Pitching And Defense A Giant Tradition

Pablo Sandoval makes a diving stop in a successful home opener for the Giants. Copyright Getty Images/by Marcio Jose Sanchez

Pablo Sandoval makes a diving stop in a successful home opener for the Giants.
Copyright Getty Images/by Marcio Jose Sanchez

 

Nothing beats a well pitched game at the ballpark. For Dad’s San Francisco Giants, pitching and defense are a tradition. The Giants will never knock you over with a Murderer’s Row that’s spoiled us Yankee fans in the Bronx. But when push comes to shove, the Giants do it the right way. By getting great pitching, solid team D and manufacturing runs.

In some aspects, the defending World Champs have perfected the art of winning ugly. They rarely make it easy on themselves. Preferring to do it the hard way. By making every game go down to the wire. Their fans are hanging on every out or virtually every pitch. That’s what these Giants are. A personification of skipper Bruce Bochy, who’s never been afraid to go to the bullpen. Or pull a double switch, epitomizing classic National League baseball.

They continue to get it done the same way. A winning formula. If you can get quality pitching and shutdown the opposition, it doesn’t matter how dangerous their hitters are. We saw it in 2010 when they turned Philly bats into aluminum. You see. It isn’t just Yankee sluggers who have become ghosts of October. If you got the horses, you can win. The Giants do- boasting a solid five-man rotation featuring Matt CainMadison Bumgarner, Ryan VogelsongTim Lincecum and Barry Zito, who continued his renaissance by tossing seven scoreless for his first win in 1-0 decision over the Cardinals in a successful championship banner home opener.

The old adage is good pitching beats good hitting. That’s what the Giants have done winning two of the past three World Series. Both times, surprising many. In 2010, they beat Texas. Last year, after stunning St. Louis by rallying from a 3-1 deficit, they swept favorite Detroit. It didn’t matter that the Tigers boasted the game’s first Triple Crown winner since Yaz in AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. They also had Prince FielderDelmon YoungJhony Peralta and Austin Jackson. The Giants countered with Pablo SandovalMarco ScutaroHunter Pence and NL MVP Buster Posey. Plus underrated defensive shortstop Brandon Crawford, who forms a solid middle infield with Scutaro.

When going through San Fran’s lineup, it doesn’t intimidate you. However, 1 through 9 they contribute including the pitcher, who either can hit or sacrifice. A lost art. Good baseball can still be discovered. All you have to do is watch the Giants scrap their way at the plate and in the field. A walk is as good as a hit. Taking advantage of errors counts just the same. That’s one thing they do well. They did it in taking the rubber game against the Dodgers Wednesday in a 5-3 win. A four-run third included a couple of unearned. Sandoval slugged his first home run and Pence added an insurance marker to make a winner of a wild Lincecum, who survived five frames allowing two unearned while walking seven. Bochy mixed and matched the rest of the way until Sergio Romo closed it out.

Today, the Giants made an Angel Pagan bases loaded walk stand up with Zito going the first seven before giving way to Jeremy Affeldt and Romo, who were perfect. That included a nasty Romo cutter that froze Allen Craig to end it. And so, in a division where the Dodgers spent like Kings and changed their motto to “A Whole New Blue,” here are the Giants at 3-1 in first. They do it their way without the fanfare. They’re what the Mets aspire to be. Pitching, defense and timely hits. A winner.

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Another Homophobic Episode In Sports

It appears that there is another homophobic incident involving a major sports figure.  Apparently there was an incident before last Saturday’s game between the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants where Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was spouting homophobic comments towards some fans in the stands.

When another fans spoke out to him and stated that there were kids in the stands, McDowell apparently said that kids don’t belong at the ball park, picked up a bat, and asked the fan “How much are your teeth worth?’  The incident prompted several parents to come down to where the incident was happening and retrieve their children.

The fan that was threatened by McDowell, Justin Quinn, then filed a complaint with both Giants personnel and police.  Quinn’s attorney has also asked that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig launch an investigation and take appropriate action.

