, which we've all been taught never to do, there are a couple things in particular to watch this weekend as the Dodgers come to town.

First is the return of Jason Schmidt. Press reports have him on track to start Friday night. Assuming he's healthy, he will be a huge boost to the Giants. Opponents are hitting .316/.379/.440 against them, and the bullpen's shagged out. Herges and Felix have pitched in 5 of the first 7 games. Ouch. Wednesday's starter is likely to be either Franklin or Brower, which means the Estrella-less bullpen will be even shorter-handed the next couple days. Hang in there, guys, and pray for at least 7 strong innings from Hermanson tonight. If the residents of Stalingrad can hold out through the winter against the Nazis, the Giants bullpen can certainly hold down the fort for a few more days, no? OK, flawed analogy.

Schmidt might not bring instant relief, though. He threw 75 pitches in a minor league game the other night; that's the extent of his tune-up, so he'll likely be on a strict pitch count.

That brings us to the second thing to watch: who gets bumped when Schmidt is activated? This is going to be a tough one. Given Schmidt's limited durability this early, I'd be surprised if a reliever is sent down. Twelve is a good number for another week or two. If one is sent down, though, it's likely to be Walker or Aardsma. If not a pitcher, then either Torcato or the invisible Cody Ransom will take the long walk. I don't think Cody has had a plate appearance yet. Torcato has looked solid as the lefty pinch hitter; Alou's been singing his praises. With Feliz able to man the emergency shortstop position, I wouldn't bet against Ransom being the odd man out.

Problem is, he's out of options so he'd have to clear waivers. Therefore, I, El Lefty Malo, seer of visions, predict Ransom is traded for a handful of magic beans before Schmidt comes back. These beans will grow into a single-A marginal outfield prospect named Jorge Gutierrez, who will change his name to Ramon Jorge, age three years, hurt his shoulder, and become a first-base/DH type with a lifetime batting average of .218.

Sorry, wrong vision. I see David Aardsma sent down to Norwich.

There's another thing to watch for. I call it the Woody Pool. Kirk Rueter has thrown 11 innings this year, walked five, and struck out zero. How many innings will he pitch before he records his first strikeout, and who will it be?

I will kick off the Woody Pool thus: 15 innings/Milton Bradley (who will then fling his batting helmet into the box seats only to see Lou Seal fling it back, sending Bradley into an unholy rage in which he strips down to his jockstrap, breaks his bat in half and takes off in pursuit of the Pillsbury Wharf Rat).



Fifi on the Two

The boys of Fogball are wondering if Felix Rodriguez is really throwing a two-seam fastball or just throwing his four-seamer inside. Camera angles can make lateral pitch movement hard to see on TV, so if Felix takes the hill this week on the days I have tix -- Wed and Sat -- I'll move over to straightaway center and check it out.

660 and Counting

Congratulations, Barry! And thanks, Ned Yost. You're a brilliant tactician.

FYI, a half-inning after Barry hit the big one, Jon Miller was hyping a "Barry Bonds 660" commemorative hat + T-shirt package for the low, low price of $42. I'm glad they waited a few minutes to let me catch my breath before the hard sell started.

Come Back to the Five and Dime!

One week down, and here's how some of those lovable ex-Giants are faring:

* Shawn Estes, once my favorite Lefty Malo, then just another lefty headcase...I wish him the best except against the Giants. Two road starts for the Rox, two wins. 14 IP, only 5 hits allowed. Let's see how he fares a mile high.

* Rich Aurilia, or as my friend Capitol Jimmy liked to call him, "Richie Macho." Seven hits (four doubles, three singles) in 24 ABs, a .750 OPS. Funny, his best game was Friday night against the A's, when I was driving to Yosemite and tuned in for a few innings.

* Benito Santiago: started 5 games. Allowed 5 runners to steal with none caught, kind of strange considering KC is starting five lefties in their rotation. 18 ABs, 1 HR, an .872 OPS, which, if extrapolated to a full season would be his career high. Let's see how he's doing at the All-Star break.

