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    Giants Baseball Experience

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    The Latest Book From Giants Author Dan Fost

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    Here comes 2014!

    Giants Baseball Experience coverI love the arrival of spring, and all the hope it brings that a new year — even-numbered! — will cleanse the pain of the last one. (I also hope a good rainfall will come along for the cleansing, to end California’s drought.) While 2013 was decidedly painful for the Giants, I see plenty of signs for a turnaround in 2014.

    Pablo Sandoval is lean and motivated.

    Tim Lincecum is ready to complete his reinvention as a crafty pitcher, instead of a fastball chucker.

    Tim Hudson is here to help Lincecum — and he can still deal.

    And those are the three and four starters, behind the horses Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

    Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford keep improving; Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are healthy; Buster Posey and Hunter Pence anchor the meat of the order; and Michael Morse has arrived to make sure there are no weak spots. The bullpen is deep (love Sergio Romo!); the bench is capable (lurve Hector Sanchez!); Bruce Bochy is the best in the business.

    And best of all: I have a new Giants book coming out!

    The Giants Baseball Experience: A Year-By-Year Chronicle From New York To San Francisco will be published by MVP Books and will be available April 3. I’ll set up a new Web site, and start planning events. The last time I had a new Giants book out — with Willie Mays on the cover, naturally — was 2010, and we all know what happened then!

    Farewell to 2013

    The Giants (and I) ended the 2013 season in fine fashion and high spirits, and I don’t think either of us wants to wait too long for 2014.

    In the case of the Giants, according to Mercury News beat writer Alex Pavlovic, “they went 20-14 after August 24 and finished with wins in 10 of the final 15 games.”

    Joe Konte's new book, "The Rivalry Heard Round the World: The Giants-Dodgers Feud From Coast to Coast."

    Joe Konte’s new book, “The Rivalry Heard Round the World: The Giants-Dodgers Feud From Coast to Coast.”

    In my case, I attended three games in the last week of the season. In my first, the Giants lost to the Dodgers, but they kept it close, they won the next two, and we were treated to the spectacle of Brian Wilson‘s ignominious return to San Francisco. I had the extra pleasure of attending with my friend Joe Konte, who is not only the man who has organized my season ticket group since Pac Bell Park opened in 2000, but is now also the author of the fabulous new book on the Giants and Dodgers and their long enmity for one another, “The Rivalry Heard Round the World.”

    With Rivalry Day approaching – wait, didn’t you know that Oct. 3 was Giants-Dodgers Rivalry Day? On this date in 1951, Bobby Thomson hit his famed home run; in 1962, the Giants again won the capper of a three-game playoff against the Dodgers, this time when Stan Williams walked Jim Davenport with the bases loaded; and in 1993, the Dodgers beat the Giants on the last day of the season in what we know as the Salomon Torres game, and the Giants lost the division championship to the Braves. And on Oct. 3, 2013 – as in, tomorrow – Joe Konte will appear at Books Inc. in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood to regale the crowd with even more tales of the rivalry. (It will help put the latest sordid episode into context as well.) I saw Joe’s event at Book Passage in Corte Madera, and he was a wonderful storyteller. (Buy his book!)

    My next two games were Friday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 29. The Giants beat the Padres in both. Friday night, Hunter Pence won the Willie Mac Award as the team’s most inspirational player. Last season’s winner, Ryan Vogelsong, turned in a strong effort. I hope he makes it back next year.

    Then, after the Giants rewarded Pence with a big contract – yay! – he showed what he’s capable of, turning in his first walk-off hit as a Giant as the team came from behind to beat the Padres on Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday. It was a glorious afternoon at the ballpark, highlighted by two moving displays: An ovation for Giants fan Bryan Stow, who came out to the ballpark, and an overdue ovation for Barry Zito, who shared his love of the fans. Three years ago, such mutual affection seemed impossible; fans chafed at Zito’s poor performance under his massive contract. But Zito proved himself a class act, first accepting a sideline role in the 2010 playoffs, and then rebounding with a strong 2012 season and some series-saving performances in the postseason. Redemption is sweet, and Zito, with all his struggles, seemed less like a glamorous millionaire athlete and more like one of us as he doffed his cap and touched his heart.

