World Series #1: K.C. Succumbs to Bum

World Series Giants Royals BaseballIt was fitting that a game that included a panda and a moose would turn on “Big Game” James Shields being felled by Hunter Pence. World Series? It was more like the Wild Kingdom. This is supposed to be an evenly matched series on paper, as they say. Well, look out Kansas City because I think the Giants packed the paper shredder. This was billed as a David vs. David battle. All the Goliaths had already been slain, ie the Nationals, Cardinals, Orioles and Tigers. These games were expected to be decided with a slingshot, but the Giants showed up with a bazooka. Kansas City here we come? More like Kansas City here we come to conquer. All the visiting sportswriters keep drooling about Kansas City barbecue. After their 7-1 Game 1 loss to the Giants, some might be ready to stick a fork in the Royals already.

No doubt the Royals are consoling themselves with the fact that Madison Bumgarner can’t pitch in Games 2, 3 and 4. That is a sound way to look at things, since the rest of the rotation — Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong — are not likely to dominate. But does that matter? In a month that ends with Halloween, the Giants are becoming the scariest thing in October. The Giants have won 16 of their last 18 post-season games. If the Giants win three of the next six games, they will join company with the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-44-46 as the only National League clubs to win three World Series in five years. The Giants now go to the World Series every other year. The Royals haven’t been there since 1985, meaning their next trip will come in 2043.

Bumgarner is likely to be retired at his ranch by then, but the record books and those who are witnessing his performance on the big stage are going to have quite a story to tell. His scoreless streak in his first 21 innings of World Series play is only topped by Giants legend/Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Bumgarner had a post-season road scoreless streak of 32-2/3 innings, He already has six post season victories. So with MadBum on the mound for Game 1, Giants fans weren’t too worried about the man they call James “Big Game” Shields. In fairness to the Royals ace, he does not refer to himself that way. It’s a label that friends gave him in high school. So I feel kind of sorry for him. Sort of how I’ve always felt about a player from the early 1900s called “Home Run” Baker. Gads, talk about creating high expectations every time you got up to bat.

Shields recorded only nine outs, allowed seven hits and left with the score 4-0, Pablo Sandoval drove in one run with a double in the first, and Pence rocketed one over the right center-field fence for two more. Pence figured into the scoring again in the fourth with a double, scoring on a single by DH Michael Morse. On this night, Shields was no “Big Game” James Worthy, the NBA legend with the same title. Nor was he even James “Big Game” Smith, a professional wrestler. Yet, Bumgarner was so country hardball tough on this night that he might have beaten Worthy in a one-on-one matchup or even body slammed the 6-2, 327-pound Smith. In Kansas City on Tuesday night, it appeared that everyone would succumb to Bum. And one more MadBum observation. Two balls were driven right back at him. He grabbed one and knocked the other down for outs. These defensive gems should not be quickly dismissed. When I’ve seen video of pitchers who were drilled by line drives in the head area, almost  every one shows a pitcher  whose follow through makes them totally vulnerable to a violent come-backer. Bumgarner finishes his delivery with his glove out front and in perfect balance. Other pitchers couldn’t match his stuff, but they would be wise to learn how he defends himself.

So is the World Series over?

The Royals can’t be written off, having gone 8-0 in the post-season to get to the World Series. But they didn’t even come close to playing their game in the opener. The Royals led the major leagues with 153 stolen bases, yet couldn’t even make an attempt because they had such few base runners. The Royals are known for defense, having committed just three post-season errors, and yet outfielder Nori Aoki misplayed Joe Panik’s single into a triple. The Royals boast of a bullpen trio of set-up men and a closer who take it personally if a batter even reaches first base, but they never got into Game 1. So the Royals and their fans can make their case for a turnaround.

But they may be dealing with more than just another good team.

In 1972, author Roger Kahn wrote a book titled “Boys of Summer” that told the story of Dodgers players before and after Brooklyn won its first and only World Series championship in 1955. Forget that this was about the Dodgers, Giants fans. The powerful book, one of the best ever about baseball, was about nostalgia and passion for the game. The Giants of 2010, 2012 and 2014 are headed for a powerful place in baseball history if they can successfully hunt down their prey in this World Series. The Boys of October may be on the verge of something very special.

