Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Horror of the GAPASGNRT

Happily, we’ve come to the end of the Giants’ Annual Post-All-Star-Game Nightmare Road Trip. They probably were lucky to go 3-7, because for the most part, they stank. There was even a sort of “Uh-oh” feeling in the first radio and TV broadcasts after the break, as if the announcers were trying not to say, “Here it comes. Again.”

You might be surprised that in the Giants’ 52-year history in San Francisco, they’ve only started the second half of the season on the road 25 times. I certainly was surprised—it seemed to me as if they always started on the road, then got killed, then went into the tank forever. Perhaps that’s because between 1984 and 2001, the Giants started on the road 12 of 18 times, including four in a row at one point, and a 9-of-12 stretch.

During those 18 years, we saw a winning Giants’ Annual Post-All-Star-Game Nightmare Road Trip (GAPASGNRT—or “gap ass g’nert,” for ease of pronunciation) twice, along with two splits, so I think it’s fair to refer to their fairly miserable performance in their first road trip after the All-Star game as a tradition. In their entire history, the Giants are 248-305 in that first road trip, a .448 winning percentage. (A few of those years had two post-All-Star road trips, back when there were All-Star games each year.) It’s only slightly worse when they begin the second half on the road, at least in terms of winning percentage, but another surprise, at least to me, was that in 27 opportunities, the Giants had seven winning road trips and five splits.

I can’t say for sure, but I would imagine that many of us dread that GAPASGNRT, even if it doesn’t begin until August. You might ask, in an astounded-sounding voice, “But Gregg! What if they were playing better teams after the break than usual?” And on some occasions, that had to be true. (Probably. I’m not looking it up.) This year, though, included the Braves—hardly a bad team; the Rockies—sadly becoming an unjustifiably good team upon changing managers; and the Pirates—annually bad since Barry Bonds left them. In 2006, the Giants started off against the terrible Pirates and the terrible Nationals—and went 0-6. They went 1-8 in 1998, and followed that up with a 1-5. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter who the opposition is: they’re generally gonna gag.

What makes this all fall down is the fact that they’ve thrown in enough successful GAPASGNRTs to keep one from thinking there’s really a correlation. Also, I haven’t bothered to do this kind of research on other teams—owing to that tragic dearth of relevance that afflicts all Major League Baseball teams that are not the Giants. But perhaps every team has a poor first-post-break-road-trip record. Feel free to research it yourself—I mean, it took me 20 or 30 minutes just to get through the San Francisco Giants—teams with older roots would take longer.

Here’s what I think of just before the GAPASGNRT every year: Barry Bonds, pinch-hitting for the Pirates, hitting a game-winning grand slam against lefty Joe Price in 1988. He swings, he hits the ball, he immediately raises both hands in the air, signaling a successful field goal… horrible. And even though the Giants’ actual overall results in that first trip aren’t nearly as bad as that one game, it always feels as though they’re going to be.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hometown Hero… Complete Dingleberry… It’s a Fine Line

Boy, I sure am glad I rushed home to make sure not to miss Tim Lincecum’s first pitch in the first inning of his first All-Star Game. Well, his first pitch was fine—better than the Barak Obama’s, anyway—but not a lot of the subsequent ones were, at least in the first. Because he hates me, Ichiro Suzuki naturally led off with a two-strike single. And then Lincecum bounced a change-up off of Derek Jeter, which would have been fine if the game hadn’t started yet, but it had, so it wasn’t.

And then… mostly what I remember are two brutal plays by All-Star Albert Pujols at first base. Okay, maybe the first one wasn’t really his fault—he couldn’t stretch quite far enough to handle a horrendous throw by All-Star David Wright at third base. Had Pujols managed to cope—non-All-Star Travis Ishikawa woulda got it!—we would’ve seen a brilliant 2-5-3 double play started by All-Star Yadier Molina, who’s a hell of a lot better catcher than other Molinas who come to mind. The clanking noise that may well have destroyed your TV speakers was the result of a baseball caroming gaily off Pujols’ glove, which brought home Suzuki. Another run scored somehow—for a total, I’m relieved to say, of only two.

The National League lucked out, really, given Lincecum’s lack of command on his offspeed stuff. (It might be fair to conclude that he was a bit too pumped.) His fastball was okay, if a bit slower than the radar gun likes to tell us during Giants games, but he didn’t seem to get any movement on anything else. He did pitch a 1-2-3 second, but one of those guys was Roy Halladay, who’s supposed to get out anyway.

Meanwhile, Halliday gave up a couple of hard shots in the first, but these were right at people wearing leather gloves, as opposed to whatever Pujols was wearing.

Oh, shut up, Cards fans. (As if any of you are reading this.) Geez. Pujols is a perfectly fine and jim-dandy first baseman who just happened to (a) make a bad play, and (b) fail to make a good one. I’m just honked off because yet another Giants pitcher… well, he didn’t exactly carry a torch passed on from Atlee Hammaker and subsequently carried by Rick Reuschel, Jeff Brantley, and Rod Beck (and I must be leaving someone out), but he wasn’t great, so he won’t be winning any All-Star Game MVPs this year, unless Major League Baseball is putting on another 2009 All-Star Game, and a quick check of the schedule confirms my assertion. Also, no, I’m not really blaming Pujols for Wright’s throw, which won’t show up in the boxscore as an error—because of the force-out on the play—but it truly reeked.