    I can’t say enough about how optimistic I am for 2014. I love a pitching staff anchored by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Tim Lincecum!) I love that Buster Posey is locked up for years – he is our Derek Jeter. I love that Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford emerged as bona fide big leaguers, and will continue to improve. I love that Pablo Sandoval showed, if only briefly, that he can lose weight and regain his stroke. I love that Sergio Romo can go a whole season as a closer. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Javier Lopez!) I love little things – the return of Angel Pagan, the emergence of Yusmeiro Petit (the next Vogelsong), the clutch hitting of Hector Sanchez, the willingness to spend big on Pence and possibly other free agents. And I love that the Giants never quit, and managed to escape the cellar and finish in third place, after all their struggles. Thank you, Bruce Bochy!

    The Giants’ failure to defend their World Series championship probably means the end of the line for my incredible run as the author of Giants Past and Present. I still have some of the 2012 World Championship editions to sell (email me for a signed copy!), but there won’t be a fourth edition.

    I have, however, put the finishing touches on a new Giants’ book, the Giants Experience, which will be out in the spring. It will be a big, beautiful coffee table book that will sell for $35. I’ll set up a new Web site for that! (You can get a sense of what it will be like by checking out Tyler Kepner‘s Phillies Experience.)

    Thanks to the Giants, who in yet another season of Torture have reminded us how sweet those world championships really were, and to all of you, for reading and supporting me on this wonderful ride.

    A Dandy Day with Juan Marichal

    Left to right: Juan Marichal with my family: Betty Barker, Harry Barker-Fost, Dan Fost

    Left to right: Juan Marichal with my family: Betty Barker, Harry Barker-Fost, Dan Fost

    It barely seemed possible. MVP Books, publisher of Giants Past and Present, also published last year Juan Marichal: My Life From the Dominican Republic to the Hall of Fame. And now they had an offer: Would I like to do a book event with Juan Marichal?

    It did not take me long to agree to that. We set it for this past Friday, following the Giants’ home opener – 6 pm at the Barnes and Noble in Emeryville. And there was one more request: Could I give Juan a ride to the event?

    The stage was set for a magical afternoon. I immediately bought three tickets for the opener, in the left field upper deck. I needed to figure out how I would connect with Juan. It would have to be in an area accessible to the public, since I do not hold a media credential that would get me to his seats. As it happened, I do have a favorite place to meet people outside AT&T Park, one far less crowded than the Willie Mays statue.

    The Juan Marichal statue.

    How many living people have statues erected in their honor? I had visions of posing for pictures with 75-year-old Juan Marichal, next to the statue of 25-year-old Juan Marichal. Juan with his feet on the ground, Juan with his leg virtually vertical.

    Of course, I knew it couldn’t happen that way, and Juan confirmed it: He said he couldn’t go to the statue after the game, or the crowd would never let him get away from it.

    Somehow, I maneuvered my car to the gate next to the statue (making a dubious left turn past a sleeping traffic officer at Parking Lot A), and waited. Juan and his wife, Alma emerged, along with Gaylord Perry and his wife. I was able to escort Juan into the car, and head into what I feared was going to be a traffic nightmare. But fortunately, we made it to the Bay Bridge easily enough and were in Emeryville in short order.

    It was amazing how easy it was to talk to Juan. We asked him all kinds of questions, and he just let the stories spill out: About the 16-inning shutout he pitched against Warren Spahn, about his 54 shutouts, about his 244 complete games. About players in the steroid era, about modern five man rotations and deep bullpens and pitch counts.

    Before I knew it, we were in Emeryville. About 60 people came to the store, and Juan fielded a wide variety of questions. His answers ranged from inside baseball stories, to poignant life lessons.

    Some of the highlights:

    • On the 16-inning game: “After nine innings, my manager, Alvin Dark, told me that’s it, you’re done. I said, I am not coming out of this game. After 14 innings, he said, that’s it, now you’re done. I said, ‘Do you see that guy on that mound there?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That guy is 42 years old. I’m 25 years old. I’m not coming out until he comes out. No one is taking that ball away from me.’ That was really dumb!’”