World Series is better than Super Bowl

IMG_1114My first recollection of the World Series was in 1959, when the Dodgers played the White Sox. The Series games those days were played around 1 p.m. local time, so I remember getting home from school just after three with the Dodgers leading 9-3 in Game Six and just three outs from winning the championship. My friends were in front of my house yelling at me to come out and play touch football, but I kept stalling. It wasn’t until the Dodgers dominating closer Larry Sherry got  Chicago’s Luis Aparicio to fly out to Wally Moon in left to start the celebration that I joined my friends.

I was only eight, but I had already chosen the World Series over football.

As a I look forward to the start of the 2014 World Series in two days between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, I haven’t changed my preference. In fact, I can comfortably say that watching the World Series is better than watching the Super Bowl. I know that sets me apart from my fellow Americans. Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by 108.4 million in the USA. A per game average of 15 million watched the 2013 World Series. The Giants-Royals are likely to dip even lower. The 2012 Giants-Tigers World Series drew an all-time low audience of 12.7 million average per game.

Now I should probably toss in a disclaimer that I’m not down on football. I’ve watched every Super Bowl on TV, starting with the first one on Jan. 15, 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. That was so long ago that they didn’t even call it the Super Bowl then — it was more modestly labeled the AFL-NFL Championship Game. I love football, and always look forward to the next Roman numeral showdown.

So let’s break it down, as the analysts say, and explore why the World Series is better than the Super Bowl.

1. Condensed hype: Baseball allows as little as two days between the two league championship series and the World Series, although the time can be stretched out a couple days if the league series ended in fewer than seven games. The NFL has a two-week gap. Among the big events the NFL schedules to keep their fans interested during this time is Media Day, which is more painful than a knee injury. Baseball keeps the momentum in its post-season going, and that can possibly affect the games. For example, if a team had to go seven in the league series, it may have had to use up their ace, while the team that swept their series would be able to have their rotation totally rested.

2. Pregame show: The World Series pregame starts at 4:30, 37 minutes before the first pitch. The Super Bowl pregame starts so early, farmers wake up the roosters when they turn it on before dawn. The baseball pregame sets up the actual matchup. The NFL pregame is about as interesting as the Pro Bowl.

3. Best of seven: The World Series is a good book, read slowly, savoring every word. The Super Bowl is a one-game Tweet. The Series can last up to nine days, with two for travel and seven for games. Each game is a new chapter, with a new storyline. National media has been writing that the Giants are lucky to have gotten this far. But luck has little to do with who wins the World Series. The Series is a mental and physical endurance test. The teams have played up to 175 games to get there, so it’s hard to have a fluke World Series winner. The one-game Super Bowl leaves a lot to luck if the game is close. The World Series also allows for clunkers. While today might be a  blowout, tomorrow may bring a thriller. An early Super Bowl rout not only means that the party host will have a lot of guacamole left over as the guests leave early, but one lopsided score ends the season cold.

4. Getting to know you: The multi-games provide the casual fan who has not followed the World Series teams to get to know about the players’ stories. Did anyone beyond the Bay Area know who Travis Ishikawa was until he won Game Five? I doubt many baseball fans know anything about Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, but they will learn quickly about the man who is greeted from the stands with “Moose” calls, and that foam moose antlers are a big-selling item in the Kauffman Stadium gift store. These are the kind of stories that can be revealed over the pace of a week of games. You’re not going to get that kind of intimacy in the fast-paced Super Bowl telecast.

5. Word from our sponsor: Unless the Clydesdales are involved, I’m not interested in the Super Bowl ads. They don’t even wait for the game anymore. Now you can view the commercials online days before the kickoff. Quick, name one memorable commercial from a World Series game. When an inning is over, there is time to review what just happened and look ahead to who is up next and who might come in to pitch. There’s no time to talk football strategy for fans during Super Bowl breaks. We gotta watch some potato chip ad instead.

6. Take me out to the concert: The game is second billing to casual football fans, with many of the millions who have TVs tuned to the Super Bowl more interested in the moves of the performers in the halftime concert than the moves of the wide receivers. The NFL extends halftime for a pop song concert, underscoring the fact that this day is really not just about football. The World Series only interrupts play for “God Bless America” and Take Me Out To the Ballgame” in the seventh. The Royals’ hit theme song was written by a Christian music artist and the Giants play a recording of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett after a home victory. The NFL holds its hand on the bleep button as Madonna sings “”Sexy and I Know It.” Baseball let’s the music roll, confident that the Christian guy won’t have a wardrobe malfunction.