* Kurt Ainsworth and Sidney Ponson: Ainsworth got pounded by Boston in his first start; his second comes tomorrow at Fenway. Ponson has thrown pretty well in two starts. More BBs than Ks but only a 2.19 ERA so far.

* Jose Cruz, Jr: a double, a triple and a homer, all against the Yankees, has pushed him off to a great start (1.269 OPS) as the American League no doubt needs a couple weeks to remember that he can't hit off-speed pitching.

* Tim Worrell: 3 games, 4 IP so far.

* Mark Gardner is still the Giants' bullpen coach as far as I know.

Notes from the weekend: I missed Saturday's game but I caught the highlights over my girlfriend's shoulder as we were slowdancing at the Iron Door Saloon. ("Are you watching the baseball highlights," she said as I suspiciously stopped turning her. "Mmmmmmmmm.......no," I replied, waiting for the final score to flash onto the screen. "Damn, they lost.")

Yesterday's late game allowed us to catch the final few innings and the big comeback on the car radio after an excellent late lunch at an air-conditioned Mexican joint in Lodi and a drive through the Delta. Once again, I ask: first-pitch fastball to Pedro Feliz...why? Not that I'm complaining, but I'm not going to get too excited about Feliz's success until he starts getting clutch hits off sliders down and away (or laying off them until he gets a fastball to hit, which is what Alfonzo did right after Feliz's big pinch hit).



Elbo: The Bonds-proof park

Kevin Towers reportedly joked that Petco Park (aka "The Litter Box," or maybe "The Doghouse") was built to be "Bonds-proof," with its distant right-center field fence. He may have been kidding, but a few moments ago it certainly appeared that Bonds lost his second homer of the series to its roomy outfield. I haven't compared the parks' exact dimensions, but his drive to left-center in the ninth inning sure seemed like it would've left Qualcomm, and of course Payton took one away from him last night too. Bonds could lose upwards of five homers a year due to the change in parks. The Giants will play at least nine or ten games a year down there, and Barry has a history of destroying the Padres every time he visits San Diego.



Elbo: The last man

As my old friend Steve Goldman notes, "[t]he main function of the batting order is distributing playing time." Although we're all familiar with the traditional roles of a speedy leadoff hitter, a slugging cleanup guy, etc., the new school of thinking is that batting orders should be created with one primary goal in mind: to favor your best hitters by getting them more at-bats than your worst hitters.

Someone has to be the person who makes the last out of the game. Suppose, just for a moment, that all your hitters are equal. Each successive place in the batting order would be about 11% less likely (one-ninth less likely) to make that last out, simply because each person is that much less likely to get up to bat one last time. Conversely, for each spot you are closer to the leadoff slot, you're 11% more likely to get an "extra" at bat, i.e. one more than the guy after you.

All hitters aren't equal, of course. Last year, some people made outs about 47% of the time, while others made outs about 67% of the time. Wouldn't you want to get the guy who makes outs 47% of the time a bunch more at-bats than the guy who makes outs 67% of the time?

That's right, I would too. But Felipe Alou evidently doesn't. Because cleanup hitter Barry Bonds was standing in the on-deck circle tonight, while #3 hitter Michael Tucker made the final out of the game. With the bases loaded, Tucker waved at a changeup, then failed to successfully check his swing on two more changeups. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you're outta there. Game over.

I'm not sure what Michael Tucker was doing in the #3 spot anyway, because doesn't really fit the profile. He hasn't hit above .267 since 1997, has cleared 800 in OPS only once, and has never hit more than 15 homers in a season. Traditionally the #3 hole goes to pretty much the best hitter on the team: high OBP, plenty of power, a dangerous type that's even more dangerous when he gets fastballs (i.e. with the cleanup man behind him). Tucker isn't any of those things, and tonight it really cost the Giants.

Look, I think Tucker is a very good player in some respects, and he'll fill a void for the Giants in right field on many nights. And maybe Alou thought Tucker might have one of his best seasons yet, like Grissom did last year, seeing fastballs in front of Barry. But after the flaw in this strategy was exposed tonight, I'll be much happier seeing him hit seventh.



