Archive for October, 2006

…. I’m still hungry

The Giants have chosen Bruce Bochy to replace Felipe Alou, a safe, boring and conventional choice that does little to make me feel like we’re heading for a fresh, new approach. I hardly expected Sabean and Magowan to take a real risk, so I’m not the least bit surprised, but I sure would have liked to have been. For all intents and purposes, Bochy is a Michael Tucker/Shawon Dunston of managers, which is to say, business as usual at Pacbell.

The first step towards 2007 leaves me wanting more.

…. Let’s get Serious

. They hit better, (they were like 15 for 50 with runners on), and they pitched better, (the Mets were like 4 for 50). Twice, in Shea Stadium, the teams went into the 9th inning tied, and both times the Cards hit home runs and won, while the Mets took called strike threes. The Cards seemed to have tougher at-bats, made better pitches, I mean, overall, they were the better team.

As for Game Seven, I’d say that I was surprised that the Mets took so many first pitch strikes from Suppan, never seeming to adjust to the aggressiveness of the Cardinals game plan. I was definitely surprised to see Beltran take strike three with the season on the line. But, in the end, the Cards were better.

Lupica gets it right, with this season-ending piece:

…. The Mets had one last chance in the bottom of the ninth, had a great chance to make that inning like the bottom of the 10th against the Red Sox 20 years ago. Valentin got the hit he didn’t get in the sixth, Chavez got the hit he didn’t get in the sixth, Paul Lo Duca walked with two outs. Beltran at the plate. Heilman at least tried to make a pitch.

Beltran watched the season go by with the bat on his shoulder. He went to the dugout. The Cardinals go to Detroit for Game 1 tomorrow night.

That seems a little harsh, but I will say, I sat here and said to all the people in the room, the minute the count went to 0-2, “He absolutely HAS TO SWING, at any pitch remotely connected to the strike zone. I was expecting him to battle back to 2-2 or at least foul a couple off. But Wainright was able to do what the Mets pitchers were not; finish a hitter off. Beltran seemed to have no chance, really. Even though the Mets loaded the bases, Wainright never seemed to be in trouble, right? Didn’t it seem that way? Seemed like even the guys who got the hits weren’t really hitting him hard And think about what happened then. Game Seven, 9th inning, bases loaded, one out, up two runs, and LaRussa not only didn’t pull him, it never even occured to me, (or Fox’s announcers, really), that he should have.

It really was a great game, and a pretty damn impressive series.

And let’s not forget that before Pujols pulled that oblique, the Cards were looking like the best team in the NL, after coming out the gate something like 31-13. They pulled it together just in time, and they pitched their asses off against the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Mets pitching staff gave everything you could possibly give, with the injuries to Pedro and El Duque. They just didn’t quite have enough. Seemed like the Cards had a lot more 8 and 10 pitch at-bats, at-bats where the Mets pitcher simply could not get strike three, (whoever it was, it hardly seemed to matter). At the same time, there were many Mets at-bats that seemed like mistmatches, where the Cardinals pitcher had the upper hand, (again, whoever it was seemed irrelevant).

Perhaps Randolph could use a strategist on the bench, someone to be his Zimmer. I don’t know, maybe it was just execution. One thing’s for sure, that was a hell of a series, and a hell of a Game Seven.

…. Seventh Heaven

The Mets and the Cardinals play a Game Seven tonight, (8:00 EST), and it should/could/oughta be a slug-fest, given how far these two teams have taken their respective pitching staffs.

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It’s been an entertaining, fairly well-played and managed series. The Cards try to make it two WS appearances in three seasons, while the Mets try to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their unforgettable 1986 win.

Can Oliver Perez pull another rabbit out of his hat, or will Jeff Suppan hopes to continue an impressive second half? Must see TV, indeed.

…. More in common

Dusty Baker removed Russ Ortiz with a 5-0 lead, after Ortiz had allowed consecutive dribbler singles to start the 7th inning of Game Six in the 2002 World Series. Ignoring the season-long success Ortiz had had in just such a situation, Baker chose to bring in Felix Rodriguez, one of the hardest throwing, and most successful relief pitchers in all of baseball, to face Angels first-baseman Scott Spiezio; a slightly better offensive first basemen than JT Snow, which is to say; a mediocre hitter. One could hardly have faulted Baker for making the switch.