    Finally, after the 15th inning, Marichal said to Willie Mays, “Chico” – because Mays called everybody “Chico,” Marichal called him that as well – “I don’t know how much longer I can go!” Mays told him, “Don’t worry, Chico, I’ll win this for you.” And then, with one out in the 16th inning, Mays blasted a solo home run to win the game, 1-0.

    Marichal had thrown 227 pitches. After that game, he said, “That was the only time in my career I did not have to make my next start on three days rest. I got four days.” A few years later, he said, he pitched a 14-inning shutout, only to lose to the Mets on a Tommie Agee home run.

    • My friend Susan Hutcher asked a great question, and Marichal gave a tremendous answer. She wanted to know how a pitcher can remain calm, when all eyes are on him. Such pressure must be nerve-wracking. The answer: “Confidence,” Marichal said. And he told this story. “When Barry Bonds played for the Giants, I used to see other managers walk him when there were no outs, or walk him with the bases loaded. They’d rather let one run score than four runs. If a manager ever told me to walk someone with no outs, or with the bases loaded, I’d have given him the ball and said, ‘You do it.’ I’m out there to try to get hitters out.”

    • The Giants fans at the bookstore, myself included, had a good time hooting and jeering a Dodger fan who showed up, but Juan calmed the crowd down. “I finished my career with the Dodgers,” he said. When he joined the Dodgers, Johnny Roseboro called a press conference and told everyone to welcome him to the team. He told how he and Roseboro became lifelong friends, and Roseboro came to visit him in the Dominican Republic.

    • Marichal thinks teams baby their pitchers today because they pay them so much money. “Justin Verlander signed a contract for $180 million. They want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.” Why didn’t Marichal get hurt? He felt that throwing so many pitches made his arm stronger. In his words: “I threw a lot of rocks as a kid.”

    • As a pitcher who claims to have hit .500 — 11 for 22 — with runners in scoring position — Marichal must hate the designated hitter, right? Wrong! “We had Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, and had to trade Orlando because we couldn’t play both of them, and he won the MVP,” Marichal said. “I would have let one of those guys hit for me.”

    • When he was called up to the Giants, Marichal had just pitched a great game in Sacramento for AAA Tacoma, and was ready to go to the AAA All-Star Game, where participants would be given a watch. “I was excited to be called up, but sad that I wouldn’t get the watch,” he said. Orlando Cepeda introduced him to his new teammates. He couldn’t believe he was shaking hands with Willie Mays. “It was my privilege to play with the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays,” he said.

    • As the event was winding down, and Juan signed the last of the books, a group of young men in green LOMA sweatshirts sidled over. It was the baseball team from Point Loma College in San Diego County. Juan graciously stood and chatted with them for 20 minutes. “Nothing is impossible,” he told them. “I came from Laguna Verde in the Dominican Republic, to Santo Domingo, to Michigan City to Springfield [Mass.] to Tacoma to San Francisco to Cooperstown. If I can do that, anyone can do that. Nothing is impossible.”

    If I can somehow find a way to write a book about the Giants, and they win two World Series, and my book goes into a third edition, and I get to spend a day with the greatest San Francisco Giants pitcher of all-time riding around in my car, telling baseball stories and selling books alongside me, then I have to agree with him: Nothing is impossible.

    New edition of Giants Past and Present coming next spring!

    Lots of great news here at “Giants Past and Present” world headquarters:

    This photo of Willie Mays (left) and Dusty Rhodes joking around after beating the Indians in Game 1 of the 1954 Series ran with Dan Fost’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 4, 2012. Mays’ catch off Vic Wertz saved it; Rhodes’ homer won it. Photo: Anonymous, ASSOCIATED PRESS / SF

    I will be updating “Giants Past and Present” to include the great stories of the 2012 World Series Champions! The third edition of the book should be out by Opening Day 2013. I will organize some public events and look forward to celebrating another Giants championship.

    If you have any ideas of photos that belong in the book, please let me know! My own favorite is the photo from this post of Marco Scutaro, joyfully drinking in the rain in the waning moments of the clinching seventh game of the NLCS.

