Pregame: The Fanatiks
Poet William Carlos Williams once wrote the crowd at a baseball game “is moved uniformly/by a spirit of uselessness/which delights them.” Could Williams have had a vision of the Giants’ “rally hair”, a grass (faux) head piece in shocking orange, advertising Kettle Chips. When filled, the seats in the lower deck will evoke a field of psychedelic dreams, or the wetlands around the Gulf of Mexico. But the crowd dutifully dons the gifted headgear as they anxiously await The Freak’s first pitch.
Inning One: The Hipster and The Freak Meet Again
Which is a strike.
When last we visited Mission Creek Ball Park, the best pitcher in the league was in the midst of an identity crisis. Hey, he’s only 25. Anyway, it was a classic struggle between Tim Lincecum, archetypal Mission hipster from suburban Seattle, and his alter ego, The Freak (aka The Franchise), winner of the National League Cy Young award two years running. Two weeks ago, Lincecum won the duel but lost the game, then, after some suitably inscrutable comments on his performance, split for Pittsburgh. Now he’s back, extravagantly laid back in the Clubhouse and during batting practice before the game.
The Freak has historically pitched lights out against the A’s, but the A’s crushed the Giants the last time they met, and the A’s pitcher tonight, Gio Gonzalez, has been improving throughout the season.
The first pitch, a freaky fastball fora called strike. The next two pitches are balls, and the pitch after that, Mark Ellis slams into the left field corner for a double. Rookie phenom Buster Posey makes an phenomenal throw to nail Ellis at the plate, but the A’s push across a run following two Lincecum pitches in the dirt. He ends the inning with19 pitches, which sounds like Tim Lincecum; however 14 of them were strikes, which sounds like The Freak. It’s 1-0, A’s.
Inning Two: They Knew Their Baseball — When Sober
During the last half of the 19th century and most of the 20th century, the Mission was home to baseball in San Francisco, and some of the game’s more intense fans. In the early days, there was no seating, so fans had to stand the entire game, which did not keep them away. After the Big One in 06, baseball returned to the Mission with a real stadium, Recreation Park on Valencia between 14th and 15th. According to our local historians at FoundSF “a section of the bleachers, roped off with chicken wire became known as the ‘booze cage’.” Fans who watched the game from the “cage” were reported to have been loud, rowdy and even abusive to opposing players. But they knew their baseball and their booze; for the price of admission, customers were entitled to a shot of whiskey which seems a better marketing gimmick than orange Rally Hair.
The Freak puts down the side after Posey dives for a sharp line drive down the first base line, then flips the ball to Lincecum for the out while flat on his back.
Inning Three: Welcome Pat Burrell
Pat Burrell, the newest Giant was a solid player with the Phillies for nine years before going to Tampa Bay where he washed out before landing on his feet in Mission Bay. Over the last seven games he has been hitting as well as anyone on the team.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez has been throwing a lot of balls but because the Giants aren’t hitting, it doesn’t seem to matter. But with two out, Juan Uribe uses up nine Gonzalez pitches before he walks. And Pat Burrell looks at an inside fastball, then clobbers a changeup over the wall in left, just inside the foul pole. In three innings, the Giants have scored twice as much as they scored last time they played the A’s.
Inning Four: Rivals
Giants fans don’t have a rep for rowdiness. I say this to a guy who’s an A’s fan, who tells me the only time there are fights in Oakland is when there’s a Giant’s game. And what about those epic bleacher fights at Candlestick whenever the Dodgers come to town? He and his friends would line up to watch the fight in the bleachers.
Inning Six: A Clicking Battery
Although his pitch count is up, so is his nastiness factor. After a 1-2-3 inning at the top of the sixth, the Freak is working smoothly from the mound, deceptively fast, deceptively strong. He stands straight, body tensed, muscles coiled like Michaelangelo’s David in the instant before slinging his shot. Thirty thousand orange heads stand and cheer.
In the bottom of the sixth, the sky turns purple, pink and dark coral blue. Bengie Molina hits a two-run homer. Sometimes you can tell by the sound when ball hits bat. This is one of those times followed by a single orange scream from thirty-thousand voices breaks before the ball even reaches the fence.
Inning Seven: The Dynamic Duo Plus One
Yes, the Giants acquired Pat Burrell and brought up Buster Posey, but manager Bruce Bochy also put the intensely kinetic Andres Torres leading off, followed by Freddy Sanchez; a move that helped ignite the Giants’ sleeping offense. Torres walks; Torres runs when Sanchez doubles; Torres dives home when A’s relief pitcher Tyson Ross throws a wild pitch; Torres dances back to the dugout as Posey smacks a triple to deep center field driving home Sanchez. Right, Posey is also a Giant alarm clock.
Postgame: A Freaky Night
Plastic orange hair, the Giants collecting nine hits including two home runs, and The Freak working his way back to reality. Just like clockwork, if the clock were one created by Salvador Dali. And the fans? “Fanaticism?” asks poet Marianne Moore. “No. Writing is exciting/and baseball is like writing./You can never tell with either/how it will go/or what you will do.” Or even, what you might wear.