One: There Is a Specter Haunting San Francisco
It’s playoff time, when the ghosts of baseball past come back to watch the ghosts of baseball future play in baseball’s present.
If you’re looking for San Francisco’s baseball past, you won’t find it in the mudflats of Mission Bay, and certainly not at Candlestick Point. It’s here: 16th and Bryant, the Double Play Bar and Grill, across the street from the scene of the first formal baseball game on the West Coast in 1859; where the San Francisco Seals played in one of the most beautiful baseball parks ever built from 1931 through 1957; and where the Giants played their first games when they arrived in San Francisco.
I’ve come here for the opening game of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series (NLCS) between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants. Winner moves on to the World Series. The smart money says Phillies in five; the dumb money says Phillies in six.
Two: The Golden Hipster
Tim Lincecum, prototypical hipster deluxe, takes the mound today for the Giants. If he was fazed by yesterday’s announcement that the Department of Justice would continue to persecute potheads if Prop. 19 wins, he doesn’t show it. The body language that stuttered in August now speaks with an eloquent and elegant grace. High or low, he’s still baseball’s Baryshnikov!
Watching Timmy and Buster Posey play catch, I suddenly get a flash of watching them five years from now, or ten. If they’re this good now…. No, can’t get distracted. Think only of the next pitch.
Three: The Next Pitch
The first two innings of the loudly hyped “pitchers’ duel” between Lincecum and Phillie ace Roy Halladay goes as scripted.
In the top of the third, having put down the first seven Giants to face him, Halladay starts off right fielder Cody Ross with a fastball a little low but close to the middle of the plate. You think it’s going to get any better, Cody? Halladay’s second pitch is a curveball that just misses. No problem, he’ll just come back with the fastball, a little inside.
The Giants’ first hit in the 2010 NLCS clears the left field wall; a home run by a guy the Giants took because they didn’t want somebody else to get him; a guy who felt, with reason, that no team really wanted him. If Cody Ross had a pity party when he came to SF, it didn’t last long.
Four: Double Play
Double Play? Don’t the Giants lead the league in double plays? Could this be construed as a bad omen? Should I go somewhere with a less loaded name, like La Torta Gorda?
This is San Francisco’s baseball museum, although gloves, hats, bats, photos and clippings, all from different eras, jostle for space on the walls with other SF sports figures and Muhammad Ali standing over a vanquished Sonny Liston, an iconic underdog moment in American sports.
Established in 1909, the Double Play still attracts the players as well as the ghosts. “He came here,” Rafael tells me, pointing to Lincecum on television, “after he signed his first contract. They all come here after they sign.”
Five: The Rodeo Clown
If he thought he wasn’t really wanted by the Giants’ team, it’s a good thing Cody Ross didn’t read our local baseball blogs. As a kid he wanted to be a rodeo clown. The bloggers thought that’s exactly what the Giants had bought.
Yes, he’s shorter than Lincecum, but he’s a feisty little guy, like Lincecum’s bulldog Cy. And he’s not funny. Ask Roy Halladay how funny it is to see Cody smack his second straight home run.
Who does he think he is? The ghost of Barry Bonds?
Six: A Game on the Line
Cody Ross 2, Philadelphia 0. If only the other Giants could hit. If only, say, Buster Posey could get a single with two out in the top of the sixth inning. And then, what if Pat Burrell smashed the ball to left field? Is it going to clear the wall? No. But it will hit the wall, as will left fielder Raul Ibanez, who can’t get a fix on the ball, so Posey comes home and the relatively fleet Nate Schierholtz replaces Burrell on second. If that happened, could Juan Uribe, would Juan Uribe, get a hit and drive home Schierholtz?
We can all breathe easy now, right? Lincecum’s got some room for mistakes. Like giving Jayson Werth a low fastball over the center of the plate. A two-run homer. Giants lead 4-3. Will Timmy fall apart? No way.
A text from Grandma Mary on the edge of the vanished Lake Dolores: “God Bless America. LOL.”
In the room off the bar, Gabe’s family is giving him an 80th birtday party. The party was not planned to coincide with the playoffs, it just happened, which is great, because Gabe and his family love the Giants.
Adam and I help the family dispose of the leftover ribs and chicken, and I’m just about to inquire as to the chocolate cake when….
Eight: Murmurs of the Heart
It’s Brian Wilson time! Wait, no, he’s early. It’s only the eighth inning. Why is he out there? A guy on the other side of the bar yells “What are you doing, Bochy?” Bochy doesn’t answer, but he looks like he’s going to get sick after Jason Werth singles Wilson’s third pitch. So much trouble does Wilson have locating the strike zone, it takes him eight pitches to strike out weak-hitting Jimmy Rollins. By that time, everyone still conscious in the Double Play has ordered double fortification.
It wouldn’t be Giants baseball, says Timothy, if they had more than a one-run lead going into the ninth inning. His friend Sarah has a heart murmur. Should she be watching?
Not to worry. Brian does it in his own way. The Phillies refuse to hit, so Wilson hits a Phillie. Just to keep things interesting. Potential tying run at first? Potential winning run at the plate? Relax, Wilson’s only building up the hopes of Philly fans so he can dash them. Right? Right.
Nine: No Wonder?
The Giants out-hit the Phillies to take Game One. A strange season has just gotten stranger. No wonder San Francisco’s baseball ghosts want to watch. Game Two on Sunday.