Monday, October 29, 2012

Giants' World Series Epilogue

I grew up within a stone's throw of Stanford University, which explains my lifetime allegiance to Stanford sports.  I also went to my first major league baseball game at the age of five, at Seals Stadium, at 16th&Bryant Streets, where the San Francisco Giants played their first two seasons, before moving to Candlestick Park in 1960.

In 1962, my parents were fortunate enough to score two tickets to each of the Giants' home games in the World Series against the mighty New York Yankees.  They were fortunate, because most years, as I recall, my parents were not so fortunate.  They'd send in their check each year the Giants were in contention (which was most years), hope that they'd survive the lottery, but more often than not be out of luck.  Not this time, however.

The Giants hosted games one and two, and eventually, six and seven.  My mother and I went to game one, which the Giants lost 6-2.  My father and my older brother went to game two, which the Giants won 2-0.  My parents went to game six, which the Giants won 5-2 to even the series at three games apiece.  And in one of the greatest gestures of love I can recall from my childhood, my parents let my brother and me (ages 12 and nine) go to game seven, which the Yankees won 1-0, but not before the Giants put the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth.  I was crushed.  Heartbroken.  My dad told me, don't worry, the Giants will win a World Series in the near future, they've got Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, etc.

Of course, the Giants played 52 years in San Francisco without winning a World Series until two years ago.  And now they've won their second World Series title in three years, something only three other National League teams have done in the last 90 years.  Despite being last in the majors in home runs.  Despite losing the first two games of the best-of-five LDS against Cincinnati, at home (!), before rallying to win three straight in the Reds' ballpark.  And despite losing three of the first four games of the best-of-seven LCS against St. Louis, before rallying to win game five in the Cards' ballpark, after which they won games six and seven at home, and then swept four from the Tigers to win the World Series.

Their ERA in the World Series was 1.46.  They finished the post-season with seven straight wins, outscoring the Cards and Tigers in the process 36-7, with an ERA of 0.98.  They played near-perfect defense.

Just the sweep of Detroit was unusual enough.  Only four other National League teams have done that, most recently the Reds in 1990, and including the New York Giants in 1954--the last Giants team to win the Series before the Giants of 2010.

I'm not sure what is most remarkable about what the Giants just did.  But one thing at, or near the top of the list would have to be the first of the six straight elimination games which they won.  They mustered just one hit through nine innings, with 16 strikeouts, yet won the game in the 10th on an error by the normally sure-handed Scott Rolen.

Post-season heroes?  Too many to mention here.  But just to start the list, you'd get few arguments if you put Marco Scutaro and Sergio Romo at the top.  The Giants traded a minor league infielder to Colorado for Scutaro in late July.  All he did was hit .362 for the Giants, in 243 at bats, with just 14 strikeouts and only 17 swings and misses.  He was the hardest player to strike out in the majors this year, and he swing-and-miss frequency was the lowest in the majors.  And then he hit .328 in the post-season, saving the best for last--a two-out, two-strike RBI-single to center in the 10th to win game four of the World Series.

It took awhile, but Romo eventually inherited the closer's job vacated by the season-ending elbow surgery for Brian Wilson.  And Romo delivered the goods.  He had 14 saves, a 1.79 ERA, allowed only 37 hits and 10 walks in 55 1/3 innings, with 63 strikeouts.  Romo also saved the best for last, recording his fourth save of the post-season (with an ERA of 0.84) by striking out the side in the bottom of the 10th of game four, including Triple Crown winner Miguel Carbera on a called third strike, on a fastball, after throwing 14 straight sliders to start the frame.  Sergio Romo is very generously listed at 5-10 and 183, but that cat has guts of a burglar.

And Texas manager Ron Washington is thinking to himself, my Rangers may have lost the World Series in five games to the Giants two years ago, but they've got the only win against the Giants in two of the last three World Series, covering nine games.  The Giants have been that hot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tim McCarver

It's no secret that Fox baseball analyst (and former all-star catcher) Tim McCarver is not hugely popular among fans of the San Francisco Giants.  Either that, or it's simply that my esteemed colleague Stan Bunger has complained so much about McCarver, for so many years, that I've concluded he speaks for the majority of his fellow Giants' season ticket holders.

