Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Expression ‘EEEEEE!’ Didn’t Come About by Accident

Earnest Ragging at least affords a chuckle most of the time. If you don’t know what that means, and feel compelled to learn in depth, visit “EEEEEE!”—I mention it in nearly 40 articles on the site. In short, Earnest Ragging is the thing that happens when a ballplayer does something positive (for his club, that is) right after you’ve finished ripping him. The purpose of Earnest Ragging is for real or imagined companions to point at you and laugh at your foolishness.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Tonight the Baseball Gods decided to stick Earnest Ragging up my bippy. In relief of Matt Cain—who had yet another one-hit outing, albeit in six innings (and thus lowering the league’s batting average against him: an average that started the night at .120)—Jack Taschner struggled in the seventh, and the camera showed Vinnie Chulk warming up in the bullpen. “Oh, great,” I thought. “El Chulko. I’m just brimming with confidence.”

Thus, of course, I pulled that much harder for Taschner. I mean, even Armando Benitez, though he frightens me a lot, doesn’t frighten me nearly as much as Chulk. So when Taschner gave up a one-out hit to cut the Giants’ lead to 4-2, out came Bruce Bochy. Out went Taschner. In came El Chulko with two aboard.

“I do not trust this guy,” I said. To no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair. Because I was in the bedroom, and we don’t have any chairs in there. (Stop thinking what you’re thinking, sicko. And definitely stop picturing it.) I said that, and I was being perfectly sincere. Not a thought crossed my mind involving “Earnest” or “Ragging” or “Baseball Gods.”

So obviously Chulk got the double play to end the inning, and the Giants went on to win, right? Wrong. First pitch to pinch-hitter Scott Hairston: Doont! Three-run bomb. Lead gone. Deficit acquired. First pitch. It wasn’t even funny.

So unfair—I mean, I was totally earnestly ragging. No forethought or self-consciousness about it whatsoever. And this is how I’m repaid? Bleah.

The top of the ninth was no more encouraging, of course. Bengie Molina—and it’s not hype, kids: he really is the slowest-afoot major league baseball player I’ve ever seen—squeezed out a single somehow. Randy Winn grounded into a force play, but went to second on a wild pitch. Ray Durham, pinch-hitting for Chulkie-Lou (which means that Rich Aurilia played second base tonight), cranked one way way way deep to center field, where Chris Young ran it down near the wall. Winn had to go back to second, which I don’t quite understand, but it certainly did not seem like a good omen. Dave Roberts popped up to end the game. Cain’s one-hit effort: wasted. Barry Bonds’ eighth (and 742nd) home run: wasted. Yeccchhh.

It’s not Chulk’s fault that the tying runs were on base in the seventh, with a run already having scored. It’s not his fault that Cain couldn’t hold the Diamondbacks to less than one run. And it’s not his fault that aside from Bonds’ (two-run) blast, a solo shot by Feliz, and a two-out bases-loaded walk to Vizquel in the second, the Giants’ offense was worthless. (Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Ryan Klesko!) But you’re not supposed to throw a first-pitch fastball the size of a beach ball to a guy who’s just come into the game cold.

Earnest Ragging always defeats the ragger. But there’s a good way and a bad way. This was not the good way. Gnarrh.

Friday, April 27, 2007


I suppose it’s wrong for me not to have commented on the Giants’ current eight-game winning streak, during which they’ve swept the Cardinals and Diamondbacks at home, then the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Ask me if this upsets me any.

Some of this has to do with the fact that people haven’t been getting hits against Matt Cain, and Barry Zito has looked good lately. Almost every Giants batter has delivered one or more big hits. Omar Vizquel has been amazing in the field. And then there’s Barry Bonds, whose seven home runs trail only Jimmy Rollins (who, inexplicably, has eight) in the National League and who’s been hitting around .500 lately. (I should mention that this all started when Bonds was moved back to the cleanup spot. I have no idea why.)