The Boys of Moneyball

The Sac Bee's preview of the RiverCats is a nice piece on the progress of the A's 2002 draft, ie, "the Moneyball draft."

A Call for Arms

Four games into the season, and already the Giants bullpen is exhausted. Matt Herges ran out of gas last night, couldn't get his breaking pitches down, and still Felipe ran him out there for a second inning. It soon became obvious Herges couldn't continue. Instead of bringing in Estrella or Franklin whom Sabean acquired because they had major league experience, Felipe went with the barely post-pubescent David Aardsma in an extremely high pressure situation. I liked that move, to be honest. Let's see what the kid can do.

But the move was a sharp rebuke to Sabean's insistence on mediocre "veterans," if we can generously call the ex-Brewers by that name, as roster fillers. These turkeys inspire such little confidence even when rested (Franklin has only pitched 1/3 of an inning so far), Felipe would rather throw the single-A kid into the extra-innings fire.

So far, no Giants starter has thrown more than 6 innings. At this rate, Herges is going to throw 162 innings this year. If Nen is out until at least May, which seems probable, the Giants are going to need a lot more than a healthy Scott Eyre in the bullpen to staunch the bleeding.

Look for Alou to give Estrella one or two more chances to show he can do something other than serve flat sliders on a dish. If not, then Veres and Crudale if healthy enough will be next up for their auditions.

Other notes:

* Grissom's HR off hard-throwing rightie Antonio Osuna last night was a nice sign. Grip's struggles off RHP are well-documented, and such heroics won't happen much. Too bad the G's couldn't capitalize last night.

* Same goes for Pedro Feliz, who pinch hit in the 9th last night and singled off Trevor Hoffman. Jon Miller said it was a first-pitch fastball, which you should never, ever throw to Pedro Feliz. The Astros had the scouting report, as I mentioned in my Opening Day recap post, so why didn't the Pods? Hoffman's got the world's best changeup. Strange.

* Khalil Greene: looking good. When was the last time the Giants drafted a top position player, and he couldn't get to the bigs fast enough? Not in a long, long time.



First J.T., Now Neifi?

Buried in today's reports on the Giants' 7-5 victory over the Astros last night, in which the offensive hero was Neifi Perez (4 for 4, 2 doubles, 4 RBI), was the tidbit that the Giants have talked to Perez about hitting from the right side exclusively. Seems the book on him is that he's much better from the right side. Let's have a look:

Career splits:

vs RHP (2757 ABs): 302/368/670.

vs LHP (1060 ABs): 301/428/729.

(And remember, if you park-adjust these numbers -- ie, factored in all the games played at Coors Field and hitter-friendly Kaufmann Stadium-- they'd look a lot worse. I'm running out of the house right now and don't have time to do it.)

A pretty decent SLG from the right side makes him somewhat better, yes. But would this be countered by him hitting rightie against right-handed pitchers? No way to tell until he actually does it.

No matter how bad he is with the bat this year, we'll at least be able to say, "Yes, but he singlehandedly beat the Astros and Andy Pettitte on April 6."



I Just Want To See...

It's an hour before game time today, and I'm curious about a few things:

1) Will Felipe Alou go with a standard platoon against the lefty Andy Pettitte tonight, i.e., Mohr in right and Feliz at first?

2) Will Pettitte be nervous in his first game ever in a hat that doesn't have "NY" stitched on the front?

3) Will Pettitte get burned by the short left field porch at The Juice That's Actually Owned By Coca-Cola Field? Will he be afraid to come inside with that cutter? Kirk Rueter, who has vastly inferior stuff, stayed on the outside all night last night and no Astro came close to hitting one out to left.



A Message To You, Jimy

Jimy Williams, you are a silly little man, you work in a silly little stadium and you have an M missing from your silly little name.

