With “Gigantes” emblazoned boldly across his chest, Barry Bonds strode manfully onto the field Monday night to thunderous applause. (I bet some sportswriter somewhere wrote something almost exactly like that. Don’t want to check, though, since you asked.) And his first at-bat is an 11-pitch nailbiter that ends with Bonds launching one into the bleachers in left-center field. For a double. Which, as Mike Krukow said, was not how the script was written. Bonds, first and foremost, is a showman, and the home run had to be a foregone conclusion. Not to the second-base umpire, though, who ruled that (a) a fan had interfered with (b) a ball that would have hit the wall and bounced back into play, rather than (c) continuing over the wall for a (d) home run.
Not that it matters now, since the Giants won that game, but I’ve seen the replay I don’t know how many times, and while the consensus on the Giants newsgroup seems to be that the umpire made the correct call, I just don’t see it. It looked to me as though the ball hit the top of the wall and continued over.
Monday’s second-base ump was today’s home-plate ump, Paul Knauert. (Phil Knauert? Broderick Knauert? Hooptiously Drangle Me With Crinkly Bindlewurdles Knauert? I forget. And right now I don’t care.) And onto today’s game he imposed his eccentric point of view, specifically regarding the strike zone. Starter Matt Cain learned early on that he could pretty much forget about getting strike calls on pitches that were more than an inch off home plate’s dead center, and yet somehow he managed to last six, giving up only two runs.
Bonds pinch-hit later, taking strike three on a pitch that began shin-high, finished ankle-high, and never managed even a whifflet of the actual plate. But the Giants worked and worked. They worked my nerves. The couple of clutch hits they managed were pretty badly offset by some wretched clutch at-bats, to say nothing of some wretched clutch relief, courtesy of Armando Benitez and LaTroy Hawkins.
The Giants ended up taking two of three from the Padres, but today’s loss puts them six games back, instead of four, with 17 to play. Of course, their actual won-lost record still reeks, and the question remains: "Is this really the team we wanna see in the playoffs?" But when it comes right down to it, of course we want that. We want to see our team go all the way, even if it lost 110 games and were forced, due to injuries, to field an all-Fresno lineup in Game 7.
Won’t happen, though. This loss is pretty much the worst one all season, even counting those games Benitez gave the Dodgers. The icing on the cake today was that due to some standard overmanaging (for the sake of a pinch-runner) that cost the Giants Edgardo Alfonzo, who’d been hitting (singles), and Lance Niekro, who at least has power, the three-four-five hitters the Giants sent up in the tenth were Jason Ellison, Ray Durham, and Angel Chavez. Granted, Durham’s been psychotically great lately, still. Watching Chavez’ game-ending popup was… well, actually I didn’t watch it. I turned my head for a second, and it was over.
Who could Alou have sent up there instead? I imagine he’d say "Nobody, because we’re out of third basemen," what with Feliz having moved to first base after Niekro was pinch-run for. (Bonds had pinch-hit for Alfonzo—weird, but not necessarily a bad idea.) But when you’re a run down in the bottom of the tenth with two out, no matter how bereft of third basemen you might be, don’t you at least consider sending up someone else, especially given the importance of this game to both teams? So let’s see… I guess Alou could’ve sent up Haad—but then you may as well send up a pitcher. Knoedler? I dunno, is he better than Chavez? Besides, I have a vague memory that he’d pinch-hit at some point earlier—a memory that could be wrong. In that way it’s similar to my memory that Dan Ortmeier had been on deck as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, then came back in favor of somebody else—Knoedler?—and never got into the game. Snow? He’s hurt. Young Moises Alou? He’s hurt.
So if I’m right about Ortmeier, why not send him up there in that situation? If nothing else, you get the platoon advantage. Either way, it’s Trevor Hoffman out there, so one raw rookie’s got about as much chance as another.
But now that we mention them, what about Snow and Alou? They’ve both come up lame lately—thus robbing Felipe, for the 145th game straight, of his preferred lineup—but—again, given the importance of this game—would it have killed either one of them to give it a try? Had they, say, smoked one off the wall, would they be unable to reach first base before a throw from deep left-center? My point is that leaving Chavez in there was tantamount to saying, "Okay, guys, time to pack it in." I find this tremendously annoying, in case anyone asks.
Not only that, but does Moises Alou have a severe case of Alou Face or what?