The last two games each felt like “character” wins. On Wednesday the Giants scored four in the first—base hits by Dave Roberts, Todd Linden, and Rich Aurilia, then a three-run bomb by Bonds—but Noah Lowry looked like he wanted to give them all back early. The Dodgers eventually tied it up, but Pedro Feliz hit a late home run, and Armando Benitez shut the door in the ninth. Then last night the Dodgers took an early lead against Russ Ortiz, who just didn’t look at all comfortable (or good), eventually stretching it out to 3-0, before the Giants tied the game on a bunch of singles and doubles. Big hits by Ray Durham and Bengie Molina gave them a two-run lead. The Dodgers scored another run—who cares how?—but Benitez did his job again. He’s seven for seven in save opportunities, though most of them have been nail-biters.
So the Giants are 12-8 now and sitting atop the NL West, no doubt keeping the seat warm for someone else. Still, they started out 2-7, you know? It’s hard not to enjoy their recent good fortune.

It’s really hard not to enjoy a sweep of the Dodgers, which happens more frequently than visits from Halley’s Comet, but not that much more frequently.

Sorry for the somewhat vanilla tone of this entry; it's just that a really cool winning streak speaks for itself.

It Hardly Hurts At All!

I’ve just injected several cubic centimeters of performance-enhancing substances into my tummy. Here we go. Let’s see what happens:
  • 0:05:00: nothing much.
  • 0:10:00: nothing much.
  • 0:15:00: nothing much.
  • 0:20:00: nothing much, but I’m going to and looking up “Gregg Pearlman” just in case.
  • 0:30:00: would’ve checked at the 25-minute mark, but had to go to the bathroom, then somebody phoned. And I find myself becoming easily angered for some reason.
  • 0:30:15: oh, yeah, almost forgot: still no “Gregg Pearlman” entry on; will start checking every half an hour.
  • 1:00:00 (well, every half hour—minus 15 seconds in this case): ah, here we go! I now have 100 home runs in my major league career!
Yes! It’s true! Just one injection of Cheat Juice and I’m 99 up on Duane Kuiper and Noah Lowry! Really! I didn’t even have to go out there and hit ’em! Merely the act of taking performance-enhancing substances adds dozens and dozens of home runs to my lifetime major league totals! You could look it up! You’ll see this:

Well, the text is real small, but lookit them hundred dingers! This is so cool! I’ve always wanted to get into the record book somehow! Man, wait till I inject myself a few more times! Then nobody will be worrying about Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s record, because I’ll be so far past it that it won’t matter anymore! I’ll be the all-time home run champ! Because all it takes is a few injections! Just ask the Bonds-bashers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Robby’s Revenge

You know, as a Giants fan, that when Trevor Hoffman enters the game with a lead in the ninth, it’s all over, right? That’s how it’s supposed to be (if you’re a Padres fan, and if you are, shame on you). A closer should bury the opposition.

Now let’s go back to September 24, 1993. Hoffman wasn’t quite the closer yet, but obviously he was a force—a force that threw really hard. Robby Thompson found that out when a Hoffman fastball shattered his cheekbone, effectively ending his season. Indeed, that one pitch may have prevented the Giants from winning the division that year. And maybe the next three years, in that Thompson was never the same hitter. Not even close. On “The Bob Brenly Show” that night, Brenly, then a Giants coach, and an angry one, said, “And Mr. Trevor Hoffman, that son of a bitch, he’ll get his”—effectively ending “The Bob Brenly Show."

Longtime Giants fans, and even some short-timers, remember all this. Whenever Hoffman takes the mound against the Giants, my thoughts are always along the lines of, “C’mon, let’s get him back already.” Granted, beating him once wouldn’t come close to making up for the Thompson beaning (which, I’m sure, was absolutely unintentional). Ditto beating him twice. In fact, I had figured that since September 24, 1993, the Giants hadn’t beaten Hoffman more than three times—and in saying “beaten” I’m referring not only to games in which Hoffman himself gets the loss, but also those in which he blows a save, regardless of the outcome.

So I decided to see exactly how close my guess was to the truth. And you know what? It’s not that far off. Sadly. My data came from a number of sources, so I’m not sure how reliable it is—for instance, once I looked at the log I had compiled for all of Hoffman’s appearances against the Giants, I noticed that—according to the data—he never struck out a single Giant until 2002. Something tells me that could be untrue.

Know how many times the Giants have beaten Hoffman? Eight. Seriously. In all those years. He’s 4-4 lifetime against them, with six blown saves, two of which resulted in Hoffman actually losing a game. (Thankfully, none of them—according to the data—resulted in the Padres winning anyway.)

