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If the Giants Can Learn To Finish, They're on the Brink of Something Big

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If the Giants Can Learn To Finish, They're on the Brink of Something Big
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Enough with watching these Giants snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and having to listen to some knucklehead impersonate a first-grade teacher and say, "There's no reason to panic. It's still early in the season."

Oh, we'll hang with the Giants through all 162 games. It's the folks who think anything short of accepting every loss gracefully is actually a show of pure panic.

Some of us realize that the 2010 Giants could have put some distance between themselves and their NL West foes by now. We don't look at the record they have and say, "Boy, that's better than we expected!" We look at the record and think about the games the Giants gave away and we fume.

We don't panic.

We know it's a long season.

We just know how important it is to take full advantage of Tim Lincecum's magic or the inexplicable games where Nate Schierholtz goes 5-for-5. (Or, of games where Lincecum was magical and Schierholtz had five hits.)

Look, we agree that this is a flawed Giants team. In fact, it's knowing that they have flaws that makes a 12-9 record entering the big three-game set against the Rockies hard to swallow.

Is it a show of panic to suggest that the Giants need to be able to beat the Phillies twice—then figure out how to keep a 4-1 lead with one out in the ninth and Lincecum on the hill?

Lincecum is the best pitcher in the National League.

He had thrown 106 pitches the other day and needed to get two outs in the ninth—before the Phillies he'd baffled all day could score three runs to tie.

The Giants had a signature Lincecum masterpiece on their hands. He is the heart of the franchise. The crowd was ready to believe that anything was possible after he just embarrassed the defending NL West champions for 8 1/3 innings.

Then, he walked a batter on four straight pitches. (Yes, we realize they were high. And, we know that the average pitcher who misses high is showing signs of fatigue. There's just nothing average about Lincecum.)

Juan Marichal was 25 years old in 1963 when he dueled Warren Spahn through 15 1/2 scoreless innings. Willie Mays homered in the bottom of the 16th. The Giants won 1-0.

Lincecum's 25 right now and he got the hook in favor of Brian Wilson after throwing 106 pitches. One media type actually said, "Sure...leave Lincecum in to finish that game...then come and see me when his arm's hanging off in September!"

Bullnutz!

Marichal threw 225 pitches that night in 1963. He skipped his next start, just to be safe. Then the Dominican Dandy came back to dominate the National League for seven more brilliant seasons. (Spahn was 42 years old. His arm didn't fall off after 16 innings either.)

No one was worried about Marichal's arm that night in 1963. So, it's tough to yield to the beliefs of the touchy-feely types who fear for Lincecum's health.

It's impossible to let their voice rule the day. And, because we feel that Lincecum should've finished does not mean we're in a state of panic.

Wilson came in and walked a batter, suffered some bad luck on that looper that landed on the foul line to clear the bases.

The Giants blew a chance to finish a win that would've further defined Lincecum's reputation as the stud of all studs and the guy to whom the club can hitch its wagon when everything is on the line.

That's the type game Lincecum has been groomed to start, dominate and finish.

So, never again!If Lincecum's not pushed well past a reasonable pitch count, the guy deserves to win or lose his own games. Period. Talk about the reasons that going to Wilson made sense...but, nobody is ever a better alternative to Lincecum with the game on the line.

The Giants can afford to fritter away a game like that.

It doesn't matter if KNBR types are chuckling about how the Giants are going to lose heart-breakers in a long, sometimes painful, playoff run. There was no reason to lose to the Phillies on Wednesday. There have been other games they've lost that are no easier to swallow simply because they've won more than we expected.

Getting greedy has nothing to do with feeling panic after a loss that appeared for all the world to be a win.

Eugenio Velez has tools that few Giants possess.

He can run and flash power at the plate. If he can't catch a routine fly ball like the one he dropped Wednesday, how many bases must he steal and home runs must he hit to help more than he hurts the club?

His speed can kill—and has killed the Giants a couple of times. There's a reason that the New York Yankees haven't signed Usain Bolt to pinch-run. It doesn't matter how fast a guy runs if he doesn't run based on situation and score.

Velez has run into boneheaded outs that breaks one of those baseball rules like, "Never make the first out of an inning at home plate."

So, don't buy the notion that fans are going to have to live or die with Velez in left field or running the bases like a runaway wind-up toy. John Bowker can catch every routine fly ball in left field. He can't run like Velez, but he doesn't run the bases like the Cub Scout who's making his baseball debut at summer camp either. And, if it helps sell the idea, Bowker's got longball power, too.

There was a point late last year when Fred Lewis botched a routine fly ball and some of us said, "He has to go! That's it! He can undo eight wonderful innings from a starting pitcher with that glove of his." On Wednesday, the Velez misplay that enabled the Phillies to plate the eventual game-inner became a he's-gotta-go situation.

The Giants need Velez to run or hit off the bench?

Why?

Whatever he can do is lost in a sea of silly mistakes. Bowker has enough power to pop one out of the blue without ever missing a routine fly ball or just running blindly into an out.

(There's a slightly better trade market for Velez than there was for Lewis. The Giants could get a minor leaguer in a trade—a minor leaguer who is actually identified. They dealt Lewis for a player to be named later.)

The Colorado Rockies are in town over the weekend for a big early NL West series. Given that the Giants have played better than expected overall, they should be 1 1/2 games ahead of the gifted Rockies.

The Rockets are going to get red-hot soon. They'll blow past the Giants in the process if the locals can't finish a sweep against a Phillies. And, the Dodgers won't play .364 baseball all summer. So, some of us see reason to worry because the Giants have played well but are only 4 1/2 games up on a Dodgers team that's struggling mightily.

The Dodgers and Rockies won't get worse. The Giants might fall off precipitously, so they should do what they can to win while the other contenders are struggling.

There's no panic involved. It's common sense. Win while you're playing pretty well, because there will be a long stretch where losses are well earned by ineffective hitting and weak defense.

Don't argue against recalling Buster Posey from Fresno. Brad Penny said the Giants made his job easier by refusing to work the count and by swinging at first pitches. Posey works the count and he puts the ball in play. And, here's betting he would've caught that fly ball that Velez missed...even if somebody had handed Posey an outfielder's glove at the top of the inning, said, "Hey, do your best" and sent him to left field.

Posey's a gamer. He knows how to win.

Recalling Posey's not a panic move. It's a savvy response to the weaknesses the club has shown. The Mets recalled their No. 1 prospect to play first base. Giants official Larry Baer said Posey's recall is not at all based on his arbitration clock or money. So?

Aubrey Huff's hitting .227. Don't tell me that it's too early to tweak the lineup.

If the No. 4 hitter's struggling, it's "panic" to suggest Bengie Molina hit fourth and Huff drops down to No. 6?

Finally, the club has shown the ability to really fight back. So, more Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler to keep a deficit to a minimum would be in order, too. A two-run lead should stay at two, you know?

A club that gets giddy at the prospect of Andres Torres getting one or two hits probably has no business thinking about the playoffs. But, the Giants are different. If Torres gets a clutch hit or two with Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain or Jonathan Sanchez pitching well—it could win a game.

And, just because we figure this Giants team will be in contention and that every win needs to be locked away, rather than frittered away, doesn't mean we're in a panic.

We just realize that this could be a magical season.

--

Ted Sillanpaa is a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area sports writer and columnist. Contact Ted at tsillanpaa1956@gmail.com.

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