McDowell issued an apology on Wednesday stating, “I am deeply sorry that I responded to the heckling fans in San Francisco on Saturday.  I apologize to everyone for my actions.”  Commissioner Selig said that the allegations are troubling and that he will take actions after getting all the facts.

This is the second incident in as many weeks of sports figures spewing hate at others in the form of homophobic comments.  Kobe Bryant’s offense was defended as something that was done “in the heat of battle.”  McDowell tried to pawn it off on responding to heckling fans.

Let me get this straight.  You respond to adversity by insulting someone’s manhood and slurring a sector of the population.  How can anyone think that this is appropriate.  If McDowell had dropped the N bomb or Kobe some other racially charged phrase, he would have probably been instantly suspended most likely.

But it seems that Bryant and McDowell’s incidents are getting “smoothed over” for the most part.  I am not a gay man, but I recognize hate speech when I see it.  I don’t care if this type of talk is tolerated on team or has been tolerated in the past.  It is still unacceptable.  Those hooked to online gambling and prostitutes don’t get the same stigma as gay men and women do.  Why do you think that is?

Whether you like the people or not, these are still your fans, and in the case of Bryant, your colleagues and co-workers.  They deserve the respect that the world tries to throw your way.  Are these players truly getting caught up in the heat of the moment and saying something that is emotionally charged or are they showing their true colors?  You decide.

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Hoffman blows one to Astros, Nats continue hot start

Washington Nationals' third baseman cleanly fields a ground ball during team's 1-0 shutout of the Phils improving his team to 3-0 this season. 

AP Photo Courtesy Getty Images by Tom Mihalek

Trevor Hoffman is the all-time saves leader but it’s clear that his best days are behind him. There was plenty of evidence last year in a few games he blew including being a strike away from wrapping up the wildcard in Coors before the Rockies rallied to win it in extras.

There’s no shame in that. Hoffman’s 40 and acting like it. He entered last night looking to make it two for two in save opportunities on the young season against the Astros. The Padres had pushed across a run off new Houston closer Jose Valverde thanks to a Brian Giles sac fly to center.

Skipper Bud Black did what you’d expect by bringing in Hoffman to try to seal the deal and improve to 3-0. It looked like it would be an easy ninth for one of the all-time great closers. He needed only four pitches to retire the first two batters. However, a solid at bat by the well traveled Jose Cruz, Jr. earned him a walk as he laid off Hoffman’s bread and butter change up. If you lose the free swinging Cruz as a pinch hitter, it’s usually not a good sign.

Center fielder Michael Bourn kept the two out rally alive with a sharp single to right to put runners at first and second bringing Hunter Pence to the plate. He ripped a 2-1 Hoffman offering just off first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’ glove into right to tie the game. If it’s a couple of inches closer, Gonzalez snags it and Hoffman has career save No.526. Instead, the game was tied at five. When Hoffman fell behind slugger Lance Berkman 3-1, I knew he was in trouble and would’ve been better off pitching around. Berkman, who was fanned by Hoffman to end the game Tuesday got revenge by blasting a mid-80′s fastball right over the plate to deep center for a game-winning three-run home run.

Valverde cameback to work a strong second inning pitching around a two out Scott Hairston hit fanning Khalil Greene on a nasty offspeed pitch to pickup his first win in an Astro uniform.

So, should San Diego fans be concerned? I would be. Hoffman just isn’t overpowering anymore. If you lay off his slider, you have a pretty good chance of making solid contact. If he continues to struggle, then it might be time to see what reliable setup tandem Heath Bell or Cla Meredith can do.

Still, I don’t see Black making that change anytime soon. A guy like Hoffman has a lot of pride and is extremely popular in San Diego. They do have a good team again and should be in playoff contention all season. But that NL West should be again crowded at the top with the defending NL West champion Diamondbacks, 2007 NL champion Rockies and new look Joe Torre Dodgers all in the mix. 