You’d think the Giants could get to him at least once a year, wouldn’t you? Especially now that the face each other 19 times, and you know Hoffman’s going to enter one or two games a series. But no. Eight times, since that one awful day. (Oddly, that day they beat him.) That’s versus 45 saves.

I can think of only two scenarios in which the Giants could avenge Thompson: last day of the season, Giants and Padres tied for the division lead, Hoffman comes in and blows a three-run lead (or more) in the final inning; or it’s the final game of the NLCS, and more or less the same thing happens. Short of that, the only form of Robby’s Revenge that we can hope for might be crippling diarrhea.

Monday, April 09, 2007

We Probably Should Boo Everybody

Do you pity Jeff Kent? Does it bother you that the fans at SBC Park boo him every time he steps to the plate? Do you buy the lie that the boos are mainly about respect? If so, why?

I’d heard in the past that the booing bothers Kent, that he can’t believe the fickleness of Giants fans who cheered him so lustily for six years and now jeer him despite his excellent performance over those six years. “Don’t these people remember how good I was for them?”

What is with these guys that they can’t figure out that that’s not why they’re being booed? Brett Butler was the same way: “Gee, you’d think they’d show me a little appreciation.” Many years ago I spoke with a woman who purported to be the closest friend of Butler’s mother, and when he voiced that sentiment to her, she said, “Are you kidding? You defected to the enemy, and you expect to be showered in confetti?” Butler said, “Well, it’s not like I had any choice. Al Rosen didn’t wanna bring me back.”

Be that as it may, how is it our problem? Certainly I would agree that not bringing Butler back was a brutal idea, but that doesn’t mean he needs to go to the Dodgers and kill us there. Even back in 1991 there were 24 other teams he could have considered (irrespective of how many actually made offers).

And sure, Kent went to the Astros first, but then still chose to sign with L.A. Nobody forced him. Six years in San Francisco should have given him a sense of the deep animosity and resentment Giants fans feel toward the Dodgers and their organization, not to mention their fans. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out why you’re getting booed.

Granted, Kent pretty much burned bridges (not that some of his reasons weren’t valid), but just you wait till Jason Schmidt makes his first start for the Dodgers at SBC. Everybody liked Schmitty, he didn’t leave under any particular kind of cloud (although there was rumbling that if he had the slightest injury, he wouldn’t take the ball, but I don’t think anybody really held that against him—fans, anyway), and everybody knew the Giants wouldn’t bring him back. But he went straight to the Dodgers; he’ll get booed plenty. I dare him not to understand why.

Exceptions to the overall Going-to-the-Dodgers rule include guys like Ramon Martinez, who, while he did sign with them as a free agent, played for three teams in between. Because he wasn’t a key cog in the Giants machine, he wasn’t likely to be booed too viciously—despite the fact that he killed the Giants this weekend about as much as Kent did.

And Kent… well, one way in which he’s different from Butler is that Butler never alienated the fans, at least not until he actually signed with the Dodgers and went on about how he’d always wanted to wear Dodger Blue, or whatever. Kent, however, moaned about the ballpark, moaned about the uniforms, moaned about the fans—though on that front, he pretty much waited till he was out of here.

With Kent I think it’s the fact that he’s basically a hostile presence. I don’t know that that’s such a bad thing, though; certainly when he was a Giant we appreciated that hard-nosed, badgerlike personality, and we liked him because he was one of ours. But once he was gone, we didn’t have to like him anymore.

And let’s not forget the fact that his departure ultimately hurt the Giants. Sure, they won a bunch of games in 2003 and went to the postseason—for reasons I still cannot fathom—but they’ve been pretty bad since then. Ray Durham has generally played (or at least hit) very well in Kent’s stead, but he’s lost so much playing time to injury over the last four years. Granted, Durham wasn’t expected to fill Kent’s shoes, or even his role; the signings of Durham, Marquis Grissom, and Edgardo Alfonzo were supposed to more or less make up for the loss of Kent, pick-a-center-fielder, and David Bell—the idea being “just as much production, but distributed differently.” Well, this would’ve worked out just dandily if Alfonzo hadn’t been a complete bust. Not only that, but under Felipe Alou, Bonds batted fourth almost exclusively—the problem there being that generally there was very little help behind him and even less in front of him. With Bonds third and Kent fourth all that time (if you don’t count most of 2005), or even the other way around, I have no doubt the team would’ve been better.