See, what I’d like to do here is spread the blame around so that Lincecum doesn’t take all the heat. That’s not unfair, is it?

The good news is, Lincecum won’t lose this game. Molina singled home a run with two outs in the second, and a painfully inept throw by Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton allowed Shane Victorino—I’m gonna complain about him next—to score the tying run. Prince Fielder, batting for Lincecum, placed the first pitch about eight inches inside the left-field line for a ground-rule double, and the National League had a short-lived lead—or such was my (lamentably correct) assumption at the time, since the only league that should win a Major League Baseball All-Star Game hasn’t done so since 1996.

So anyway, Lincecum is off the hook (and for a while it looked as though he might even wind up with a win! Take that, me!), and hey, since Matt Cain won’t pitch tonight after getting whapped on his pitching arm by a line drive the other day, I might well blow off the rest of the game. (Well, Lincecum won’t get the win anyway, as the AL went and tied it up in the fifth. Jerks. The only good thing about that is that Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers was the guy on the mound. Oh, plus Pujols made two good plays, just to make whatever point the Baseball Gods are trying to make.)

Oh! I nearly forgot to complain about Victorino! Creep. First, the guy wears one of those double-ear-flap helmets that all major leaguers probably should wear but don’t because they look so stupid (albeit less so than Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin’s Baby ZZ Top beard). That’s strike one. In Lincecum’s major league debut, Victorino’s two-run homer in the first accounted for one more run than the lad had surrendered in 31 innings at Fresno, and he always seems to do something annoying against the Giants anyway. That’s strike two. For strike three, a lesser man than I might mention Sandoval’s .964 OPS, as opposed to Victorino’s .839, but I won’t. Instead, strike three is less about Victorino’s presence on the All-Star team instead of Pablo Sandoval’s than it is about Victorino being in the starting lineup. Why? Carlos Beltran’s hurt. Fine. (Not for Beltran, but still.) Victorino was voted in as a reserve by the fans, fair and square, if annoyingly so. Fine. Brad Hawpe: better choice? I think so. Philly teammate Jayson Werth’s having a better year than Victorino, too. But Philly manager Charlie Manuel’s running the show, so you know (a) why Victorino’s a starter, and (b) Werth’s on the team but Sandoval isn’t. (Don’t worry: I won’t pretend there’s a Giants outfielder who should be there instead.) Oh, well. It’s not a big deal, and besides, Victorino—who’ll be the sole All-Star starter to play the entire game—will make me look silly when he wins it for the Nationals with an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the seventeenth, and everybody will forget about Albert Pujols.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Giants Could Win a World Series!

It could happen! Really! Know why? Because within the last several months:

  • A Giant has won a Cy Young Award

  • A Giant has pitched a no-hit, no-run game

  • I got a job

It’s as if three of the Four Horsemen have already appeared, and we’re just waiting for Famine to show up—that’d be “Famine,” as in what Giants fans in general have gone through since 1954, and what San Francisco Giants fans in particular have endured since forever.

I was roughly the same age my son is now when John Montefusco threw his no-hitter in 1976. I don’t even remember that one. The WEEKDAY() function in Excel tells me September 28 was on a Wednesday that year, so no doubt I let something trivial and foolish, such as school, stand in the way of listening to immortality. When Ed Halicki threw his the summer before, we were on an outing to see some family friends. Why we wouldn’t have been listening to the game in the car, I have no idea, but once we arrived in San Jose, I did manage to hear the last two outs. Whee. Before that, the only other two San Francisco Giants no-hitters—I’m trusting WikiPedia on this—were 1-0 games thrown by Juan Marichal in 1963 against the Astros and Gaylord Perry in 1968 against the Cardinals, and, of course, since the Giants are the Giants, Perry’s gem must forever be linked with Ray Washburn’s, whose no-hitter for the Cardinals came against those Giants the very next day. Happy birthday to me, since I turned eight the day after that and was still blissfully ignorant of the baseball-related horrors that had taken place throughout my life to that point, and would stay that way for another year and a half.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter Friday night is only the fifth ever thrown by a San Francisco Giant. For crying out loud, even the Expos had four (including one against the Giants, naturally). San Diego fans, however, are experiencing their 41st year of no-hitter-free baseball; Mets fans: 48th. This is to say that neither team has ever thrown one. And you know what? I just, just don’t care. For one thing… not the Giants. For another, sorry, but their fans need to suffer more than Giants fans for me to care. Too bad.