Let me tell you a story, Jimy. Have you ever heard of a guy named Bobby Cox? He runs a team called the Braves. One day last summer, Cox and his Braves were in San Francisco playing the Giants, just like your Astros are doing this week in Houston. Bobby Cox twice told his pitchers in crucial situations to pitch around Barry Bonds but not walk him intentionally. Or perhaps he told them to go ahead and challenge Bonds. We may never know what really happened, except this: the pitchers came a wee bit close to the strike zone and Bonds deposited the horsehide beyond the reach of the Braves outfielders, both times winning the game in question. He did so even when everyone this side of the Central Asian steppes was saying the same thing: Don't pitch to Barry. Don't!..wait!..what are you...I told you not!...Bobby, for the love of...what in blazes...

See? I told you.

Jimy? Hello? See? I told you.

Now it remains to be seen if Bonds sees a fastball for the rest of the year in situations where he can bring the Giants to at least within six runs of the lead. Otherwise, it's four fingers and pray for an indictment.

Other notes from opening day:

* Matt Herges: ready to close. Octavio Dotel: not ready to close. Not exactly in a save situation, Dotel gave the game away by throwing his slider 53 feet on two occasions, once hitting Tony Torcato in the foot and once moving Torcato to third base where he scored on a sacrifice fly. As Elvis Presley used to say, "Well thanka verra much." Herges whipped through the Astros' 1-2-3 hitters with nasty fastballs. I love that guy.

* Felix Rodriguez: new lease on life? One inning isn't quite enough of a sample size, but Felix looked awfully good pitching inside. Yes, he threw to the inside part of the plate with a two-seam fastball. Almost as stunning as Marquis Grissom walking in the eighth inning. Felix mowed down Ensberg, Ausmus and Vizcaino, so let's not get too excited. But it was a good start.

* Pedro Feliz: Psst, guess what? He can't hit a breaking pitch. Even the Astros know. When Pe'-Fe' came up to pi'-hi' in the 6th, Astros pitching coach Burt Hooton came to the mound and said, "Uh, Roy, don't throw him a fastball in a fastball count. Thanka verra much." Roy (Oswalt) threw him curve after curve and finally got him on a comebacker. If he can't prove to the league he can drive the breaking stuff, Feliz's only hits will come off scrub pitchers with mediocre stuff. And that's not good enough.

* Leo Estrella: Doug Melvin, or whoever the Brewers' GM is these days, covered his flat-screen TV with spittle, he was laughing so hard watching Estrella lengthen the Astros lead from 2-1 to 4-1 with an assortment of 88-MPH nonsinkers and nonsliders. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-hah, Melvin said and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

* A.J. Pierzynski: two two-strike singles. For a big man, he really can shorten his stroke. Earlier in the count, he whiffed on good fastballs from Oswalt and Lidge but shortened up and dunked a couple singles into center field. Good hitting. I still argue that he'd be a 2-spot hitter against lefties when Snow is on the bench.

* Kirk Rueter: That was one of the most impressive pitching outings I've seen in a long while. At least in the last four or five months. But seriously, Rueter was one hit away from total meltdown with the bases loaded in the 2nd inning, but he got a little lucky with that Kent tapper that was ruled a fair ball; Kent ran into it as he left the batter's box and was out. Most impressive, though, was how Woody stuck with his game plan: fastballs and changeups on the outside corner at the knees with the occasional curve. He did not waver. And he rallied from a near-disastrous start to give the Giants six very strong innings, 2 ER, 0 Ks, 5 Hs, 3 BBs. Hail Woody.



Roster Moves

Here we go. Hold your noses, we're jumping in and there's no going back. The Giants' opening day roster is set, but it will no doubt undergo changes all through April and May as the team gets players back (Hammonds), figures out the health status of others (Nen, Eyre, Schmidt) and Sabean continues to wheel and deal.

Until Hammonds comes back, Tony Torcato is the fifth outfielder despite not being able to play the field for most of spring training. In the Giants official roster announcement, Torcato is listed as an infielder, but what he'll really be is the main lefty pinch-hitter. Greg Papa and Dave Fleming said on the broadcast yesterday that Alou has been specifically using him in PH spots this spring, and T.T. had responded well. What if he scorches the ball while he's up? I can't imagine Sabean trading Tucker, Mohr or Hammonds so early in the year; Torcato would likely go back to Fresno and wait til the next injury or a mid-year trade.

