Saturday, June 09, 2007

Nobody Else Can Lose Like This

It actually feels sort of odd to report the facts of last night’s game, because anybody reading this will know about it (except maybe if they read it way in the future), but while I can call the Giants’ loss neither quintessential nor typical, it is, never the less, somehow so Giantsesque that I must detail it, or at least parts of it, here. Mostly I’m going to draw on details and one-liners from e-mails and posts I made in the newsgroup while it was all happening.

First of all, Tim Lincecum just didn’t have it. Lasted 4-1/3 and was lucky to have given up only three runs. The Giants loaded the bases a lot, and not once could they come through. Not once. One such culprit, in a key situation, was Bonds, who grounded out meekly to end one of the early innings—who cares which one?

Lincecum actually retired the first seven hitters of the game, whereupon we encounter my nomination for the “Dusty Gives the Ball to Russ” moment: Third inning, Feliz makes a great play on a bunt for a would-be base hit. Mike Krukow says, “That’s the kind of plays they make during no-hitters.” Next batter, Jason Kendall: Base hit up the middle, and the party begins.

Bottom of the ninth, one out, tie game: Dan Ortmeier—in the two-hole because Freddy Lewis left with an injury in the second (after hitting into a double play for the second game in a row—hits a triple. With Klesko and Bonds coming up, the A’s have but one option, really—and even that should ensure a loss (for the A’s, I mean): walking both Klesko and Bonds to set up the double play. This they do. Game over, right? Wrong. Durham pops up. Frandsen—in the sixth slot as a pinch-hitter due to a double-switch, itself undertaken because Molina got hurt at the end of the top of the fifth—does his best Eliezer Alfonzo impression and swings feebly at three sliders out of the strike zone, missing each by an average of two feet. And I thought it was as predictable as if it had been Alfonzo. Or Todd Linden.

Anyway, to expand a little, what the A’s did seems to me to be their only strategic choice on defense, at least if the two guys coming up are any good. You walk the first guy to set up the double play… but even that’s risky, if only because he’ll almost certainly steal second uncontested, so you walk the second guy to set up the force at any base. Obviously that’s risky, too, if only because, when forced to throw ball after ball, some pitchers can’t find the strike zone. The bottom line, here, is that I feel it’s the correct strategy in that situation, but it still shouldn’t work. Even against the Giants.

Top of the tenth: Naturally the new pitcher, Hennessey, is in Frandsen’s spot in the lineup. And because of the injuries, and the fact that both Mark Sweeney and Rich Aurilia were used as pinch-hitters for the pitcher in earlier innings, the Giants have no position players left on the bench. With one out, some A’s bozo—who cares who?—gets a hit, and there’s a major collision at home plate that results in out number two. And now it’s Alfonzo who’s toasted. Then comes a fairly long pain delay, during which Hennessey’s getting antsy and needs to warm up… only we have no third catcher.

So who’s our emergency catcher? I would’ve thought it was Frandsen, but he was just taken out of the game for Hennessey. Turns out it’s… Feliz. Who has caught a total of zero major league (and, I daresay, professional) innings. So he dons the tools of stupidity.

Now who’ll play third base? We’re hearing that Matt Morris is starting to stretch, but where would he play? We have no infielders left… no outfielders left… Klesko’s at first, and lefthanded, so it won’t be him, and we’re not gonna be moving Durham or Vizquel. This leaves Bonds, Winn, and Ortmeier. Of these, only Winn throws righthanded, so it’s Winn—who has played zero infield innings in his major league career. Ortmeier moves to center field, probably for the first time ever.

And now we need a right fielder—a new player, i.e., one not moving from another position. And we have no outfielders left. Nor infielders. Nor catchers. So who’ll our right fielder be? There’s starting pitcher—indeed, we’d already heard about Morris getting ready. And… we’ve used all our lefty relievers—you know, to relieve; we’ve used all our righty relievers except… Vinnie Chulk.

So it should go without saying that our new right fielder is… Noah Lowry.

At this point I hark back first to the Kent Tekulve game in 1979, when he caught a Darrell Evans fly ball in right field to end a game, and then to late September of 1986, the Fan Appreciation Day game against the Dodgers. The game goes 16 innings. The Giants—even with the expanded roster—are laid low with injury and illness. Several guys have to play positions they’d never played before, or since. Two pitchers have to play the outfield, alternating between left and right with Mike Aldrete, depending on who’s batting. Indeed, Mike Krukow pinch-hits for Robby Thompson, who can’t swing the bat, becoming the first pitcher I’d ever seen, or known of, pinch-hitting for a position player. Later, Randy Bockus pinch-hits for Jeff Robinson (now the “outfielder”), becoming the second (and most recent) pitcher I’d ever seen pinch-hitting for a position player. In the bottom of the sixteenth, Greg Minton singles, Bob Brenly doubles, ballgame over.

Is that what would happen on this occasion? Let’s read on, shall we?

First, no, Lowry and Bonds do not flip-flop depending on who’s batting. (Bonds has, incidentally, played in one major league game in right field in his career, 20 years ago—which I know thanks to James Farrar in the group). Either way, we had four guys making their major league debuts in certain positions.

Second, with Feliz behind the plate, Mark Kotsay, the runner on first, starts to try and steal, then stops for some reason. The reason becomes apparent on the next pitch, when the A’s attempt a hit-and-run. Needless to say, the batter hits the ball exactly where Durham should have been had the latter not been covering second. Right before that pitch I was thinking, “He has to get the out, and the Giants have to score in the tenth, because no way can they keep putting that defense out on the field.” But that becomes academic, since eventually the A’s come up with a two-run single, an absolute punch in the stomach—a stomach that was already on the edge of nausea. Nobody, thankfully, hits the ball to Lowry. The half-inning ends on a foul ball caught near the dugout by third baseman Winn.

It is now the bottom of the tenth. The Giants—I hate not to emphasize this—are entirely, completely out of position players. They’re now down by two runs. Catcher Feliz flies out. Vizquel gets out in some weenie way. This brings up the dreaded “man due to bat third in the inning”—not Hennessey, right fielder Lowry.

It should go without saying that not only does Lowry refuse to just go down swinging in a three-pitch at-bat. It has to be a seven-pitch at-bat, replete with the kind of foul balls that suggest that he’s zeroing in. And do you know who the A’s pitcher is who’s in the process of (a) being zeroed in on, and (b) instead, striking out Lowry, for (c) the save? Why, Alan Embree, of course.

This was, in every way, a game that only the Giants could have played, and that only the Giants could have lost. And yet it’s exactly the kind of game that should pull them together as a unit and make them go “Grrrr!” a lot and reel off, like, 14 straight victories. But no, a bunch of guys will hit the DL later today, there’ll be new faces, and the team will have no identity whatsoever.

But if I had to look for a silver lining, it would be the fact that hey, at least the Giants found a creative way to lose.

1 comment:

  1. i'm almost eeeeeere!3:23 PM, June 09, 2007

    Just want to add that Lowry was the first Giants pitcher in 20 years to play a non-pitcher position. He's so multi-talented! ;-)

    And now we don't feel so bad for the Giants paying Feliz $5M. It's actually $1M for each position: LF, 3B, SS, 1B, and C. :-)