    In addition, I contributed a few articles to the San Francisco Chronicle’s fabulous 72-page commemorative section on the champs that ran Sunday. My stories:

    How do these Giants compare to other great Giant teams of the past? They may not be as great as the Willie Mays-Willie McCovey teams of the 1960s, but with two titles in three years, they may rank even higher. Bill Kent, the leader of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, who has seen a few great Giant squads in his day, said this year’s model had the most guts.

    The Giants’ success starts on the farm. The Giants managed to win a World Series without going out and signing a bunch of high-priced free agents, a rarity in the modern era. The biggest free agent on the team was Barry Zito, who we had come to think of as the biggest bust before #rallyzito won him a new place in our hearts.

    Giant relics from 2012 World Series heading to Hall of Fame. And wouldn’t you rather see the bat Pablo Sandoval used to hit two home runs off Justin Verlander, instead of that Barry Bonds baseball that some knucklehead branded with an asterisk?

    And, not that this has anything to do with me or my book, but I had a lot of fun watching Ashkon Davaran‘s new Giants’ video, “We Are the Champions” and thought I’d share it here. (Video is embedded below.) Ashkon’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” video defined the Giants’ run through the 2010 postseason. Falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found another pretty funny Giants’ song, “SF Giants Style,” a parody of “Gangnam Style,” the song that took over AT&T Park this fall.  It is great to be a Giants’ fan.

    Speaking of songs at the ballpark, I was excited to learn that the Fist Pump Granny is actually Giant executive Mario Alioto‘s mother!

    World Champions – again!

    It is almost as hard to believe it now as it was in 2010. Did the San Francisco Giants really win the World Series? You’d better believe it.

    If it’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it’s got to be true!

    If 2010 was a team of castoffs and misfits, at least it was a veteran club, and one with dominant pitching. The 2012 Giants seemed like a bunch of kids, and the arms all seemed to fade as the season lurched to a close. The word I heard the most from the Giants this year was “grind.”

    Even as the playoffs started, the Giants did not carry any air of inevitability, or invincibility. Falling behind the Reds, and then the Cardinals, the season could have ended at any moment.

    Until, suddenly – dramatically – for the second time in the post-season, the Giants got their wake-up call. It was an unlikely time. Barry Zito, who had not looked good against the Reds, got the call as the stopper in St. Louis. He gave up three hits before the Giants had one.

    And then Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval singled, and with one out, Hunter Pence hit a weak dribbler back to pitcher Lance Lynn, and the Giants got the sort of lucky break that defined this entire post-season – and, I suppose if you believe in these things, defined the Giants as a Team of Destiny. Lynn threw to second base, and there was no one there. He tried to hold up his throw, and it hit the bag. Scutaro scored. Another out, another couple of singles – one on a beautifully planned bunt by Zito – and the Giants were on their way to a 5-0 victory. They would never lose again in 2012.

    About those lucky breaks the Giants caught, whether it was Johnny Cueto leaving Game 1 of the Cincinnati series, or Angel Pagan‘s grounder hitting third base against Detroit (again with the base!), or Gregor Blanco‘s exquisite bunt, stopping incredibly inside the chalk. Include in those the sloppy defense by the opponents in every series, and then consider: the Giants made no such blunders.

    And that’s by design. The Giants are built around pitching and defense. It makes sense, when you think that pitching wins games, and defense is a big part of pitching. Manager Bruce Bochy could have played Xavier Nady or Hector Sanchez in a quest for more offense, but he knew the formula. If you keep the other team from scoring, you don’t have to score too much yourself.

    In building that type of team, General Manager Brian Sabean also built just the right lineup for AT&T Park. The best defenders are not necessarily sluggers in the Barry Bonds mold. Instead, Sabean acquired and promoted contact hitters, who can spray the ball into the gaps. Players like Melky Cabrera, Pagan, Blanco, and even Pence, Buster Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Sandoval all fit this model. With Scutaro in particular showing the virtue of taking pitches, and not striking out, the Giants were built for the modern post-season.