7. Parties and pools: I’d rather watch the Super Bowl alone so I can focus on the inside-football part of the game, but invariably get corralled into going to a Super Bowl Party. That is the worst place to watch the game, and I usually have to watch a recording later on at home to understand what happened. People don’t have World Series parties. They just watch the game, as revolutionary an action as that is.

8. Everybody in the pool: People at Super Bowl parties aren’t even rooting for a team. They instead are rooting for the score of a given quarter to match up with their square in the pool. I’ve never known anyone who bet on a baseball game (Pete Rose excluded).

9. MVPs: Since 1988, 10 of the 16 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks. Since 1988, pitchers were the MVPs in just four years, with the rest of the honors shared by position players with the exception of one DH winner. The World Series hero is more likely to be a common-man player rather than a superstar, and no position has an advantage such as the quarterback does. This adds to the intrigue of who will rise to World Series glory?

10. No place like home: This is where baseball really has the advantage over football in sports’ biggest stage. The World Series is played before the home fans, allowing them to watch the team they have supported all season go for the championship. The Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, eliminating the exciting  buzz of home-field crowds, and reminding the ordinary folks who support the team the rest of the season that it’s time for the corporate types and celebrities to take their place in the stands at a stadium far away from their city and price range.

So it’s Play Ball! I’ll be in my easy chair charting every pitch of the World Series, unless some friends show up outside my house wanting to toss the baseball around. Not sure what to do if that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

NLCS #5: Goin’ to Kansas City

NLCS Cardinals Giants BaseballMisdemeanor Row turned into Murderers Row as the Giants stunned the Cardinals 6-3 in Game Five to win the National League pennant. The Giants hadn’t hit a homer since Brandon Belt ended the 18-inning marathon against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 4. The odds were that the Giants would finally break out of the big fly slump, and bettors were likely to put their money on Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence as the primary candidates to lead the way. Nobody put their money on the trio of Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse and Joe Panik to all go deep together, which made one of the most dramatic wins in franchise history even more incredible.

This is the franchise that owns the most famous home run in baseball, Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning three-run homer against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in 1951. Thursday night ended with Ishikawa putting his name high on the list of famous franchise blasts. The night began with Ishikawa possibly putting his name high on the list of franchise goats. The Cardinals John Jay hit a line drive to left in the third that appeared catchable. Ishikawa took a step in, momentarily froze, and then came to the sickening realization that the ball was carrying over his head. Jay had an RBI gift double and the Cardinals had struck first for a 1-0 lead. To the credit of Giants fans, there were gasps but no boos. Most understood that Ishikawa is not a left fielder, but that with Morse limited by an oblique injury. manager Bruce Bochy had taken the risk of weakening left-field defense in the post season with the tradeoff of keeping a potentially threatening bat in the lineup.

Ishikawa was not as forgiving of himself as the fans, and said in a post-game interview that when the Giants trailed 3-2 late in the game, he still felt responsible. As it turned out, redemption was just one swing away. Ishikawa batted in the ninth with the score now tied at 3-3 with one out and Brandon Belt at first and Pablo Sandoval at second. Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha came in with a 2-0 fastball, and Ishikawa crushed it. The crowd that stuck with Ishikawa when things went bad went into full bedlam mode for him as the ball sailed into the arcade. I don’t know if this shot was heard around the world, but San Franciscans within 10 blocks of AT&T must have heard the roar.

Ishikawa’s heroics, of course, never would have happened if not for fellow sluggers Panik and Morse.

In an interview with writer Damon Runyan in 1912, New York Giants .300-hitting second baseman “Laughing” Larry Doyle said, “it was great to be young and a Giant.” The 23-year-old Panic would probably second that motion today. The Cardinals were stung by veteran second baseman Marco Scutaro, when the Giants battled back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat St. Louis in the 2012 NLCS. The position delivered another blow to the Cardinals in the 2014 version when Panic slugged a two-run homer in the third off Adam Wainwright to put the Giants in front 2-1.

