Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Be careful what I wish for

Don't say I didn't warn me:
I know I said I didn't care if the Giants didn't win the World Series again, because they'd won two in the last three years. But I didn't realize how hard it would be watch them play like mortals.
— Shawn C Turner, June 4, 2013
Still true.  But even I couldn't imagine, a month later, how horribly true.

Here's how bad the Giants are: When the July 4 game in Cincinnati was rained out, Giants and their fans were happy.

That's right. The 2012 World Series champions now look poised to lose any game. Maybe poised isn't the word.

Though thousands of little crying kids were deprived of the most American of spectacles — baseball on the Fourth of July in Middle America on the banks of the Ohio River, with baseball's first professional ballclub, a century of rivalry, $14 hot dog in one hand, $4 glove in the other — Giants fans were ecstatic.

Imagine that.

Just hours ago — this morning, in fact — the Giants lost to the New York Mets 4-3 in 16 innings. Except for its length, the game was a tableau of Giants woes stretching back to the last time the Giants showed their championship mettle …

(Cue flashback sequence …)
That was May 26, when Angel Pagan won the game on a walk-off, inside-the-park homerun.

The crowd went, you know, wild.

Then Pagan went lame, injuring his hamstring so badly in that play he needed surgery and will be out for the season, depriving the team of his leadoff strength and rangy centerfield.


His centerfield play wasn't all that spectacular before he got hurt. At times he played as if he was on the visiting team, unaware of the quirks of AT&T Park's jagged outfield walls. He was prone to diving for fly balls that squirted past him, and overthrowing the cutoff man to try for the big putout, giving up runs instead when the ball rolled away.

Replacement outfielders inherited these horrid habits, as last night's game attests.

In quick time injuries plagued Giants starters, keeping one, then another, then several out for weeks. Though defense tightened up for a while, ineptitude bubbled up again and the Giants resumed making plays champions wouldn't make, much less professional players who train every day to account for every possibility on the field of play.
(An aside: I cannot possibly imagine what it's like to fail in front of 41,644 people  counting on you not to fail. I solemnly acknowledge I'm taking for granted how difficult it is to do what these players do. Not that I think they should be paid so highly for it, but that's another post for another day …)

It was as if Pagan's departure cast a spell — a curse! — on the Giants …
This morning's 16-inning game showcased the most curious of the Giants' problems: Somehow, almost all of the Giants hitters have gone cold.

Not just one or two hitters … almost all the hitters have gone into a slump. The exception is catcher Buster Posey, who got five hits in eight trips to the plate, including a two-run homer in the first inning. But the Giants didn't score again until the seventh, and couldn't push a run across the plate for nine more innings.

First baseman Brandon Belt, dubbed the Baby Giraffe for his limber galumph, went 0 for 8 with five strikeouts.

(I've been scrambling to compile the stats that would lay out in grand panoply just how bad the Giants have been, but that's really all that need be said: Posey keeps on hitting, but everyone else is woeful.)

Pitching is not as bad. The late-inning loss masked Tim Lincecum's surprisingly strong performance as he kept the team in the game; fans and analysts have been wondering for a couple of seasons what happened to Lincecum's ever-slowing fastball, and whether his small frame and wildly gymnastic pitching motion have worn him down.

But too many times the Giants' starters have been surprisingly bad, pitching impressively in the first inning, but then doing everything but announcing their pitches to the batters by megaphone in the succeeding innings.

Though I'm not experienced enough to remember another championship team that suddenly went so wholesale cold, I doubt there are many.

A guy I work with sometimes, who slips me Giants' scores when I can't be near a radio to get updates, told me he's no longer following the Giants because they didn't make the crucial changes before the season to strengthen the team.

Wait a minute: The Giants have kept almost all of the players from the World Series team. Sounds like a good plan to me, as it did to the general manager and the fans. Who expected almost the entire team to go bad at once?

Even the managers and coaches fell down, accidentally batting Posey out of order against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday. His run-scoring double was negated, the batter for whom he was wrongly batting was called out, and Posey then batted next in his proper order — to hit a grounder for the final out instead. No score.

The Giants' announcers have fallen into an annoying habit of wishful broadcasting. With the Giants down four runs in a late game, for example, a Giants batter would get hit by a pitch.

"And the rally started with a fastball to the ribcage …" announcer Mike Krukow would say.

I feel their pain. They're trying to keep an even but upbeat tone. They want to broadcast wins. For now, fans still fill the beautiful ballpark, entertained by their loveable losers. They're just waiting for the Giants to do whatever it is to realize their talent and play like it.

So are we all.

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