    The Giants had one more ingredient: Heart. It sounds like a cliche. It is said of nearly every team. (Well, maybe not the 2009 Yankees.) But consider some of the stories on these Giants – and not just overcoming the Brian Wilson injury or the Cabrera suspension. Instead: Ryan Vogelsong, wandering baseball’s wilderness for years before he came home to San Francisco and became a bona fide star. Scutaro, the very definition of a journeyman infielder, earning the nickname Blockbuster as he turned into Ty Cobb when he arrived on the Giants in July. Zito, never living up to his massive contract, but suddenly becoming a consistent winner. Tim Lincecum, losing his magic touch, but happily accepting a role as a middle reliever, and becoming unhittable once again. Posey, coming back from the most devastating (and unnecessary) injury this side of Joe Theisman to become National League MVP. And plenty of other players – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Crawford, Pence, Sandoval – putting plenty of other struggles behind them for the sake of the team. I have to believe even having guys like Nady, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot just in the dugout cheering (never mind scoring the winning run in the clincher, as Theriot did) had to help.

    Without these guys, there’s no parade in San Francisco on Halloween.

    Nicely done. And thank you. Every one of you.

     

    World Series, baby!

    I almost did not recognize my San Francisco Giants when they started this postseason. And I’m not referring to the complete changeover in the starting eight from 2010 – with only Buster Posey remaining. (Pablo Sandoval rode the pine in that historic postseason.)

    Marco Scutaro drinking in raindrops in 2012 NLCS Game 7

    What I was wondering, less than one month ago: Where was the Torture? The Giants clinched the West so early, the world seemed upside-down.

    But through the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants have shown that even though they have so many new cast members, they all know the script: Torture.

    Having fallen behind two games to none against the Reds, the Giants managed to come all the way back. They proceeded to drop three of the first four games to the Cards, and once again won three straight to take the pennant.

    Memo to Bruce Bochy and the boys: Please just win this next series early!

    I had great fun the other day discussing this and other weighty matters on Michael Krasny‘s excellent program Forum on KQED. (Krasny graciously said that “Giants Past and Present” is “one of the best books about the Giants.”)  You can listen to the show here:

    The show opened with Giants’ President Larry Baer, and you could really hear how much fun he’s having. Larry is a lifelong Giants fan in his dream job, and you can’t help but smile every time you see him. Then Michael led a spirited discussion with me, KNBR’s awesome Marty Lurie, and San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy. I sure learned a lot listening to those guys – especially when Marty told us that, however bad Pete Kozma played shorstop for the Cardinals in the NLCS, he was not as bad as the Washington Senators’ Roger Peckinpaugh in the 1925 World Series, who made eight errors! (Another highlight: Marty let me try on his 2010 World Series ring – and it is a thing of beauty!)

    One thought I had that I did not get to share: As we discussed the Giants, and beautiful AT&T Park, I wanted to give props to General Manager Brian Sabean for building a team perfect for its ballpark. Instead of going out and signing home run hitters, who only get frustrated with the park’s wide open spaces, Sabean brought in gap hitters like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco. You could put Melky Cabrera in there too (even though we don’t really like to talk about him any more), and it looks like it’ll be a good fit for the Brandons – Belt and Crawford. Need I say Buster Posey?

    And maybe, if Hunter Pence hits more line drives like his famed “triple double” from game 7 of the NLCS – the ball that hit the bat three times – instead of swinging for the fences, the Giants will have the ingredients necessary to foil those big bopping Tigers.

    After all, Marty Lurie viewed Pence’s lucky-breaking line drive as karmic payback for Willie McCovey’s smash that ended the 1962 World Series. No one could have hit that ball any harder, but it went straight to the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson. Pence’s ball curved away from Kozma, and the Giants were in business.

    It’s good to be good. But sometimes it’s better to be lucky.

    Even if it’s a little Torturous.

    Orange October

    Kruk and Kuip know Torture when they see it. (Thanks to the Facebook group, “Giants baseball… torture.”)

    Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.

    For one thing: Where is the Torture?

    And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?

    The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.

    No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.

    The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.

    I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.

    And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.

    One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:

    Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.

    It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.

    Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.

    He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.