Madison Bumgarner kept the Giants in the game despite not having his best stuff which was demonstrated when Matt Adams and Tony Cruz blasted home runs in the fourth for a 3-2 Cardinals lead. The game stayed that way into the bottom of the eighth, but even the most diehard of Giants Nation had to see little hope against reliever Pat Neshek. The combination of a baffling herky-jerky motion and heat had Neshek toying with the Giants in games three and four. It took Neshek just 23 pitchers to dispatch the Giants in two innings without allowing a run or hit. But in the eighth of Game Four, it took just one pitch to pinch-hitter Morse to tie the score. Morse, who has been sidelined with the injury through most of September and during the NLDS, hit a wicked, curving shot into the left-field bleachers. If Ishikawa’s homer was one of the all-time Giants game winners, Morse’s clout will go down in club history as one of the most clutch.

The Giants like to say that a big part of their success comes because everyone has everyone’s back, that a real team effort is about one player picking up another. That was the story of Game Five. Panic picked up Ishikawa after the misplay in left, Morse picked up the whole team’s struggling offense with his homer, and Jeremy Affeldt picked up Santiago Casilla in the ninth when the closer uncharacteristically stumbled. And then in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants left fielder went one better. He smoked a home run for the ages, and with that clout, Ishikawa had picked up Ishikawa.

So now they are goin’ to Kansas City, but don’t expect the Giants to continue to put on a repeat of the 1927 Yankees Murderers Row. No, get ready for three-run balks, bases-clearing wild pitches or whatever crazy way you can fantasize about the Giants scoring runs. What is making the next step even more intriguing is the Royals play a similar game. Oh well, the home runs were fun, but here we go back to Misdemeanor Row. Would the Giants Faithful really want it any other way?

NLCS #4: Don’t Call Giants Lucky

NLCS Cardinals Giants BaseballThe evening began with Barry Bonds throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for Game Four of the National League Championship Series. Giants fans roared out their love for the man who built their ballpark and created so many electrifying moments with his soaring game-changing home runs. But that was so 2003. For the 2014 post-season Giants, it might have been more realistic to have the first ball thrown out by little Matty Alou, one of best bunters and contact batsman in S.F. Giants history. The Giants, now a win away from heading to their third World Series in five years after rope-a-doping the Cardinals again 6-4, have not only sworn off the big fly, but seem to have little regard for scoring runs by getting base hits. The Giants still haven’t hit a homer in the NLCS, and they’ve made an art form of bringing a run home without the batter getting a hit. The Bonds era was terrific when He came to the plate, but you’ve got to keep an eye on all 25 of these characters on the 2014 version of the club because you never know where the next game-changing moment is going to come from.

The Cardinals jumped all over an ineffective Ryan Vogelsong, finishing off the Giants usually rugged post-season starter with an old-fashioned homer by Kolten Wong for a 4-1 lead in the fourth. This is the kind of blow that usually takes noisy home crowds out of the game. Not so this time for three reasons: (1) They’ve seen their team enough in the post season to know that something weird and positive is likely to happen; (2) Secret weapon Yusmeiro Petit was warming up in the bullpen and had the track record of being able blank the opposition, and for proof of that you can contact the Washington Nationals; and (3) People come to AT&T for the party as well as the game and as long as the garlic fries, beer and Irish coffees are being served, no one is really going to let their daubers down until the seagulls start circling late in the game when all hope is lost.

AT&T is equipped with pretty much everything you’ll need except a phone booth, but somehow the Giants part-time starter/long reliever had found a place to change into his Superman costume, and when Petit arrived on the mound the whole place was ready to sing “When the Lights Go Down on the Cardinals.” Petit didn’t disappoint, striking the side out in the fourth and hurling three shutout innings. The Giants, meanwhile, scored runs the more traditional way on RBI singles by Buster Posey and Hunter Pence to cut the lead to 4-3 in the third.

Then came the zany sixth. Some have been saying that the Giants are just downright lucky in the way they score runs, and would point to the sixth as another example. But on further review these pull-a-run-out-of-the-hat innings have more to do with sound baseball than luck.