Speizio was a switch-hitter, like Snow (for most of his career), and had slightly better power numbers batting lefty than righty, but little else to offer as a southpaw. I remember it like it was yesterday. As the at-bat began, Tim McCarver immediately picked up on the fact that the Giants, that Rodriguez and catcher Benito Santiago, were pitching right into Spiezio’s strength as a left-handed hitter. McCarver came right out and said it; Spiezio, his team down 5-0 in the game, 3-2 in the series, two men on, 7th inning…. had but one goal: hit a home run. He also said that the Giants were playing right into his hand, by pitching him down and in. The at-bat had to be at least 10 pitches; and as Felix pounded the same location, over and over, McCarver said, over and over, that they were playing with fire. Down and in, down and in, pitch after pitch; McCarver must have said it was a mistake about twenty times. We all know how that turned out, right? Nobody who pays attention to baseball could ever forget what happened that night, that at-bat, right?

Wrong. The Mets just lost Game Two of their NLCS with the Cardinals, largely because, apparently, no one associated with the organization this season was alive in 2002. Leading 6-4 in the seventh inning, two outs and one man on, after getting him into an 0-2 count by throwing up and away; the Mets decided it was time to stop that old “shit that’s working” routine and get creative. “Let’s pound Spiezio down and in for about ten fucking pitches in a row,” is what they decided to do. How great is that??!!! Let’s go “outside the box.”

What was extra special great was that, once again, Tim McCarver was the announcer. So, we got to watch, as McCarver not only reminded us that everyone in the AL West knows that Spiezio likes the ball down and in when batting left-handed; and that they’ve known that for, oh, I don’t know, something like 8 years; he also reminded us that he’d already told us that, out loud, on national TV, four fucking years ago!!

Oh, but that wasn’t great enough. No, then we had to watch as FOX showed us THE FUCKING REPLAY of Spiezio changing baseball history in 2002. BUT WAIT!! It gets better. Then we got to see Spiezio DO IT AGAIN!!!!! Yes, that’s right, he hit a DOWN AND IN PITCH FOR A GAME-TYING TWO-RUN TRIPLE!!!!! It was, essentially, an EXACT REPLICA OF WHAT HE DID TO THE GIANTS FOUR YEARS AGO!!!!!!!

How could that possibly happen? How in the world can a major league team’s coaching staff and managerial staff not be as well-informed as a fucking TV analyst? How in Jesus Christ Almighty can no one on the Mets have remembered what happened just four years ago in the FUCKING WORLD SERIES!!?? How could I have just sat there and watched them go after Spiezio in the same exact way the Giants did four years ago? How could that happen?

McCarver saw the mistake immediately. Immediately. He came right out and said it was a mistake, FIRST FUCKING PITCH THEY THREW TO THAT SPOT. How could the Mets not have known this, WHEN TIM-FUCKING-McCARVER KNEW IT FOUR YEARS AGO???!!!!

Horrible, horrible loss. Wagner’s folderino in the ninth hardly mattered. Spiezio’s home run in 2002 left the Angels 2 runs back. Whatever. They won the game on that at-bat. Same deal tonight. All he did was tie it up on the scoreboard, but that was a game-winning hit, no fucking doubt. With the series going to St. Louis for the next three games, the Mets are in a lot of trouble. Coming into the game, the TV guys were wondering if this was a must-win game for the Cardinals. Well, with a 6-4 lead in the 7th, it was a must win for the Mets.

Oh, and by the way, the 2-3-2 format is a joke. It’s a huge advantage for the “road” team.

…. The other side

Lupica writes about the ’86 Mets today, when they were the team that came back in a Game Six, twenty years ago:

…. It was three games to two for the Mets, but the Astros were winning Game 6 in the ninth and Bob Knepper was one-hitting them and Mike Scott, unhittable that year, was waiting to pitch Game 7 the next night. Only then Lenny Dykstra tripled up the gap in the top of the ninth and the Mets came back to tie the Astros, 3-3, and a game that began in the afternoon looked like it might go all night.