As every long-long-long-suffering-suffering-suffering-suffering Giants fan knows, during the 33-year period that the joy of one (or more) of their team’s pitchers tossing a no-hitter had eluded them, no fewer than eight guys heaved no-hitters against the Giants. Washburn and Warren Spahn each threw one, but that was well before the drought started, back when Giants foolishly believed that their team might throw several no-hitters (and win several World Championships). But the others… agony. Every one. Even the ones I missed. I consider myself lucky not to have been in attendance at any of these games, because, at least during the home games, I probably would’ve snapped and tried to whap people on the back of the head for rooting for a no-hitter against their team, on the grounds that it’s “historic.” Screw that. There’ve been a couple hundred of the damn things, it’s not like it’s someone’s 512th win, for crying out loud.

The Jerry Reuss no-hitter in 1980—for the Dodgers!—is famous for me having listened to every agonizing out while I was supposed to be working on the receiving dock at the Emporium, where I worked. I mean, I was there—I just wasn’t working. I was steaming. Actually, what made this one famous was that when I called David Beck to commiserate, he was on a date or something—“Oh, that’s fair!” I probably thought—so his dad had to take the message: “Greg Palmer called: The Giants got a no hit.” Naturally, Dave first assumed—being young and na├»ve, and, let’s be honest, probably it wasn’t a date anyway—that a Giant had thrown a no-hitter. And then he learned the truth. EEEEEE!

Charlie Lea’s no-hitter against the Giants took place in May 1981, when I Dave and I were at San Diego State, so we were lucky to miss it. Mike Scott’s was in late September 1986, so I probably was working, and it was still early enough in my job that I didn’t think it’d be cool to listen to the radio. I’m especially pleased about missing that one, since it clinched the West, for which the Giants had been in contention for most of the season. I can’t speak for Dave. (If I could, I would say the following: “Gregg Pearlman is a terrific guy who certainly deserves to make good money as a writer.” But I can't. So I won't.)

Terry Mulholland’s no-hitter for the Phillies, however, was an especially bitter pill. This is one of the guys the Giants traded to Philly in 1989 for Steve Bedrosian, who, wonderful as he was in his first week as a Giant, already had worn out his welcome by August 15, 1990. I don’t remember if this is the same game where Mulholland broke Kirt Manwaring’s foot with a pitch, but it may as well have been. And in no fewer than two subsequent stints with the Giants, Mulholland never, ever made up for it. Not as far as I’m concerned, anyway. Two no-hitters—one against the Phillies, one against the Dodgers—might have done the trick. Probably the most noteworthy thing he’d done as a Giant, before the trade, was get his arm broken by a Gerald Perry line drive. Boob.

Two years and two days later… Kevin Gross. How? I’m lucky enough to remember no details beyond my severe annoyance. So unfair.

The next Kevin to throw one against the Giants was Brown of the Marlins. This I remember vividly, since I’d stayed home sick that day—being legitimately sick, not because I wanted to listen to the game. We lived on the top floor of our apartment building, and this was a day in which the temperature was at least 450 degrees and there were people on the roof, pounding away. Nonstop. Throughout the game. Until my head was pounding in sympathetic rhythm. For all I know, Kevin Brown’s a terrific guy, but I’ll never, ever forgive him for this. Creep.

I missed most of the Kevin Millwood game six years ago, thankfully, as my son had a Little League game that day, but I was no less grumpy once the no-hitter had taken place.

Now, however, even two days after the event, I and all other Giants fans still have a no-hitter to celebrate. The only blot on Sanchez’s outing was Juan Uribe’s boot of what appeared to be a fairly easy ground ball in the eighth inning, but as Bruce Bochy pointed out later, had Uribe not tried to charge the ball but fielded it cleanly, the batter probably would’ve beaten it out, which would be way worse than an error, no-hitter-wise. So Uribe’s almost forgiven. (Let’s not mention the fact that Mulholland’s no-hitter was marred by an error also, but he got a double play—and faced only 27 batters. Shmuck.)

In the 1980’s, when Dave and I worked most avidly on our tabletop baseball game, we played literally quadrillions of games together—okay, I exaggerate: it was only one quadrillion, and almost certainly closer to one than two—and we shared two no-hitters. Dave won both. But in working on The Game, he and I always had a cooperative spirit. Sure, each of us always wanted to win, but when something incredible was happening, that’s what we rooted for. The last no-hitter we played together took place 25 years ago—and to put Sanchez’s feat into some kind of perspective, the last Giants no-hitter had taken place eight years before that—and we rolled our dice, recited the results, wrote them down… but never once noted aloud that something unusual was happening. We had to pretend, just like the teammates of a major leaguer who’s got one going, that no particular no-hitter was in progress; in fact, just as if Dave himself were throwing it, I avoided talking to him except to note the results. Then when my final batter got out, we both whooped and high-fived—that’s the only acceptable circumstance in which it’s okay to root for your team not to get any hits. Between the two of us, we experienced maybe half a dozen no-hitters via The Game, but certainly not much more than that, if at all.

But even today—and probably for a long time—I am as stoked about Jonathan Sanchez’s near-perfect, no-hit, no-run game as if I myself had rolled the fateful dice.

(By the way, that last line’s supposed to be at least mildly funny, not pathetic, so you’re supposed to laugh with me.)