First, the Giants are putting the ball in play, striking out only 19 times in four games. Second, they haven’t committed any errors and I can’t recall any mental misplays either. Third, their bullpen has given up just three runs in four games, and all of those came in the Game Three defeat. So the Giants are doing very little to hurt their chances, while forcing the other team to play almost perfect ball. So after a Juan Perez pinch-hit walk and Brandon Crawford single puts two on and none out, Matt Duffy executes a textbook sacrifice bunt to move the runners up to second and third. Then the Giants picked on poor Cardinals’ first baseman Matt Adams. Gregor Blanco rolled a 75-footer that Adams couldn’t get to quick enough to get the speedy Perez at home. Joe Panik continued the abuse with a grounder right at the bag that Adams snared. If he immediately threw to second, he could have started the inning-ended double play. But by touching first, he took away the force at second, and his off-the-mark throw to try to get Blanco was too late. Adams also could have kept a better eye on Crawford at third, who eventually scored on the play. Posey then made in 6-4 with an actual base hit to score Blanco. Was all this bad luck for the Cardinals? Consider this: Would their pinch hitter have placed down such a perfect bunt? And if those two balls were hit to the slick-fielding Brandon Belt, would the Giants first baseman had made better plays to prevent both runs from scoring? I’m voting yes?

Yet, it must be said that there is nothing wrong with the two-run double or three-run homer. The Giants have left 34 runners on base, a huge number for four games. When opportunity knocks, sooner or later you’ve got to the answer the door, and the Giants might be well advised to cash in with a Big Fly or Big Double when the big chance comes calling in Game Five.

Just after the final out in Game Four, most fans rushed to the exits to join in the sea of red lights to negotiate their way home. But a small faction stayed back, soaking in the drama they had just witnessed as Tony Bennett’s “I left My Heart in San Francisco” drifted through the mostly empty stands. We’ve seen it all at AT&T since 2000, from the highs of the Barry Bonds Show to heartbreaking defeats and lost seasons to the euphoria of two championships. As the final chords of “San Francisco” were sounded, the remaining fans let out one more cheer, filled with confidence because they know that their team is more plucky than lucky, and that it might be enough to kick off a wild party the next night when they returned for Game Five.

NLCS #3: Giants Stick It To Cards

nlcsg3Willie McCovey was in the building, and that made the Giants’ 5-4 victory in Game Three even sweeter as they took a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series at Candlestick Park. Oh, wait. It was actually AT&T Park, although McCovey might have wondered if he was driven to the wrong building as Candlestick-like winds blasted through the ballpark. The revered Giants legend had been fighting a serious leg infection for weeks in the hospital, and his return became not only a feel-good story, but as it turned out, also triggered memories of one of the craziest weather-related baseball moments in San Francisco Giants history. On July 15, 1960, in a game at Candlestick against the Dodgers, McCovey launched a towering drive to deep right field. Thick fog had been rolling in, and when Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider looked up, the ball had disappeared. Instead of a long out, McCovey ended up at third with a triple. The umpires deemed the fog at that point to be unplayable, resulting in a 24-minute-delay.

McCovey’s triple in the fog may have been topped in Game Three.

This time, it was a towering blast to deep right center by the Giants Travis Ishikawa with the bases loaded that created the chaos. The ball at first looked like it was headed for the seats in the arcade, until the violent crosswind blowing from right to left field took over. Cardinals right fielder Randal Grichuk appeared to be in a fog as the wind confounded his coordinates to put him about 25 feet out of position as the ball now appeared ready to strike near the top of the 24-foot-high brick wall. Yet, he still might have had a shot at a catch if he read that the ball was being carried back into play. Finally, the ball landed somewhat innocently at the base of the wall where many an outfielder had tracked down many a long blasts in this unforgiving area of the ballpark. If the Cardinals lose the series, the iconic moment might be pitcher John Lackey’s frustrating reaction aimed at Grichuk’s misplay. You can talk all night about 25 guys pulling for each other, but when a vet like Lackey shows up a younger player like Grichuk with that type of reaction on the big stage, that is a damaging shot at team chemistry. Lackey should be reminded that Ishikawa’s bolt not only would have been a grand slam in many parks, but would have landed in the stands or smacked high against the wall at AT&T if not for the mini-hurricane.

It was appropriate based on the quirky ways the Giants are scoring runs that even a bases-loaded triple that gave them a 4-0 lead would be tainted.

