July 3, at Nationals (9-3 loss)
From now until the end of time, any Giants' series in D.C. will refresh bittersweet memories for me.
You see, two years ago I received a most-expenses-paid trip from to D.C. for work purposes.
My trip ended up lasting two entire months, during which time I attended a Nats/Orioles game at Nationals Park (this was the game before Nyjer Morgan's infamous center field tantrum for mistakenly thinking he knocked a fly ball over the fence).
Let me tell you: that ballpark is fine. If it were a woman, you'd be buying her drinks and wondering "if (she) had a map...cuz you were getting lost in (her) eyes."
It easily outshone the revered Camden Yards, at which I witnessed an Oakland A's road win two weeks later.
The Giants were due to hit town July 9 facing Stephen Strasbourg at the height of his phenom. If I wanted to fly back home to San Jose on the company dime, however, I had to bounce on July 7 when my assignment ended.
Try as I might, I could not finagle the finances required to extend my hotel stay on my own dime, PLUS game and plane tickets (I did a lot of expensive touring up and down the East Coast). The only reason this is even bearable today is the fact that the Nats blew the Giants out.
But I'm not here to talk about the past.
Tim Lincecum was the series-opening starter for S.F., fresh off two quality starts versus Oakland and the Dodgers. As alluded to in a previous article, the Dodgers' start felt like Tim's turning point.
It had the numbers, the energized crowd, the symbolic crowd-pleasing play at home plate. True, first-place Washington doesn't appear to be a pretender this year (13 games over .500 entering the series despite a combined 57 games played by Jayson Werth/Mike Morse and aching Ryan Zimmerman's worst year ever by far ) but they're no juggernaut. If Jason Hammel can fire eight shutout innings against them in late June, why couldn't Lincecum give Bruce Bochy six innings and three runs?
Because it's just not going to be his year. In all of #55's poor games/innings this season, this one was the worst.
All-Star Ian Desmond--now 9-for-11 career against Tim Lincecum--hit a home run off him that I can only describe as "fierce".
Desmond was all but standing ON home plate when he connected. Opposing pitcher Jordan Zimmermann drove a pinata-esque curve down the line for a double. Lincecum is not supposed to be a comfortable at-bat; he's a guy just wild enough to keep guys from treating the batters' box like a lawn chair.
Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, young Kerry Wood—-these guys were not only successful because of their top-flight stuff, but also because hitters never knew if the next pitch would be on the black or in their ribs because the pitchers didn't always know, either.
One could make the argument that batters' box discomfort alone accounted for a full point off their lifetime ERA's. It certainly factored in 2007-2011 Lincecum's success.
This year, his wildness is either into the heart of the plate, two feet directly above it, or two feet in front of it. Not a lot of guys have been afraid to dig in against Timmy since Opening Day and these cocky, young Nats—long removed from their bastardized Expos days—personified that emphatically Tuesday.
There's only one logical explanation left: following the Goodfellas creed. As a "main guy" Tim Lincecum was untouchable without the consent of all the rival managers, who finally decided during the off season that the Giants' ace had dominated long enough.
* Stay 9; you may see something you've never seen before: Washington's Danny Espinosa cracked one off the wall that caromed hard into the hands of Angel Pagan. I used to see it all the time in EA Sports baseball games, but never in a real game, off a standard-sized wall. Kind of weird, like when a catcher gets crossed up.
July 4 at Nationals (9-4 loss)
Independence Day baseball in the nation's capital—no better time for a ballgame, and hard to believe that MLB went 33 years without one. At this time I'd like to use this forum to beseech MLB to always have the Nats at home on 7/4, like the NFL's Cowboys and Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
Madison Bumgarner was not the same pitcher who one-hit the Reds six days ago, heaping birthday gift upon birthday gift to the Red, White & Blue after a strong opening two innings (after which he led 3-0 as have most opponents who've faced Ed Jackson this season).
Zimmerman and Morse went back-to-back yard against him, and backup C Jhonatan Solano added another soon after. (I really wish this unconventional spelling trend in MLB would fizzle out already. It's not easy on us writers.)
A final home run came off the bat of Rick Ankiel, who continues to toil in the majors in spite of annual rapidly declining production. While he can still make some sick throws from the outfield, his offensive numbers have fallen faster than the hitters he inadvertently knocked down during his final days as a pitcher.
Offhand, I cannot recall another player retaining "name" status based on such a passing flurry of success (late 2007) longer than the 32-year-old Ankiel has (although Mike Krukow went out of his way to compliment his perseverance and character during today's broadcast). If you can...let's hear 'em.