Any way you cut it, Kent has no business wondering why he gets booed at SBC, and he has no business not understanding why.

Still, this wouldn’t be on my mind if the Dodgers hadn’t just carved up the Giants over the weekend. And how did that happen? Might it have had anything to do with the Dodgers playing well and the Giants giving off a stench that could gag a water buffalo? Perhaps the quintessential moment came early yesterday, in a close game, when the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out. Well, one out, because Barry Zito was up next, so the out was a given. But that just left it up to Omar Vizquel, in the leadoff spot, who took that opportunity to hit into an easy double play to end the inning. So far the Giants have been doing that all season: murdering great scoring opportunities. And Zito didn’t help his cause any: he couldn’t get past some lousy defense and Dodger luck, and he gave up a passel of runs. The Giants just plain reeked.

Not that there’s a positive note, but as you can imagine, there has been a great outcry from opponents of the Zito signing, now that he’s 0-2 with an ERA in the eights. To them I say: Settle down. He’ll wind up with about 14 wins and an ERA around 3.80, maybe 4.00. Not great, not, in itself, worth $126 million, but very much what we can expect. (My God, 16 wins was the top NL figure last year.) Stop complaining about the price tag. Even the Giants know they overpaid, and the reason is no mystery: they had to get the best available pitcher to be their ace, more or less, and they had to cough up large to do it. So it’s done. Let’s move on.

He had a lousy game yesterday, but I don’t see how Zito is the problem. Giving $18 million a year to a former Cy Young winner (maybe even if he’s LaMarr Hoyt) isn’t a red flag (especially because he’s really getting “only” $10 million this year). Ditto the $15.5 million they’re paying achy ol’ Barry Bonds, especially because his pursuit of the home run record is just about all this organization has this year besides the All-Star Game. It’s the $5 million going to Pedro Feliz that’s a problem. It’s the $10 million going to Matt Morris. You can’t really moan about the $9.9 million Armando Benitez is getting, because at the time of his signing, he was a premier closer (or so the Giants thought), but if he stinks again this year, it’ll just look that much worse. Randy Winn and Dave Roberts: $5 million each. Is that too much? I don’t see how things would be better if we’d paid Juan Pierre or Gary Matthews Jr. twice as much. What about $4 million for Bengie Molina? I can think of some Giants fans who cringe at that notion. And the $3.5 million Rich Aurilia’s getting: maybe that’s a bit scary. Indeed, the Giants have a payroll of $90 million, and there’s a damn good chance they’re gonna finish last in the West.

Here’s the silver lining: Through one-twenty-seventh of the season, the Giants are 1-5, on a pace to go 27 and 135. They’ll almost certainly do better than that.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Stupid Stupid Duh D-uh Duhhhh…

Well, hey, you can’t say that Pedro Feliz makes a painfully foolish play in every game, because he sat out yesterday’s. Tonight, though… well, let’s set the scene: scoreless tie, nobody out in the fifth. Jason Kemp topped a little dinker toward the mound and sprinted toward first base, well inside the baseline (and thus outside the three-foot-wide lane he’s supposed to be running in, but hey, this is the Dodgers—the rules don’t apply). Noah Lowry, as if by royal command, flung the ball down the right-field line. How Kemp stayed at second is a mystery.

Granted, he didn’t stay there for long. Lowry then threw a changeup to the backstop, the ball impeded only slightly by contact with the glove of Bengie Molina. So now Kemp was on third, still with nobody out. Wilson Betamit smacked a ground ball to third, and Kemp headed home. He stopped halfway. Feliz… stopped. “Guh?” he may well have said. I know I said it, but for a different reason. Whereas Feliz seemed to be thinking, “Whatever shall I do now?” I, along with everybody else watching the game, was thinking, “Why didn’t he throw it home?” There was utterly no reason not to (if you don’t count the now standard Orders From Lasorda). But he didn’t, until it was too late. The throw was in the dirt, and Kemp ran 80 yards out of the baseline to avoid the tag by Molina, then sprawled toward the plate and tapped it with his fingers.

