“Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.” – Samuel Beckett, Endgame
A one run difference in a low scoring game. The L.A. Dodgers lead the San Francisco Giants 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. In the bleachers, Giants fans chant “Beat L.A.,” drowning out whatever it is the Dodger fans are chanting. No fights. No trash talking. Make noise, not war.
It’s the first game of the last week of the season. LOUDER the Jumbotron implores. The fans give it up. And then some. Mission Creek Ballpark rocks.
Is it 2010? 2012 (before the world ended)? Low-scoring games decided by one run. The kind of baseball that produces playoff teams and championships. The kind of baseball, win or lose, that produces ulcers, heart attacks, brain farts and a noble suffering. We called it “torture” in 2010.
It’s 2013, and the torture this year has been decidedly not funny. The Giants lose low scoring or high scoring games by one run, or more — many more. What happened? Were they really that good? Are they really this bad? How could things go so awry?
Matt Cain on the mound. Our ace. Pitching is the core of manager Bruce Bochy’s system. This year, the pitchers, starters and bullpen, have fallen far below the standards set from 2010-2012. The fielding too, has suffered notably. And the hitting? Well . . .
Bottom of the ninth, tight and tense. Cain, who got rocked early in the year before finding his “stuff” has pitched well, giving up a couple of solo home runs. The Giants are in a position to win. Up steps Brandon Belt. According to Bruce Bochy, Belt is the most improved Giant player this year. After a dismal start, Belt currently ranks 14th among National League hitters based on wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average), a statistic purported to measure a player’s total offensive production. Belt hits an unproductive ground ball to second. One out.
Buster Posey, ranked 20th, last year’s Most Valuable Player, walks up to the plate. In only his third full season, at age 26, he moves like he’s 62. Currently mired in a slump that seems an abyss, Posey has been chasing pitches tonight like they were butterflies. It’s painful to watch. But wait! Posey connects on a cutter and lines a rope into right field. Speedy Francisco Peguero replaces Posey on first.
And here comes Hunter Pence. Not only the Number 22 hitter in the National League, but the closest creature to a centaur you are likely to encounter outside of Disneyland. Half horse, half man, Pence strikes out on four pitches. Two outs.
The one pitch Pence did not miss, missed everything; a wild pitch sending Peguero to second where Pence leaves him for Pablo Sandoval to drive home. The only panda ever to win the World Series MVP, more roly than poly, swings and misses a pitch that is so high it almost hits a seagull. Strike three. Game over.
Not the season in a nutshell. But close.
Who can say what went wrong in 2013? How does a team that has won the championship two of the last three years, fail to even compete? The breakdown is systemic, not one position, not one player. Maybe the world did end last year. Or maybe the players — and coaches — are simply tired.
Most pundits agree that fatigue, caused by two long championship seasons, played more than just a bit part in the breakdown. Physical fatigue results in streaky performance and injury, while mental fatigue results in poor decisions. The Giants have had plenty of all three. Finally this month the San Francisco Somnambulists have begun to resemble the team we thought we knew. Are they (too little too late) getting into sync? Or like horses, do they smell the barn close by?
Everybody’s tired, said Bruce Bochy after the game, meaning not only his team, but everybody in the league. Or, possibly, everybody. Bochy himself had a hard time keeping his eyes open during the press conference that followed the game.
But if tired is no explanation, one has to drill down into the weeds of offense, defense, wOBA, RISP, OPS, etc., etc. Warning! Baseball statistics can be hazardous to personal relationships. They also make you drowsy.
The Mission is baseball’s spiritual home in San Francisco. We know the routines, the changing seasons, the passing years and the fickles of fortune. We have suffered this year. That’s baseball. What else is there?
Yes, just when you thought things could not get worse this year, they might be getting better for next. Before dozing off, Manager Bochy informed the press that Zito will start tonight’s game. One last curve ball into the fog of his surreal stay in San Francisco.
It’s finished. It must be nearly finished.