It was sometime in extra innings, maybe after the top of the 12th, when I passed Tim McCarver in the Astrodome press box, both of us running for coffee. And McCarver, who didn’t so much broadcast that ’86 season as narrate it, said, “Can you imagine what it must be like in New York right now?”

We found out later. This was before instant-everything on the Internet, and cell phones that gave you pitch-by-pitch and Palm Pilots and all the rest of it. Commuters were afraid to go home that October day 20 years ago, afraid to leave Grand Central or Penn Station, afraid the game might end while they were on their way home and they wouldn’t see it.

The pitch-by-pitch that day was passed from taxicab to taxicab on Seventh Ave. People stood in crowds, we found out when we got back from Houston, in front of appliance stores with TV sets showing the game in the front window. A baseball happy hour in New York.

Lupica gets it right, when he talks about the electricity, the passion, the mayhem. He wasn’t there, in NY, in the middle of the city that night, but he gets it right.

I was. I was there, standing on a concrete flower box in front of Parsons School of Design on, (if I remember correctly), 34th street and 5th Avenue, with a tiny transistor radio pressed against my ear. I was calling out the play by play to what started out as a crowd of about twenty people, from about the seventh or eighth inning. As the game went on, and on, and on, the crowd around me got bigger and bigger, until, at the end, in the 16th inning, there were people standing in the street, and the taxi cabs had stopped traffic, stopped NY, (if you can even imagine that happening); and there were maybe as many as four or five hundred people surrounding me. By then, by the bottom of the 16th, I was yelling at the top of my lungs, “Strike One!” Strike Two!” “Swing!…… Fair Ball! The Mets take the lead!” Like that, for about an hour and a half.

When Orosco ended it…. well, like I said; Lupica wasn’t there. He tells the story second-hand. (I’m getting goose bumps just writing about it). The people closest to me picked me up and carried me out into the street. Traffic stopped, and everyone got out of their cars, taxi drivers and truck drivers and commuters, and we all hugged and yelled and high-fived each other, and jumped up and down. No one wanted it to end, and eventually, about a hundred of us, strangers all, poured into a nearby margarita bar and got smashed. It was perhaps the most exciting sports moment of my life, and when I think about it now, the fact that I didn’t even see a replay of what happened in the game until about ten years later, it boggles my mind. What I do know, is that Lupica is 100% right when he says the Mets owned, absolutely owned NY that year. And that NLCS win, that moment in time, was pure magic, sports pandemonium distilled down to it’s essence, the reason we are sports fans at all. And I was there. I. Was. There.

The Mets had another Game Six that season, against the Red Sox. But that’s another story, the details of which I’ll share with you later, if the Mets make it to the Serious.

…. Still hungry?

I feel the same way +mia does, I haven’t cared very much about this team for most of the last two seasons. The constant carping about the evil Bonds, not to mention his transformation into Moises Alou, the disgraceful mishandling of the farm system, watching one team after another bring up exciting, young hitters, while we get one career minor leaguer after another, each with almost identical faults and weaknesses, “veteran” players with little to offer other than their history of mediocrity…. Ugh.

It’s time for a spark, for some kind of shakeup. Girardi would be a big leap; a young, edgy, FNG. Getting him some talent would help. Save the $28 million we spent on Bonds and Schmidt this year, and go get some real players. A real hitter at first base, (for the first time since I’ve been a Giants fan, wow what a concept!) a couple of young, speedy outfielders, real, quality relief pitchers; these kinds of changes would move us towards contending. Here’s a guy who would go a long way to making that kind of impact, right, Kent?

I’d also like to raise the question of what has Righetti done to earn the kind of job security he seems to have? Why not try to lure Krukow out of the booth? A stretch? Sure. But what have we got to lose here, really?