Cody Ransom as expected is the backup middle infielder, but it was interesting that Pedro Feliz played most of today's (completely insignificant) exhibition finale at shortstop. Was that a message to Cody that he's not the only backup shortstop in town? It's nice to have a shortstop of Ransom's defensive caliber backing up Neifi, so Alou pinch hits for Neifi in late-inning situations without losing D.

The biggest roster surprise came in the bullpen: David Aardsma will become the first player ever listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia as soon as he gets into a game. Hopefully it will be this week in Houston, where he has many friends and family. Congratulations to the young guy, who, upon hearing he made the team, reached for his cell phone:

"I don't know what to feel right now. There's no cell-phone reception in here. I haven't called anybody."

Kids these days. Sheesh.

Also on the opening day roster are Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella, each of whom has pitched about as badly as possible since being traded to S.F. (Franklin got cuffed around for a homer and three singles and he walked two in one inning today.)

I'm a bigger fan of Kevin Walker, who also made the squad. He pitched well in San Diego a few years ago before he got injured. But "bigger fan," when compared to Brewers retreads, is a very relative term. I'd rather have Robb Nen and a healthy Scott Eyre.

Finally, here's hoping that Chad Zerbe, a true Lefty Malo, will stick around and continue to defy expectations as a scrappy underdog. I hope he hasn't sold the game ball from the World Series game that he won.



Elbo: A night at the Bell

It's the morning after an evening well-spent in section 139. A few observations:

*Leo Estrella: Bad introduction. You could hear Byrnes' helmet crack 380 feet away. Probably everyone in the park heard it. Thank goodness that wasn't worse.

*The fans harassed new A's left fielder Bobby Kielty, of course, but he greeted them as he arrived at his position in the bottom of the first too. First he flapped his fingers in a gesture that said, "Yeah, keep on running your mouth." Then he turned his back, placed the same hand just below his rump, and made the same gesture. Funny stuff. I think the regulars in the bleachers appreciated that one.

*Jerome looked pretty good, at least as much as we could see from the outfield. He didn't look like a man with an 8.53 ERA in spring training, that's for sure. He may have gotten tired after about 60 pitches though -- it seemed like he started to miss his spots and give up line drives. The homer to Chavez seemed like a good pitch -- sharp breaking ball in -- and although EC hit it high off the fair pole, it was no line drive.

*Barry Zito was nasty.

*I think Santos did the right thing on the dropped fly ball where he got thrown out at home. I can't say I had my eye on him the whole time, but it looked like he never stopped running, which is the right thing to do on a fly ball with two outs. You have to test the outfielder's reactions after he drops the ball, you have to gamble that the infielders will be bewildered and out of position for the cutoff. And, in fact, McMillon's throw went straight to second base.

*Marco Scutaro didn't have to dive for that ball in the ninth inning, but he did. Great play.

*Free Wi-Fi at the ballpark. How cool is THAT?



Stickfigure It Where the Sun Don't Shine

In the latest example of why ballplayers are generally not the most reliable sources for objective information about their own professions, former Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell was quoted on a Chicago radio show and in the Chicago Sun-Times that Mark Prior's achilles tendon injury is a sign of steroid use.

My favorite Cubs' blog, The Cub Reporter (even more favorite now that TCR has absorbed Alex Ciepley and Ball Talk) hasn't weighed in on this, but I'm curious to see its take. (TCR has noted that the Achilles' tendon problem may have led to, or is a distraction from, a bigger problem: Prior's elbow. From the above link, scroll down to "Achilles, Whatever. Elbow? Hello!")

Until then, here's mine:

Haven't we heard that one of the main benefits of steroid use, other than big bulging pecs that chicks really dig, is recovery time from injuries? They help athletes heal faster, supposedly. Unless they don't, which is McDowell's case against Prior. Prior's lingering achilles' tendon problem, which surfaced last year and didn't heal over the winter, must be from all the juice that has overloaded Prior's muscles and taxed his tendons. Says McDowell.