But Feliz led off the bottom of the fifth with a single. Yay! Randy Winn immediately doubled down the left-field line, and with Luis Gonzalez and his rag arm in left field, third-base coach Tim Flannery decided to send Feliz home, figuring that Lowry, up next, wouldn’t help the cause any. Two throws later, a superb leg block by catcher Russ Martin ensured that Feliz—who is built for neither comfort nor speed—never got near the plate. Dave Roberts then singled into the hole, where interim shortstop Ramon Martinez (whose personal pledge, upon leaving the Giants, was to keep killing the Giants) made a point of playing this ball well, keeping it in his glove. So with runners now on first and third, Omar Vizquel—incidentally, both he and Ray Durham were thrown out stealing tonight—grounded one into the hole, and Martinez made another terrific play, throwing Roberts out at second to end the inning with Bonds on deck.

It should go without saying that the Giants ended up losing 2-1. I’d hate to be unfair and pin the loss entirely on Feliz (who also hit into a double play), but I do have the feeling that he’s going to bear the brunt of much of my baseball-related anger this year.

These are my Giants.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Lie

If you expect nothing, it’s impossible to be disappointed. That’s a huge lie, of course. For San Francisco Giants fans, disappointment is not merely just around the corner, it lurks in every corner. Even so, it’s hard to beat one’s breast too much over yesterday’s season opener. Indeed, how far off was it from reasonable expectations? Viz:

  • Barry Zito pitched okay. He had five innings to dazzle the crowd and the Padres, and while he didn’t do that, it’d be unfair to say he disappointed. He gave up three runs, two earned-more on that anon-walked a couple, struck out a few, and looked ridiculous at the plate. His ERA is 3.60-he’s right on course.
  • Jake Peavy did all the dazzling. The Giants couldn’t touch him. One solid hit, maybe. Their hitting, such as it was, came off the bullpen: two hits in one inning against Cla Meredith, the spiritual brother of Montá Ellis of the Warriors. Whee.
  • Barry Bonds, after a fence-busting exhibition season, hit zero home runs in three whole at-bats-the fraud! What he did do, though, was fun: plopped a little ground ball toward where the shortstop should’ve been if he hadn’t been on the wrong side of second base, past the third baseman, and into left field for a box-score base hit. He then stole second, and it wasn’t close. And when Khalil Greene’s throw on Ray Durham’s grounder got past first base, Bonds attempted to score from second... and was thrown out by three continents. Vintage Barry, in some ways.
  • Speaking of vintage, how about Pedro Feliz? With the Padres’ lead hardly being insurmountable, he booted an inning-ending double-play grounder that eventually led to a run-stupid error at a bad time. Later, amid all the talk about how he’d worked so hard all spring to be more patient and selective, he struck out on a 3-2 pitch-instep-high and almost in the lefthanded batter’s box. How is this not Vintage Pedro?
  • Amid all the talk about he’d worked so hard all spring to be more patient and selective, Lance Niekro looked really bad in the process of striking out as a pinch-hitter for Zito in the fifth. With the Giants down 4-0, Ryan Klesko, making his Giants debut, later grounded into an easy, inning-ending double play with two aboard.
  • After Kevin Correia gave up a leadoff triple late in the game, Jonathan Sanchez came in, dominated one hitter... then, just after I said “wild pitch” aloud, he threw one. How could one not see this coming? He’s a Giant.
  • Fox Sports Net Bay Area, for reasons I fail to comprehend, has seen fit to add Cammy Blackstone to the team. Her job, like Kim Yonenaka’s before her, is to bustle through the stands and find pointless things to talk about. Now, I thought Blackstone was reasonably amusing when she was with KNBR years ago, though I became weary of her on-air drooling over Jeffrey Leonard. And since Leonard was there for Opening Day pregame ceremonies, along came Cammy, and more drool. I’d rather watch dot-racing. Admittedly, though, it was kind of funny-”ha ha” funny? You be the judge-when she was interviewing a fan, and when he didn’t respond quickly enough, said, “C’mon, we haven’t got all day.”
  • Graham Chapman was right: anon is a stupid word.

All that said, how despondent can Giants fans be after yesterday? C’mon. This is nothing. One 7-0 loss does not a season make. A hundred 7-0 losses a season makes. Or, to paraphrase that adage that many managers over the years have paraphrased while taking credit for it themselves: Look, in any given season you’re gonna win 30 games and you’re gonna lose 80 games; it’s what you do with that other 62 that’s important.