    I can’t wait to see what they do in October.

    Torture, again

    My son and I in the stands at AT&T Park on May 6, 2012 - a "Torture" classic in which Giants closer Santiago Casilla coughed up a ninth inning lead to the Brewers, only to see the Giants win it in the 11th on a Hector Sanchez bases loaded single.

    Nearly two months into the 2012 season, I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of what we’ve got in this year’s Giants team. It both pains and pleases me to report that we are not yet ready to retire the label the Giants earned the past two seasons: Torture.

    Yes, Torture with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Bochy…. And Brandon…. And Bad Hitting and Bungled Baseballs. Yet another season of stellar pitching is at risk of fizzling in a .500 rathole because the offense and the defense don’t adequately support the aces on the hill. The Giants’ staff is the envy of baseball, and if you doubt that, think of it this way: What manager wouldn’t want his biggest pitching problem to be – Tim Lincecum?

    Plus, injuries keep threatening to sink the season before it even gets rolling, whether it’s Brian Wilson going down for his second Tommy John surgery, or Pablo Sandoval showing a new disadvantage to switch-hitting by breaking the same bone in his left hand that he broke in his right hand last year.

    So while so many of my fellow fans sink into that funk of watching our version of the Mudville Nine rally only to lose again, I see the potential for another glorious 2010-type season. In fact, think of how torturous 2010 really was. For starters, 2010 was the year Duane Kuiper hung his sputtering Torture moniker on the orange-and-black after an endless supply of nail-biters.

    That season’s opening day lineup included names like John Bowker, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. (Good guys, but do any fans miss them?) In 2010, the Giants trailed the Padres nearly all year (and the 2010 Pads were a better team than the 2012 Dodgers, in my opinion – much better pitching, fueled by a lights-out bullpen). Pablo Sandoval suffered not only a sophomore slump, but threatened to become the Kung Fu Hippo. And remember August? Just when you want your team to make a stretch run, the Giants’ pitching staff began to unravel. They led the league in walks. Lincecum went through the first prolonged struggle in his charmed career.

    And we never really came to love Edgar Renteria until his very last game in a Giants’ uniform.

    Happy endings like 2010’s enable us to forget all the struggles that comprise a baseball season. Before a game I went to last year, Giants’ coach Tim Flannery addressed a crowd of Little Leaguers, telling them that the secret to baseball success is “tricking your mind into staying positive.” In 2010, he pointed out, the world champion Giants lost 70 games.

    Maybe I’m just tricking my own mind here, but I find a lot to be positive about in 2012.

    • First, and foremost, Buster Posey is back and better than ever.
    • To our great relief as well, Buster at last has a backup, Hector Sanchez, who can really hit. It feels fine whenever Bochy wants to give Buster a rest, or a day at first base.
    • Melky Cabrera is a true major league superstar – and Pablo Sandoval is on his way there. Angel Pagan is solid, speedy, and a team leader. (I’m biased toward Angel, since I just wrote a story about him for the Giants magazine – look for it at the ballpark this summer.)
    • Melky and Angel aren’t the only great additions. Gregor Blanco is a revelation. Joaquin Arias fills the utility role nicely. Ryan Theriot is a great guy to have on the bench.
    • Bruce Bochy is getting comfortable trusting his young guys, and Brandons Belt and Crawford are starting to come around. (By-the-By, what is it with the Base-Ball Giants and the initials BB? From Bobby Bonds to Barry Bonds, from Bob Brenly and Brett Butler to Bruce Bochy and Brandon Belt, we love shooting BBs here in Baghdad by the Bay. Then again, Brian Bocock couldn’t carry the bat of old New York Giant Hall-of-Famer Beauty Bancroft.)

    I love Giants fans, but I do find it funny that they complained so long to “Free Belt,” yet they show as little patience with the miscues of youth as they used to accuse Bochy and Brian Sabean of having. You can’t have it both ways. We are spoiled by guys like Posey and Sandoval, who hit well right from the start, but instead we ought to consider the example of Melky Cabrera, who struggled and bounced around for years until he found his stroke last year in Kansas City.