I, on the other hand, have no particular axe to grind with Mr. McCarver.  He's not my favorite TV baseball analyst, by any means, but I don't wince in the slightest when I see that McCarver is in the broadcast booth for a network game I'm about to watch.

Having said that, McCarver made so many interesting observations--some actually true--particularly during the first few innings of game 2 of the National League Championship Series, that I decided to chronicle those observations, and perhaps come to some conclusion afterward.

Top of the first:  After Matt Holliday's controversial slide over second base (he actually started the slide beyond the bag), in a successful effort to take out the Giants' Marco Scutaro and prevent the double play, McCarver immediately said that Holliday's slide was an inappropriate slide, if not technically illegal.  McCarver said that breaking up the double-play is as old as baseball itself, but that one is supposed to begin one's slide before reaching the bag, not after.  Sounds obvious, I'm sure, but almost instantly after the bang-bang play, seeing Scutaro on the ground in obvious pain, it was reassuring to hear from McCarver that what I had just seen was not the way the game is supposed to be played.

Bottom of the first:  As Angel Pagan was rounding the bases, after belting a leadoff homer, he was congratulated by third base coach Tim Flannery, after which he saluted his teammates in the Giants' dugout.  McCarver incorrectly observed that Pagan had just saluted the Cardinals' dugout, perhaps in response to the Holliday slide.  Oooops!  McCarver's play-by-play partner Joe Buck eventually corrected him, but not before leaving him out to dry for a minute or so.

Chris Carpenter gave up only the one run in the first, but labored to the point of throwing 26 pitches, during which McCarver noted that he was off three-to-four miles on his fastball.  Good piece of information, and a sign that this might not be Carpenter's night.

As the Giants were continuing to bat in the last of the first, putting runners at first and second, with two out, McCarver noticed Ryan Vogelsong pacing in the Giants' dugout, and said that Vogelsong was doing so because he was excited about the rally, and hoping that the Giants would keep the inning going as long as possible.  In fact, as anyone who is familiar with Vogelsong knows, the Giants' right-hander was thinking about only one thing, and that was how he was going to pitch to the Cardinals in the second inning.  Vogelsong has often said that he would prefer to take the mound as quickly as possible after each half inning in the dugout, that he has no control over how many runs the Giants score, and that the one and only thing he can control is shutting down the opposing team.  So that is the only thing he is focused on while he's still in the game.

Top of the third:  Before the inning began, three or four umpires were conversing in the outfield, including the crew chief Gary Darling.  McCarver immediately speculated that they might be discussing what their response should be in case the Giants retaliate against Holliday for the slide.  Good call.  I was wondering what they were discussing, and McCarver brought up a good possibility.

Top of the fourth:  As the discussion of the Holliday slide continued, McCarver suggested that the only way to firmly discourage such a slide would be to immediately eject the player from the game.  A more common reaction by umpires in such a situation would be declare the hitter out, completing the double play, which they did not do after the Holliday slide, much to my surprise.  But McCarver was saying that in addition to that, throwing the offending player out of the game would be much more effective in the long run.

Bottom of the eighth:  After Gregor Blanco was nearly doubled up trying to get back to first base when Brandon Crawford lined out to center, the Cardinal infielders were yelling at umpire Bill Miller that first baseman Allen Craig had tagged Blanco out on the shoulder.  It was obvious that is what they were saying because of their gestures.  And yet, McCarver said the Cardinals were arguing that Blanco should have been called out for running out of the imaginary base line.

Overall, McCarver made a few mistakes, but that's inevitable for anyone who spends three hours in a broadcast booth, announcing a baseball game.  I know, from experience.  Should he make fewer, given his many years of experience?  Perhaps.  But McCarver made enough cogent observations so that I was able to further appreciate and understand some of the nuances of this particular game that I might not have been able to otherwise.