2006 4.63 ERA
2005 4.33 ERA
2004 4.29 ERA
2003 3.73 ERA
2002 3.54 ERA

Anyone else see a trend here? Remember when Pacbell opened? It was widely heralded as a pitchers park. In 2001, Bonds, by himself, out-homered every other left-handed hitter that played here, combined. Here’s how our staff has done in the new digs since then:

2006 4.35 ERA
2005 4.22 ERA
2004 4.40 ERA
2003 3.31 ERA
2002 3.03 ERA

And this is by design, by the way. Sabean decided which pitchers to trade, who to re-sign, who to go out and get. He gets grilled, (at least here, he does), and rightly so. So how does a pitching coach avoid criticism of any kind while overseeing this kind of decline? How does he not get invited to find his way out the door along with his manager? I have no idea.

It’s time for a big change. This is an old, stale team. We need youth, speed, glovework. We need a talent infusion, big-time. We need a game-changer, an attitude adjustment. One can only hope that our brain trust sees the same need.

…. Finish line

Before I get busy looking at the playoffs, I thought I’d look at the Giants.

First thing to talk about is who will be the new manager.

…. Candidates are expected to include longtime major-league manager Lou Piniella, former Giants catcher and Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly, Angels pitching coach and former Giants pitcher Bud Black, longtime Giants bench coach Ron Wotus and perhaps former manager Dusty Baker, if some burned bridges can be reconstructed.

Ron Wotus, Alou’s bench coach, will probably get the longest look, and I’d like to suggest they also look at Rags, who’s value as a pitching coach should certainly have come into question these last two seasons. His value as a company man, and his recognized ability to reach today’s player would seem to suggest the possibility of moving in a different direction.

Here’s my dark horse, (or more accurately, the man I’d most like to see take the reins), Joe Girardi. Championship player, worked under Torre a couple of seasons on the bench, took a team of nobodies as far as Alou was able to take Sabean’s “veterans.” All in all, almost certainly the best man for the job. And Sabean’s got some NY Yankee connections. I nailed it with Alou four years ago, maybe I can be right again.

As for Alou, in some ways, he did as well as he could with what he was handed. Except for the AJ “cancer” story, you never heard any bullshit from the clubhouse, backstabbing, crap like that. There have been several instances where the team has been demoralized, destroyed, or derailed. He has managed to get them back on track, rebounding like the pros they are supposed to be. This is a very important aspect of the job, and he was very good at it.

On the other hand, his handling of pitchers was pretty much as expected; which is to say, abysmal. It’s hard to know which mistake was worse; when he would leave the starters in for an extra 20 or 30 high stress pitches, or when he would use four relievers to get three outs five nights in a row. Either way, a substantial portion of the failures of the pitching staff must fall on his shoulders. There is no doubt that this was his biggest weakness, and, disappointingly, it was never really mentioned by the local press, or more importantly, the Giants brain trust. In point of fact, Sabean’s blind faith in Alou’s judgement on the use of his pitchers has to rank as one of the biggest mistakes on his shoulders.

As for the pitchers, who do we single out as a failure this season? Morris? Schmidt? Lowry, one reliever after another? I say no. As I’ve said before, there is not one Giants player that could have reasonably been expected to have performed any better than they did. If you accept the premise that Rags and Alou failed as coaches and managers, then you cannot come down on Lowry, Schmidt, Benitez, Morris, and whichever reliever you’re looking at. Many, many times, I questioned Alou’s decision to allow Schmidt to go over 120 pitches, or to let Lowry come out for the seventh, or to take out a pitcher who was cruising along to bring in a situation replacement. I believe Alou is the primary reason the pitchers were so inconsistent and, so often horrible. Morris struggled in the first inning all season long. How come no one in management could figure out a way around that?

Just look at the last two weeks. When we got to crunch time, there was nothing in the tank for virtually the entire pitching staff. Why is that? Whose fault is that?

Offensively, there’s nothing for me to say that I haven’t said a hundred times; we got exactly what we should have expected. Bonds hit 26 home runs, Durham had his best year as a Giant, while Winn balanced him out by regressing to, umm, a Winn-like level. We got nothing from first base, we got about a thousand outs from third, Alfonzo was a revelation filling in for Matheny, Vizquel continued to defy his age, Moises was hurt all year…. I mean, no one in their right mind could have thought that this team would have scored more runs than they did.

.500 team, give or take? You bet. Contender? Absurd, from minute one.

All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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