Pregame: The Sun Remembers San Francisco
Memory plays a major role in producing the cultural phenomenon of baseball. MLB tries to package memory as nostalgia to sell its product, but it’s not the same thing. For nostalgia, the past is dead; in memory, and imagination, the past lives.
This afternoon’s first memory in Mission Creek ballpark involves a ceremony to remember Monte Irvin, the man who broke the Giants’ color barrier. Irvin joined the Giants in 1949 and stayed nine years, helping the team win the 1951 NL Penant and the 1954 World Series. Today, in brilliant sunlight (although a cold wind heralds fog in the near future), Giant memories Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry join in the celebration.
Today will be a memorable day for a lot of kids, including one Madison Bumgarner from Hickory, NC. At only 21, Bumgarner will start his second major-league game, his first of the 2010 campaign, against the club that currently leads the league in scoring and slugging, the Boston Red Sox.
Inning One: Welcome to the Big Leagues
Bumgarner throws five fastballs and strikes out leadoff hitter Marco Scutaro. This kid is serious. Alas, so is Darnell McDonald, who laces the last one of too many consecutive fastballs into the left-field bleachers. A deafening roar from the fans. Are we in Fenway Park? Madison Bumgarner must now face Mean Kevin Youkilis, who strides out to the batters box, appearing to literally lick his chops. Three pitches later, young Madison strikes out Youkilis and San Francisco fans roar (the Boston roar seems louder). Bumgarner walks off the field like a veteran: slowly, head down, face non-expressive (heart pounding).
Inning Two: Invasion of the Giant Snatchers
McDonald’s homer aside, Bumgarner had an impressive first inning. Let’s see if he can keep it up. He can’t. Mike Cameron hits a three-run home run to straight-away center field, immediately after which Red Sox pitcher Clay Bucholtz singles to right. It’s his first major-league hit. Buster Posey, catching today, walks out to the mound, where he is joined by the Giants infield and Dave Righetti from the Giants dugout. The message? Calm down. Bumgarner heeds the advice.
Inning Three: Spaceman Sighted in Mission
At a garage sale on 21st a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Tom Clark’s 1974 “Fan Poems,” profiles of (his) most memorable baseball players. Generally the poems are simple, sweet and succinct, like his drawings. With one exception: Bill Lee — “Spaceman” Bill Lee, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1969 through 1978. In a sport once known for its eccentrics, colorful characters and oversized adolescent egos, the Spaceman more than holds his own. On Thursday night Lee visited Lost Weekend Video on Valencia Street and told stories from his storied past. Above all, Lee was the anti-Yankee. Not only did that mean he hated the New York Yankees, but he hated the corporate buttoned-down baseball they had come to epitomize, especially under George Steinbrenner. He said the 1968 College World Series was “real baseball. We didn’t play for money.”
Inning Four: Remember It’s a Team Game
The Giants drafted Madison Bumgarner out of high school; it will be a long time before the boy doesn’t play for money. Meanwhile, his opposite number, Clay Bucholtz, another young pitcher full of potential, hyperextended his knee in the second inning on the double play. The Sox have to go to their bullpen in the second inning, which should be good news for the Giants, who are not helping out their new pitcher. In the fourth, that begins to change. Pat Burrell draws a walk, followed by a Panda single. With runners on first and third, Boston manager Terry Francona doesn’t waste time. He replaces Scott Atchison with Ramon Ramirez, who extinguishes the Giants’ rally after one run.
Inning Six: Comfort Zone
Young Mr. Bumgarner has settled down. He pitches in rhythm, and he mixes in some sliders and curves, though still serving up a steady diet of four-seam fastballs which, since the second inning, the Red Sox are not hitting. He puts down the Sox in order. What’s more, Giants hitters give him another run in the bottom of the sixth. Bumgarner is feeling it. He takes down the Sox in order again in the seventh.
Bill Lee ran for president, after he was functionally blacklisted from Major League Baseball. Had he been elected, he would have been the first anarchist in the Oval Office. Maybe he would have outlawed the fastball, which he considers “fascist.” The curveball, he says, is more “democratic,” and a much more efficient use of energy, as it utilizes and enhances the force of gravity. Lee’s favorite pitch was the one he invented, the eephus, essentially a rainbow arcing blooper pitch, which Lee said could not be hit.
Inning Eight: A Promising Sign
Giants manager Bruce Bochy removes Bumgarner in the bottom of the seventh for a pinch-hitter. Given that Bumgarner has one of the Giants’ five hits, I wonder about this move. Freddy Sanchez, the pinch hitter, dispels my doubts with a double, but the Giants leave him there watching the fog begin to drift down to Mission Bay. Bochy gives the ball to Jeremy Affeldt to pitch the eighth. I feel like a kid who wants to close his eyes at a horror movie. But Affeldt surprises; he looks good. He looks great. That should inspire one last push by Giants hitters. Two runs in two innings? Not too much to ask.
Postgame: Forget About It
Bill Lee started the seventh game of the 1975 World Series and took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning. Cincinatti Red Tony Perez came to the plate for the second time in the game. The first time, Lee had struck Perez out on an eephus pitch. Lee gambled he could sneak another one by him. But Perez remembered. BOOM! Cincy won 4-3 (though Lee was not the losing pitcher).
Giants and Red Sox meet again tomorrow afternoon, Gay Pride Day, for the rubber match.