The party was last night, a real blowout to celebrate the National League Championship in San Francisco. Too bad the guests of honor, the San Francisco Giants, lost to the San Diego Padres. The party was canceled, so now tens of thousands of fans dutifully trudge back along Second and Third streets to Mission Creek under a grumpy and resentful fog.
Like the fog this morning in the Mission — thick, dark and wet — that’s how many feel after watching last night’s game, especially those who look like they’ve slept in their orange and black.
But as game time approaches, the sun breaks through. That’s got to be a good omen.
Two: Barry Zito and Magical Thinking
Pitching for San Francisco today, one of the truly Giant baseball busts of all time, Barry Zito. Ever the sanguine prognosticator, Chronicle sportswriter Bruce Jenkins writes that this game will bring Barry redemption. A finesse pitcher (or a junk-ball thrower, take your pick), if Zito hits the right location while breaking his pitches down, he can certainly do well against a light-hitting team like the Padres. The key for Zito? Throwing strikes. The key to throwing strikes?
Barry was born and raised in an environment where he understood, as he told Science of the Mind magazine in 2003, “we can create through our thoughts whatever we desire in our life.” If that’s true, then either Zito has not been in a positive frame of mind since joining the Giants, or has had insufficient desire.
Earlier in the year, Zito eschewed his new age background, saying all he wanted was to excel at playing baseball. I agree with Jenkins. This is his chance.
Three: A Lesson in Little Ball
Zito has never been a flame-thrower. Like most veteran pitchers, he has learned to rely on intelligence, deception and pinpoint accuracy — not only in hitting the target but also the point where he releases the ball, which is the point that fools batters. The Padres are not fooled. A ground single up the middle, a soft single to right, a bunt, an intentional walk. And the final notes of the national anthem have not yet faded completely away.
By the time the sixth hitter, Yorvit Torrealba, a former Giant, comes to the plate with bases loaded, it is evident to more than 40,000 people that Zito has problems getting his curveball or his fastball over for a strike. Torrealba decides not to worry about the curveball; he’ll get the pitch he wants or he’ll walk. Zito prefers to walk home a run rather than give up a hit. The same sequence with the next batter sends home another run.
To the guys in the press box, Zito’s performance adds up to a lack of courage. But does it take guts, or stupidity, to “challenge” a hitter when your bluff has already been called? He gets out of the inning and I can’t help thinking that soon he will be getting out of town. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but like all Giants fans tonight, I’m angry at Zito.
Four: A Word from Juan Marichal
A kid who swears his name is Juan Marichal Mendoza stands next to me in Section 331 and tells me I’m too focused on the foibles of Zito and the Giants. “These are professional ballplayers,” he says, referring to the Padres. “They know what they’re doing.” He thought David Eckstein’s single in the first was excellent, as was Miguel Tejada’s bunt. He did concede that Zito had control problems today.
On the other hand, there is San Diego pitcher Tim Stauffer, who, like Zito, lacks an overpowering fastball. What he does have are fastballs that sink, curveballs and sliders that break for strikes, and an occasional changeup to throw off the batter’s timing. But most of all, he throws strikes.
Stauffer doesn’t dominate; he frustrates. That’s what Zito used to do.
Five: On Hero Worship
At the top of the third inning, all has not yet been lost. Although the Giants have no idea what to do with Stauffer, Zito turned in an excellent second inning, so may have gotten himself out of a hole. Oops, spoke too soon. Consecutive singles by Tejada and Adrian Gonzalez land men on first and third with no out. OK, Zito comes back and strikes out the next two guys. Then Scott Hairston hits a hard ground ball to the left side of the infield. Sandoval falls down, snags the ball, but then awkwardly misses an easy out at second. Another run scores.
The most touching sight this year: A kid takes off his Panda hat and lets it fall to the ground.
Six: The Grace of Failure
Five straight fastballs to pitcher Tim Stauffer, who leads off the fourth inning; four are balls nowhere near the strike zone. As he walks off the field in disgrace, Zito still carries himself with the grace of a Mayan ball player chiseled in stone. In some of those ancient games, winning meant death.
Seven: Saturday Afternoon Naptime
The bars, particularly on the club and field club levels, are packed by the fifth inning. The mood is sour, the silence profound; guys watch college football on their cellphones. In the sixth inning, the AV department sends urgent messages to the fans pleading with them to wave the orange rally rags they got yesterday courtesy of foreclosure giant Bank of America.
The fans decline. Are they all passed out?
Giant hitters and fans are so frustrated they boo the umpire at every opportunity, which is always. After Buster Posey is called out on strikes, manager Bruce Bochy joins the protest and gets kicked out of the game. Even in far left, Sheila can see “that ball was no where near home plate.” See for yourself.
Juan Uribe hits a solo home run in the seventh, but the Giants never make much of a threat until the ninth inning. Then, with one out, Pat Burrell doubles off closer Heath Bell, who has the physique and menace of a grizzly bear. Juan Uribe follows up with another double, and Burrell comes home on Pablo Sandoval’s single. Jose Guillen will bat. With one swing he can etch his name into Giants’ lore for however long that lore lasts. Rally rags fly. Orange waves engulf the ballpark like a 1967 acid trip.
His double play ends the game.
Does the Universe suffer? Yes. And no.
As the fog rolls over Twin Peaks and drifts down Mission Creek to the Bay, Giants’ stalwarts David and Pete walk back on Third Street singing:
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, we’ll win it tomorrow. It’s only a day away.”