I can see it now. Chris “Mad Dog” Russo asking me:

“But what about my Giants, Derek?”

Not a chance. Well, even he would agree with that. Especially with that popgun offense. It should be another long year down in the Bay Area. The A’s won’t be too good either. Especially with know it all guru Billy Beane in full Charlie Finley mode.

The biggest news yesterday wasn’t that Pedro Martinez is expected out four to six weeks due to a left hamstring sprain. And it certainly wasn’t the Mets’ 11-0 rout of the Marlins featuring a three-run home run from David Wright along with Ryan Church’s first long ball as a Metropolitan.

It also wasn’t A.J. Burnett dominating the Yankees for five-plus before Alex Rodriguez took him deep for No.1 of the season in a 5-2 loss with Mike Mussina giving up four of the five runs including a Vernon Wells two-run blast in the third. Being that I have a Dec.8 birthday, I know for a fact Wells and Moose share the same birthday. So, let’s just say the younger guy had the better night in evening up the three-game series at The Stadium.

It also wasn’t the Cubs losing once again to the Brewers by an 8-2 count. They fell behind quickly thanks to a Richie Weekes leadoff homer off losing starter Ted Lilly. Heck. Even former light hitting catcher Jason Kendall teed off going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a game-breaking two-run double.

So what was the biggest surprise? Had to be the Nats’ 1-0 shutout in Philadelphia to suddenly boost their record to a perfect 3-0. It’s awfully hard to shutdown that vaunted Phillie offense. That 30 year-old journeyman Tim Redding was the one doing it by limiting the Phils to one hit on a second inning Pedro Feliz single was pretty startling.

The Rochester native retired the next 14 batters going seven strong to outpitch Philly ace Cole Hamels, whose only mistake was a sixth inning Ryan Zimmerman opposite field blast.

Zimmerman’s second dinger in three games was enough offense because setup tandem Luis Ayala and Jon Rauch finished off the Phillies. Apparently, the Nats didn’t miss Chad Cordero, who we’re guessing won’t be around much early on due to a tired arm.

And so, the Expos/Nationals franchise is off to its best start in five years. Is it a fluke? They don’t seem to think so.

“We believe,” Redding later said of his team’s fast start. “We believe we can compete and play with anybody in the league, whether it’s Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta or Florida.”

Added team leader Zimmerman who was the Opening Night hero against Atlanta:

“Nobody likes to lose. We’re tired of it.”

There’s no question Manny Acta’s team isn’t as bad as many thought. They’re not going to get beat up like the way too cheap Marlins.

Anyone who watched this team last September should know that already by the way they competed against the Mets destroying their season and also nearly doing the same to the Phillies.

The lineup is pretty respectable. Especially if Nick Johnson manages not to do his customary 2-3 DL stay. Met killer Austin Kearns is healthy and Lastings Milledge has plenty to prove batting behind table setter Christian Guzman. Felipe Lopez is overlooked and Ronnie Belliard has solid pop. What happens when they get Wily Mo Pena back next month? He has the most power in this lineup further solidifying it. But figure Johnson to be hurt by that point making Pena’s return a welcome sight.

I’m on record as liking the Nats’ pen. Both Ayala and Rauch are reliable late inning guys and have already done a decent job filling in for Cordero. How good the Nats can be depends on a young rotation featuring a pair of second-year pitchers in Matt Chico and DLed Shawn Hill. Rutgers product Jason Bergmann is a bit of an unknown who fared well last year. So, there’s potential. You just have to ponder how a rotation without a clearcut ace and relying on the likes of Redding and Odalis Perez can stick around in the NL East. Having experienced signal caller Paul Lo Duca should help.

Figure them to at least play hard all year round.

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The Melk Man delivers

Historic Yankee Stadium in all its glory during the final home opener last night. 

AP Photo Courtesy Getty Images by Henry Ray Abrama

On the final Opening Day Night at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees had to win for tradition sake. How else could the Pinstripes go out in their final home opener at the House that Ruth Built 84 years prior christening it with a homer in front of 74,000 back in 1923?