The pledge: I’m ready to take the Bochy pledge. “I, Joe Konte, will refrain from first or second guessing Giants manager Bruce Bochy as long as wears the black and orange.” Do you care to join me? In Game Three, Bochy makes one minor, minor, minor change in the order, moving Ishikawa to seventh and Brandon Crawford down to eighth. Now, everyone else was looking for a major, major, major move that would have dropped the non-producing Gregor Blanco from the leadoff spot and possibly putting Hunter Pence up there. So of course, Ishikawa delivers the hit of the game from the seventh spot, just as Bochy planned. In the 10th inning of a tied game, weak-hitting Juan Perez twice fails to bunt over Brandon Crawford, but many would argue to have him keep trying. So Bochy takes the bunt sign off and Perez singles to left. Of course. Then up comes Blanco in his leadoff spot, and he puts down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Except Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate, in his hurry to get Blanco at first, throws the ball away, and the Giants win. Just like Bochy planned. So after all that, how am I to going make a case that Bochy erred in leaving tiring starter Tim Hudson in too long so that Grichuk could tie it 4-4 with a shot off the left-field foul pole in the seventh? I can’t. I took the pledge.

Cash grab: Most of the talk about how many millions Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval will pull in when he signs his next contract with somebody focuses on his offense. But The Panda might have snared some extra dollars as well as the ball when he gloved Matt Holliday’s smash down the third-base line in the 10th with a runner on first and two outs. That shot almost certainly would have put the Cardinals in front, and could have affected how the Giants played their bottom half of the inning. Sandoval’s defense has been spectacular much of the second half of the year. Some might envision him signing with an American League team where he could DH, but he’s looking like an everyday third baseman who not only can win a game with his bat, but can save some with the glove.

Memories: Former Giants Jeffrey Leonard, Dave Dravecky and Kevin Mitchell, stars of the 1987 squad, shared the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game Three. While it was great to see them out there to hear the grateful applause, I’m not sure if Giants fans needed a reminder of that 1987 league championship series against the Cardinals. The Giants led the best-of-seven matchup 3-2, but were shut out in games six and seven. The Giants, in fact, finished the series by going scoreless in the last 23 innings. It was, however, an incredibly close series, as both clubs finished with 23 runs and Cards had just two more hits at 56 to 54.

World Series: Here is a sneak preview of the storylines, assuming the Kansas City Royals advance. If the Giants win, it will be the matchup of the wild-card survivors. If the Cardinals win, the question will be how will they possibly stop the Royals running game with catcher Yadier Molina sidelined or limited because of his injury?

NLCS #2: It’s Time for Timmy

Ball-glove-base-groupThe Giants should have Tim Lincecum throw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday afternoon before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. It looks like the only chance for Lincecum to stand on the mound in the post season. The disappearance of Timmy, who would still be a Giants fan favorite even if he gave up all four Game Two Cardinal home runs by himself, is starting to get darned-right strange. What are manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti seeing in his practice bullpen sessions. Is every pitch five feet over the catcher’s glove? Is every serving landing with a thud five feet in front of home plate? Has Buster Posey, who is catching every inning, declared he is not going to catch Lincecum? Doubt that’s it, though we all remember those stories about Hector Sanchez being his favorite catcher, and nobody ever nailed down whether there was anything to any of that.

Lincecum’s whereabouts have become an issue as reliever Hunter Strickland continues to put fans in the bleachers in grave danger by allowing opposing batters to smack missiles right at them. Strickland surrendered two bombs by Bryce Harper that the tape measure wasn’t long enough to measure, and a third, more moderate clout in the NLDS. The UFOs launched by the left-handed Harper off high-heat fastballs convinced the Giants Faithful, as expressed in “What’s Bochy Thinking!” phone calls to sports talk shows, that having Strickland go against power lefties was unacceptable. Bochy, who apparently hasn’t been listening, sent his flame-thrower out there again in the eighth in Game Two to face left-handed Matt Adams with the score tied 3-3. This is the same Adams whose three-run rocket off Clayton Kershaw is the reason the Dodgers got the rest of October off.

Strickland messed around with a few breaking balls which Adams shrugged at while keeping a straight face, knowing that the novice big leaguer couldn’t resist coming in with 97 mph gas. The ball left the yard before Giants fans could say, “Where’s Timmy?” No one was surprised at the result except maybe Bochy and Righetti. Some Giants relievers like Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo have had a special musical selection to greet them when they entered a game. Perhaps Strickland’s should by “Bye Bye Baby.” Now that might be categorized as a cheap shot at the young man who is doing the best he can. Good point. Two years from now, when the Giants return to the post season after sitting out another odd-numbered year, Strickland could well be the club’s overpowering shut-down closer who’ll enter the game to the tune of “Classical Gas.”