I'm not saying that one argument is right and the other is wrong. We simply don't know. The danger from steroids may be totally overblown, as some suggest. (I tend to disagree, but I'm willing to change my mind.) We really don't know how much competetive advantage they confer, especially when it comes to hitting or hurling a baseball. We don't know how much they help heal sore muscles faster, or damage internal organs faster, or stress joints faster, etc. I am not arguing, like some people argue, that until we know more the government should stay out of our dop kits and let athletes do whatever they want.

What I am saying that Jack McDowell is talking out of his ass, just like many athletes do. As people like Rob Neyer love to point out, humans (especially, it seems, humans who play sports or follow a sports team) extrapolate their own personal experiences, or the small slices of experience that reside within their short-term memory banks, into grand theorems. In general, we have a hard time stepping out of our skins. Because of their upbringings, their societally-encouraged narcissism, their obsession with the physical, athletes are even more prone to this blinkeredness.

World-class athletes, like champion thoroughbreds, live mostly for one purpose: physical excellence. Everything else -- like school, or reading, or intellectual debate -- is a distraction. There are many exceptions, yes. Curt Schilling is a history buff. Miguel Batista is a published poet. (His most recent work is called "Ringing Freedom's Bell.") Former 49er John Frank quit football to become an MD. Penn grad Doug Glanville is so analytical he's quoted by Jayson Stark at least twenty times a week.

But athletes from an early age have been taught not to think too much. (I was once told exactly that by my high school coach. I did something wrong. He confronted me and I started to say, "But I thought--" "Don't think!" he bellowed. "Just pitch!")

Thinking in the cause of in-game strategy is fine, unless you screw up the strategy; thinking that distracts from repetitive exercise or conditioning is bad. How often do you realize that because of extra work at the office, or because you really want to sit and read the Sunday paper, or because you have to get to the theater for opening night, you won't be able to run or go to the gym? A pro athlete does not have that problem. For the short, damselfly moment of their pro careers -- be it 2 years, 5 years, or 15 years -- athletes at the peak don't have time for much else; and if they do, it's because they're not committed to staying at the peak.

Ballplayers are entitled to their opinions, of course, and those opinions are often insightful, prescient, or just plain entertaining. Sometimes a ballplayer can be a font of wisdom on one subject --for example, Barry Bonds on hitting, on technique, on the world of in-game subtlety that mere mortals don't see -- and an absolute dolt on others.

Rare is the athlete who's willing to engage in some deductive reasoning, provocative cultural enrichment or objective analysis, which is fine. But let's not put much stake in their observations.




Having digested the Giants' moves of the past couple days (urp), what's most apparent is that Sabean, when backed into a corner because of injuries, has continued the strategy of the winter: when in doubt, stockpile. It's sort of a corollary to one of my favorite U.S. military adages--you know, the one that has won the battle of hearts and minds across the world's jungles and deserts and fruited plains. I can see the T-shirt now, emblazoned with Sabean's grinning skull and the words, "Sign 'em all -- let God (or Felipe) sort 'em out."

I've gotten some snarky e-mail about my support for signing Veres and Crudale and my total freakout over Wayne Franklin. I don't quite get it. Veres and Crudale, when healthy, have done solid, sometimes excellent work at the major league level. Wayne Franklin has pitched well only in the minor leagues against much younger competition and quite badly in the major leagues.

Still, in the grand stockpiling scheme of things, he's not a bad cheap arm to have in case Sabean still hasn't sucked dry his karmic reservoir and, sproing! Franklin jumps out of a cake to become Jamie Moyer South.

(For a much more thoughtful analysis of the recent flurry of moves, click here.)

And now, Kevin Walker, whom I vaguely remember as a San Diego rookie having some good success. Again, if you keep flinging spaghetti against the wall, a strand or two will eventually stick. Or not stick. Whichever one is indicative of ready spaghetti. (I've never really thrown spaghetti against the wall--what a stupid idea. Just pick up a strand and taste it.)

By the way, Elbo reminds me that the phrase we cooked up last year was, "Wayne Franklin: Seldom were sweeter words heard by a National League hitter..."


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