    So don’t get down. If the 2010 Giants could rally from 7.5 games back on July 4 – to say nothing of forbears like the 1951 team, which was 13 back on Aug. 11 –this year’s model can certainly overcome a May deficit. It may take some more Sabean midseason magic. It may take some help in getting the Dodgers to fall to earth. It may require the folks at Dignity Health (cue Renel: formerly Catholic Healthcare West, the official health care provider of your San Francisco Giants) to restore both dignity and health to a team that needs both.

    Whatever it takes, though, remember this: With a second wild card this year, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. And once in the playoffs, pitching can carry you a long, long way.

    Right Timmy?

    RIP, 2011 baseball season

    The funny thing is, we thought 2010 was “Torture.”

    We could laugh about Torture when the Giants managed to win the World Series. But in 2011, we became re-acquainted with our old friend Torture when the Giants suddenly stopped winning all those walk-off, one-run ballgames. It seemed they just stopped scoring runs, period, and the challenge of stringing together three hits in a row became an insurmountable obstacle.

    And 2011 truly defined Torture, Giants-style, with a seemingly endless array of injuries. None hurt more than Buster Posey’s season-ending loss in that eminently avoidable crash at home plate back in May. But it was equally painful to see rock-solid Brian Wilson go down, and Pablo Sandoval’s fabulous comeback momentarily derailed. And of course it turned out Freddy Sanchez never did vacate his room in the Hotel Disabled, moving right back in on schedule. (Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, those injuries I can forgive.)

    I admire the way the Giants never gave up. I like that Brian Sabean brought in Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger. (Orlando Cabrera, I was not so crazy about. I understand why Brandon Crawford couldn’t stay – you don’t want a rookie falling into a double digit batting average and thinking he will never hit big league pitching – but if you have to hire a shortstop who can’t hit, couldn’t you at least bring back Omar Vizquel?) I liked that the team stayed in the race til the final week.

    Hey, I liked that the Atlanta Braves collapsed and the Diamondbacks never showed anything too dominant, enabling that race to linger.

    But it sure has been Torture watching a postseason without the Giants, especially one in which the starting pitchers all seem highly inferior to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. I have to feel our guys would be giving any team in the playoffs a good run once again, if they’d only gotten there.

    So now I’ve tossed this year’s Sporting Greens into the hot stove, and am ready to burnish my optimism for 2012. Re-sign Beltran. Get the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – into a big league boot camp all winter. Make Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill battle it out for first base in Spring Training. Sign Coco Crisp. (Let the A’s have San Jose in exchange for some Moneyball mojo.)

    The Giants are not too far from putting together another run at the title. I cannot wait until Spring!

     

    A modest proposal

    Now batting: Brian Wilson drives a Gatorade jug deep to the end of the Giants' dugout, as clubhouse manager Mike Murphy ponders the cleanup operation to follow. (Photo by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

    Under the rules of baseball, the statisticians the winning pitcher to be the guy who is in the game when the winning run scored. I would like to suggest, in this era of SABRmetrics, when the win has already been devalued (see Hernandez, Felix), that the rule be changed.

    The clearest example of why this should be is last night’s San Francisco Giants game. Madison Bumgarner pitched a beauty against a devastating Detroit Tigers lineup — 7.3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 earned run. But then in the eighth and ninth, Brian Wilson — and don’t get me wrong, for all the torture, I love the guy — gets two outs and surrenders 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs.

    Wilson gets the win, and goes berserk on a Gatorade cooler. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I would like to see baseball’s official scorers empowered to decide who is the winning pitcher based on merit. Lord knows Brian Wilson is not looking to pad his stats with wins thanks to all the Giants’ late inning rallies. When Bumgarner – and for that matter Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants’ aces – pitch deep into games, giving up next to nothing, they deserve a win, instead of the mediocre win-loss records that they carry around with them.

    The Cy Young voters already know this. (See also Lincecum, Tim, and Greinke, Zack.) The fans know it. The players know it. When will Bud Selig and the big league statisticians figure it out?

    (Footnote: I actually had to edit Lincecum’s Wikipedia page to show his 18-5 record in his first Cy Young season of 2008.)

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