The San Francisco Giants did everything most fans insist that they never do and came away with an important win on Thursday night, beating the Colorado Rockies 2-1, to gain a game on the NL West-leading San Diego Padres.
The Giants dipped all the way down to Double-A Richmond to recall 24-year-old outfielder Darren Ford when rosters expanded Wednesday. Ford only batted .256 with a .680 OPS for the Flying Squirrels, but he stole 37 bases and the club remembered his sparkling effort in spring training.
(For an explanation of OPS visit: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/4-18-2001-3026.asp)
General manager Brian Sabean OK'd the call to a kid without a single day of big league experience, then field manager Bruce Bochy utilized Ford's wheels the minute the kid showed up in the dugout.
Sabean thought outside the box. Bochy did the same, and most importantly, put a completely unproven kid in a pressure spot. (Bochy doesn't typically use young players, remember?)
With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, Mike Fontenot drew a walk. Fontenot runs fine. Ford, however, might be one of the fastest guys on any big league roster. Ford ran for Fontenot and broke for second, and was standing on the bag, when Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez fielded Tim Lincecum's quite average sacrifice bunt.
Bochy wouldn't bunt-and-run with many Giants, but he was confident that Ford could steal the bag if LIncecum failed and bunted through the ball.
Guys who run like Ford are bold and, boy, can they read pitches in the dirt.
With Andres Torres at bat, Jimenez threw a pitch that bounced six or eight feet to the left of catcher Miguel Olivo and Ford was off for third as soon as he saw the pitch headed for the dirt. Then, he was streaking to the plate when he saw Olivo's desperate throw to third base sail into left field.
It's hard to imagine many Giants who'd have even broken for third on that pitch. Torres, sure, and maybe Nate Schierholtz. but neither would've reached third as quickly as Ford did.
Giants 2, Rockies 1. And, the Giants are three games behind the struggling San Diego Padres in the West and just one and a half games back of the Philadelphia Phillies in the wild-card race.
How stunning was the move to call up Ford, then watch him steal a victory? Well, it overshadowed a sterling, eight-inning outing by Tim Lincecum.
While Giants fans and the media were trying to figure out how Lincecum had slumped so terribly, he quietly struck out nine, walked one and yielded just five hits against a strong Rockies lineup. Only streaking Carlos Gonzalez hit a home run off him to account for the only Colorado run.
Lincecum might be back in the groove, but the story in Wednesday's game was Darren Ford and the fact that the generally conservative, by-the-book Giants used his incredible speed in a way they've never used a player like him before.
Sabean's worst critics must give him credit for going along with recalling Ford when, really, most expected his infusion of speed to be the recall of Eugenio Velez. Even those who want Bochy to be fired have to admit he called on an utterly unproven speed-burner to bunt-and-run and is celebrating a victory as a result.
Sabean and Bochy just did something that makes incredibly good sense, though, and that's what they are supposed to do.
Ford spent all day in the air and in airports, arrived in the middle of the game—and delivered the victory.
Let's not forget Lincecum either. If he pitches like that down the stretch, Ford might have more opportunities to steal wins with his wheels.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org