(For the record, it's nothing against Rick; I've just seen many careers in slower decline end far sooner.)
July 5 at Nationals (6-5 loss; especially painful)
This one hurt. I'm the reason Matt Cain and the Giants blew a 5-1 lead to Washington, who completed a three-game sweep in undramatic walk-off fashion.
You see, I'd been planning to catch the entire game via DVR late at night, but when work ended sooner than expected, I made the awful decision to join the live broadcast, which was then in the top of the seventh.
Pagan had just tripled in Pandoval from first with the Giants' 5th run. In the 90+ degree heat, the big fella was soaked in his own juices. With Pagan on third and 0 out, a 6th run seemed a given, but Stammen and his slider/changeup K'd Belt and Arias and got Cain on a weak grounder. (I didn't know at the time that SF had blown prime scoring chances in the 4th and 5th innings as well.)
Cain would go on to surrender back-to-back homers to Desmond and Espinosa in the bottom of the seventh—when was the last time that happened against Shotgun?—followed by three straight hits off reliever Jeremy Affeldt to draw the Nats within a run. (Convinced I was bringing bad luck, I shut live TV off at this point.)
The final hit came courtesy of 19-year-old Bryce Harper, he of incredible talent and a questionable rep. A rep partially earned, a rep partially grown from his development in the Internet era in which the accidental crunching of a snail can unleash a nationwide flood of judgmental blogs and Tweets and screaming middle-aged men before the shoe is even rinsed off.
I want to like this guy. He's fun to watch and he plays for the Nationals, who'd been irrelevant far too long and needed talents like Harper and Strasburg more than any MLB franchise but Kansas City.
Harper gave us "That's a clown question, bro," which was a refreshing departure from the average athlete's rehearsed, teleprompter answers—and a triumph for those of us who cover pro sports and are smart enough not to ask "clown questions".
I've read and watched numerous features on Harper; the guy's got just as many people calling him a good, misunderstood kid as a (bleeping) jerk...or worse.
But then he'll do something like he did in the eighth inning today, and openly look the 3B ump in the face and curse after a check-swing went against him on appeal. True, the call sucked, but after Harper's reaction, I sure didn't feel sorry for him.
Back to the game:
Santiago Casilla endured a disastrous ninth, allowing the first four Nats to reach (one via his own error) and tie the score.
Still, he almost wiggled out of trouble with the game tied, inducing a potential double-play grounder from the tough Adam LaRoche. But 1B Belt couldn't handle defensive sub Brandon Crawford's bounced throw.
Just like that. Game over.
I have to give props to Davey Johnson's team for handling its victory in proper fashion; all too often in this era teams go completely bananas on the field after any and all walk-off wins: throwing helmets, tackling dudes, running on the field at 100 MPH as if Game 7 of the World Series had just been decided. Not all women are good mothers, not all cholesterol is bad, and not all last at-bat wins are exciting.
The Nats didn't really win this game so much as a couple of bad bounces gave it to them.
Harper, who scored the winning run, let off a simple fist pump. His mates walked on the field to congratulate both him and LaRoche, and that was that. They've done it before, and it shows.
* Stay 9; you may see something you've never seen before: Espinosa got plunked by Cain, but no base—he swung at the pitch. Then he fouled one hard off his leg before Cain put him out of his misery with a backwards K. A very rough at-bat—I've never seen one quite like that. (Later in the game Espinosa happily allowed a high and tight Sergio Romo offering to bounce off his elbow guard, securing the proverbial "last laugh".)
* Sincere shoutout of support to Dave Righetti, longtime Giants pitching coach who lost his mom last week and left the team. I met Rags at the KNBR/Giants FanFest 2009; he could not have been any nicer if he worked for the Peace Corps.
The Giants wore their classic New York Giants unis, while the Nats wore throwback Senators garb...Ross Detwiler, today's starter, won a spot in the Nats' rotation this spring over 2011 Opening Day starter John Lannan--who was demoted to AAA as if his 122 starts for Washington over the previous four seasons never happened...Washington RP Henry Rodriguez throws gas ; he made Justin Christian appear amateurish in his eighth inning at-bat. No, this is not the 1996 Ankiel-esque sensation Henry Rodriguez from the franchise's Montreal days...although both of them are synonymous with the strikeout...for the first time in a long while, I got to see Krukow "eliminate" a fan who was utterly disinterested in a nearby foul ball...Freddy Sanchez (first shoulder, now back) will spend the entire 2012 season on the disabled list. JD