But for now, how about giving us a taste of Timmy? One of those street entrepreneurs who sets up shop outside AT&T Park could make enough money to buy a luxury suite for the World Series by making a “Let Timmy Pitch”  T-shirt. Couldn’t make enough of them. C’mon Boch, give No. 55 the ball.

No need to panic: No, this is not the 2,157th Joe Panik pun. The Cards won Game Two with four home runs. Sloppy pitching by the Giants is to blame. The Cardinals certainly might win the series, but they are not going to bash their way to the title. It would have been scarier for the Giants had the Cardinals knocked Giants pitching around for 12 or 14 hits, with three or four doubles or triples. Plus, AT&T, where the next three games will be played, will be a tough place to go deep. Speaking of runs, the Giants will need a double or triple or two in the right situation if they are to win. This reliance on wild pitches, and weak RBI ground outs for most of their offensive output is not likely to be enough over a seven-game series.

Pipe down, Peavy: Am I the only one not finding anything fun or cute from Giants starter Jake Peavy’s constant yelling and talking to himself. I’m finding the act tiresome. He’s not Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, theTigers pitcher from 1976-80 who talked to the baseball. Fidrych’s antics displayed an innocence, and it was hard to not to laugh while watching him carry out his end of the conversation. Fidrych was warm and fuzzy. Peavy is like a Tea Party member at an Obama health-care debate.

Sad injury: The loss of catcher Yadier Molina is a deafening blow to the Cardinals. Giants fans shouldn’t take any satisfaction if Molina can’t play. He is the heart of the Cardinal team, and baseball fans at AT&T could miss out on seeing one of the game’s finest perform. My favorite Molina moment came during the NLDS against the Dodgers. Molina got into it with the Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez, which resulted in the benches emptying for a non-violent waltz on the infield. A little later, Yasiel Puig made a gesture at Molina after striking out, in an attempt to reignite the bad will. The veteran Molina dismissed the young upstart with a wave of his hand, and the humbled Puig walked off obediently to the dugout.

Not fair: He didn’t seem to get much publicity on the post-game coverage, but the highlight of the game might have been Cardinal reliever Pat Neshek’s bullying of Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence in the eighth. Neshek has what might be the most jerky, quick, odd motion of any pitcher, looking like a submarine thrower and ending up as a sidearmer. The Giants sluggers were lost. Neshek went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA this year. He made the All Star team but was the losing pitcher, so it’s his fault the Cards or Giants won’t have home-field advantage in the World Series. Watching Neshek facing Pence was a weird scene. Neshek’s jumpy delivery and Pence’s perpetual motion batting stance made it look like two guys going one-on-one after downing 10 cups of coffee.

NLCS #1: The Mastery of MadBum

Madison BumgarnerWatching Madison Bumgarner carve up the Cardinals in Game One of the NLCS made me wonder whether major league baseball needs to rethink the process for choosing the MVPs and Cy Young Award winners. Instead of basing the selections on the regular season, has the time come to base the winners on the regular season and the post season. Too radical? Hey, we’re talking about a sport in which the two leagues play by two sets of rules in the World Series (DH in AL park, no DH in NL park). Ten teams now make the post season, and it’s possible for a club to play as many as 20 additional games. The post season is a superb test of the physical and mental talents of the contestants, and serves as a true test of who is the best. And think about this: We award players for the regular season, but there is no reward for the team with the best regular season record. The teams have to prove themselves in the post season to win any honors.

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the MVP, and a cinch Cy Young award winner based on the regular season. But if he’s that valuable, why is he watching the post season from his couch (that is, if he’s watching at all)? I’m wondering whether Bumgarner might have pulled away a few Cy Young votes from Kershaw with his 7-2/3 innings of shutout ball tonight if the post season was figured into the balloting. Baseball’s new commissioner should put this MVP-Cy Young award issue on his agenda.

Shutdown: Bumgarner followed in the tradition of the Giants post-season success in 2010, 2012 and this year of manhandling the heart of the order as the key to winning. The Cardinals two-through-five batters were 0-for-15. The post-season Giants pitching has been so dominant that they have held the opposition to nine runs in 63 innings. Bumgarner’s mastery earned him a major league record of 26-2/3 consecutive shutout innings in road post-season games, erasing the record of 23 innings by former New York Giants pitcher Art Nehf.