That the power was supplied by center fielder Melky Cabrera was a pleasant surprise. Along with consecutive sensational catches (both web gems much to JPG’s dismay), the ninth place hitter then ledoff the bottom half of the sixth by taking Toronto ace Roy Halladay yard just clearing the 314 right field fence to tie the game at two.

The Melk Man’s big night helped spark the Yanks back to a 3-2 home win over the Blue Jays with the 1-2 punch of Joba Chamberlain (scoreless 8th, 2 K’s) and Mariano Rivera (1-2-3 ninth) shutting the door to give an energized new skipper Joe Girardi his first win on the young season.

The game winning RBI was hardly a big hit but instead a tailor made Hideki Matsui double play ball which was mishandled by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill allowing the Jays to only get one. 2007 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez came into score the winning run in the home seventh.

Hey. Girardi and the Yankees will take it. Wins don’t have to be pretty as long as they get the job done and during the course of a long 162-game season, you’ll have your fair share of ugly games. As long as you come out with the ‘W,’ that’s all that matters.

The Yanks had to be particularly pleased with ace Chien-Ming Wang, who showed no ill effects of an off Spring going seven strong on 92 pitches while permitting two earned on six hits with a pair of walks and strikeouts. Apparently, deuces were wild for the just turned 28 year-old former Staten Island Yankee who improved to 1-0 this season.

The win also helped the Yanks make a bit of major league history as it was their 11th straight Opening Day win at The Stadium- snapping a tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who reeled off 10 in a row from 1945-54 according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Following the last out on a routine 4-3 putout, Rivera gave his new manager the game ball. 

“He just congratulated me and he said that’s No. 1 and let’s get a lot more,” a very happy Girardi said. “It’s a neat moment for me.”

“I know he really wanted to win this game,” Yankee captain Derek Jeter pointed out after getting a hit in four at bats. “I’m happy for him.”

For one night at least, it worked the way the Yanks and Hank Steinbrenner hope it will. Good pitching. Great defense. And timely hitting.

Most notably, the well played game took a very reasonable two hours and 31 minutes to play before a sellout crowd of 55,112.

Tonight, veteran Mike Mussina will go against fireballer A.J. Burnett in the second game.

We’ll have more baseball stuff later today including the latest on Pedro Martinez’ hamstring injury. He’ll have an MRI.

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Opening Day Cubbies style

Even Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome's ninth inning heroics couldn't prevent the lovable Cubbies from doing what they do best. Break their fans hearts and lose on Opening Day explaining why they haven't won in so long.  

AP Photos Courtesy Getty Images by Spencer Green

Only the lovable Cubbies could lose on Opening Day at Wrigley Field the way they did. Well, hey. At least Sweet Lou Piniella’s team entered as defending NL Central champs. By show of hands, who thinks that’s happening again?

My good Stanford pal John “JPG” Giagnorio has stopped caring. Or so he says. Would a World Series appearance draw the Chicago native’s attention? Considering that it’s been exactly a century since the Cubs lost won it all, you betcha!

So, how did the Cubs lose a very lengthy extra inning rain filled game against the Brew Crew yesterday? In the typical style which has become a Chicago tradition much like deep dish and fans running for their lives out of Comiskey Park on the other side of town.

Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano matched zeroes with Milwaukee’s favorite DL space Ben Sheets into the seventh before each gave way to the bullpens. Fyi…Zambrano left with a right index finger injury. Already the Cubs season is in jeopardy and they hadn’t even completed Game No.1!

So, you’re probably sitting there wondering how this is any different from other seasons? Well, it’s been 100 years! As they prefer to say, “This is the YEAR!”

It had better be. Well, if there really is a God looking down on them but then again, the heavens seem very unforgiving. Just ask a Buffalo sportsfan!

The game which featured two rain delays remained scoreless until Piniella brought in Kerry Wood to pitch the ninth. He now closes which means he’s probably doomed to fail much like Ryan Deumpster, Turk Wendell and Mitch Williams. Tom Gordon also had a stint there and promptly pointed to God when he blew saves. Well, maybe not.

After following Sweet Lou’s instructions to intentionally walk Prince Fielder putting runners on first and second, Wood gave up a broken bat Ryan Braun RBI single which was the game’s first run. A two out opposite field Corey Hart two-run double plated two more runs giving Milwaukee a three-run cushion they would need.

If you didn’t know why, then all you had to notice was new closer Eric Gagne warming up. Yes! He closes for the Brewers. Guess you can eliminate Ned Yost’s club from taking the division. At the time the once lights out Dodger stopper came in, my brother and I joked about how he’d blow it.

Sure enough, Gagne gave up a leadoff single to Derrek Lee and then managed to walk free swinger Aramis Ramirez on four pitches way out of the strike zone. Up till that point, the Cubbies had only three hits all day including two from new Japanese outfield import Kosuke Fukudome. Say that 10 times fast and let us know how you do!

A century of Cubs futility at Wrigley Field. Will this be the year it finally ends?

He already was perfect on the day with a single, double and walk. With Cubs fans chanting his name and a Chicago fan who I believe was the same one as last year holding up a sign which read, “ITS GONNA HAPPEN,” sure enough, it did as Fukudome destroyed a 3-1 Gagne fat pitch hammering it into the right center stands as cheering Wrigley supporters went ballistic. Tie ballgame!

Gagne hadn’t even retired a batter. And the Brewers gave this guy $10 million to close?!?!?!?!?! He’s more washed up than Jason Giambi.

Ten million just don’t get what it used to these days in the land of free agent in$anity. Hey. At least they didn’t reward Barry “Baked” Zito $126 million a la the Giants. He got bombed again giving up four runs in the first two frames to Joe Torre’s Dodgers in a 5-0 loss. Boy. Are the Giants bad. They actually could miss Barry Bonds. Well, maybe not the clubhouse.

To Gagne’s credit, he settled down retiring the required three Cubs to force the game to extras. I was on a call with my good buddy JPG raving about Fukudome’s heroics and walked into the kitchen to fix myself a PB and J. By the time I got back in, Bob Howry had put runners on the corners and then allowed Tony Gwynn, Jr.’s go-ahead sac fly.

There had to be still hope with David Riske coming in to save it for Gagne. Somehow, the Cubs went in order instead to fall 4-3 doing what they do best. Getting their fans’ hopes up just to break their hearts in the end.

Good god. If this were a movie script, everyone would need a box of Kleenex along with their movie stub.

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

The Mets got off to a strong start posting a 6-2 win over the Marlins down in Miami. David Wright’s bases clearing double gave new ace Johan Santana a six-run cushion. The former two-time AL Cy Young winner acquired from the Twins went seven allowing just a pair of runs while fanning eight to pickup the first of probably 20 wins.

Former Met Lastings Milledge went yard for the Nationals as they outslugged the defending NL East champion Phillies 11-6 to improve to 2-0 on the young season. Don’t be surprised if the Nats aren’t as bad as many have predicted. One look at their lineup should tell people they can do damage. Especially if King Lastings has the kind of season expected now that he’s out of Queens. 

Rating NL MVP Jimmy Rollins tied it with a two-run shot in the home seventh but the Nats pushed across five in the ninth off Gordon to prevail 11-6. The five-run ninth featured four RBI doubles including one from ex-Met backstop Paul Lo Duca.

Losing reliever Gordon’s line:

0.1 IP 4 H 5 R 6 ER 1 BB

Afterwards, Flash immediately thanked God that he still cashes a hefty paycheck!

Ah. Only one day of full baseball and already we’re getting warmed up. The Yankees and Blue Jays will hope for better weather later tonight in what’s expected to be the final home opener at Yankee Stadium. Chien-Ming Wang takes on Roy Halladay.

We’ll have more on the Yanks and other baseball stuff later this afternoon!

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