Art of pitching: The left-handed Art Nehf, at 5-foot-7, was quite a contrast to the hulking MadBum, but he knew how to get outs. Nehf established his 23-inning mark from 1921 to 1924 in the World Series, since that was the only post-season at the time. Nehf started the streak with a 1-0 shutout against the Yankees in 1921. To preserve the shutout, Nehf retired an ailing Babe Ruth in the 9th, who was pinch-hitting for Wally Pipp. Nehf blanked the Yankees 1-0 again in 1923 to run the streak to 18, with the only run of the game coming on a Casey Stengel home run. Nehf stretched the scoreless effort to 23 by blanking the Washington Senators for the first five innings in the 1924 World Series. The streak ended on a run-scoring groundout, but Nehf held on to defeat Walter Johnson 4-3. Bumgarner might not be through with Nehf yet. Bumgarner has six career home runs. Nehf  had eight, including two in one game. Top that, MadBum!

Candlestick balk: Bumgarner stumbled off the back of the pitching rubber in the seventh with runners at second and third in what appeared to be a balk, but the umpires called nothing. It might have been the biggest stumble off the mound since Giants 5-11, 165-pound reliever Stu Miller was “blown” off the mound in the 1961 All-Star Game at the Stick. Miller came in to face the dangerous slugger Rocky Colavito with one out in the ninth and two on when a powerful gust blasted the field. Miller slightly hesitated, enough for the umpires to call a balk, though urban legend has the wind burst plastering Miller up against the center field fence like a hot dog wrapper.

De-Fence: Drive for show, putt for dough. Defense wins championships. The Giants can’t get enough of the success clichés, except that in their case, the clichés are part of the business plan. Cards’ right fielder Randall Grichuk tried a Hunter Pence-like grab on a scorcher hit by Pablo Sandoval in the second, but the ball squirted out of his glove when he smashed against the wall. Pence held on in similar circumstances. Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman playing left field because the Giants still haven’t found a replacement for Barry Bonds, made an impressive diving grab of a sinking liner off the bat of Yadier Molina in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Cardinals muffed two fielding plays that led to Giants runs.

Personal foul? The Cardinals Kolten Wong bounced one to Brandon Belt who tossed the ball to Bumgarner racing to cover first in the 7th inning. Ball, Bumgarner and Wong all arrived at the bag around the same time and Bumgarner plowed into Wong just after making the tag. In today’s sensitive NFL, Bumgarner probably would have been flagged for unnecessary roughness and fined, but thankfully, physical contact is still permitted on such a play in the grand old game of baseball.

Wrapup: Fox Sports in-game interview with the Giants pitcher Jake Peavy dragged on way too long with no new insight, and was a distraction as the cameras bounced from Peavy to the game. Why do TV baseball producers think we want to watch these say-nothing interviews or kids eating cotton candy instead of the actual game? … Pre-game analysts pondered whether there was a big Giants-Cardinals rivalry. There might be, but interleague play has diluted potential rivalries against any team not in your division. The Giants play the Dodgers 19 times; the Cardinals just seven times, so little chance is left for passions and animosity to build. …The Giants activated Michael Morse for the NLCS in hopes he could get a few swings as a tryout to be the designated hitter in the four games at the American League park. .. The Cardinals added backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski to their NLCS roster. Boos will likely greet him among veteran Giants fans over Pierzynski’s volatile one-year stay with the Giants in 2004. His league-leading 27 double play ground outs earned him the nickname D.P. Pierzynski.

About the book

book jacket

From New York to California

A celebration

Author Joe Konte celebrates the historic, 100-plus years of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry with a new book, “THE RIVALRY HEARD ’ROUND THE WORLD: The Giants-Dodgers Feud from Coast to Coast.” The book, which is scheduled for release Sept. 3, 2013, focuses heavily on the West Coast rivalry, starting with the arrival of the clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1958, and ending with an expanded look at the pivotal 2012 season. The book also reports on the East Coast rivalry, starting with the first official game played between the teams in 1889. The book will be available at Amazon.com and at Barnes Noble stores and online sites.

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