Innings One Through Four: Streaking
Bad enough the Giants lost again to the San Diego Padres last night; this morning’s hash in the sports pages and blogosphere make things seem even darker and colder than it is outside. The gloom deepens by “losing eight of nine this year,” and then there’s “averaging only two runs per game.”
It’s as if an evil shaman has placed a curse on the Giants for all the joy they have brought to the world. It’s not until I get to the ballpark and pick up my copy of the Giants’ “Game Information” that I find a ray of sunlight: “Giants have gone 4-0 this season on bobblehead give-a-ways.”
Today’s first 20,000 fans receive a Bruce Bochy bobblehead. Free.
By the 1:10 p.m. game time, most of the fog has lifted and officially, with sun on the field, it’s a cool 61º. I wonder if the Giants’ losing streak is due to the Padres’ superiority or merely bad luck. Sure the Padres do “the little things,” but the Giants do little things, too. Do the Giants choke in Big Games? Do the Padres possess clutchitude?
One element of the Padres is notably better: Mat Latos, today’s starting pitcher. Last time Latos pitched at Mission Creek, Eli Whiteside got an infield hit. Punto. Today it looks like he’s out to equal that performance. He can throw a fastball 97 mph, which means his slider and changeup, off-speed fastballs, will be significantly slower, more tempting and more deceiving. He can dictate, and he does. We haven’t seen a pitcher like him around here for some time.
Meanwhile, the Giants send their recently post-puerile pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, to the mound. He’s good, but looks like he’s still growing. Maybe it’s his general gawkiness, but he seems more off kilter than usual. Nerves? The Padres climb all over the kid, but Bumgarner keeps it to one run. Trouble is, the way Latos is pitching, one run may be enough.
Innings Five Through Eight: Far Right
In his book “Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville,” paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould described statistical analysis, showing a variety of baseball streaks all falling within the range of what might have been expected by random distribution or luck. The one exception was Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Does this mean the Giants are due? Maybe, but not with Mat Latos on the mound. Nothing lucky about the way he’s pitching.
With Giants at second and third, Latos faces Andres Torres, one of the Giants’ best hitters with runners on base. After a 79-mph slider breaks low for a ball, Latos throws four consecutive fastballs ranging between 92 and 95 mph. With a full count, three balls and two strikes, Torres expects another fastball. He swings too early, too high, and strikes out.
In the sixth inning, Latos falls behind Pat Burrell 3-0 after throwing a slow slider and two fastballs. Burrell has been on a hitting roll over the past couple of weeks, so what does Latos do? Three more fastballs, the last one the fastest, and Burrell goes down swinging.
Meanwhile, Bumgarner has given up another run. He’s pitching well, just not well enough. I leave the press box to go where I hear the cheering begin when high notes are hit during “The Star Spangled Banner” — the far upper-right-field View Deck grandstand, Section 302.
By the time I make my way into a seat in the penultimate row, Pablo Sandoval stands at the plate in the distance below.
Behind me, a guy shouts “Throw him another ball and strike him out.”
“Honey,” the woman next to him pleads, “don’t be like that.”
He: “The dude eats too many burritos.”
She: “How do you know what he eats?”
He: “He’s got no plate discipline.”
She: “Look who’s talking.”
He: “I mean he’ll swing at anything.”
Latos has thrown three straight fastballs out of the strike zone; Sandoval swings at two of them. Listening to the guy behind me, Latos throws another fastball, this one high, and the Panda swings again — airmailing the ball into the mouth of Mission Creek for the second time in three games.
Latos leaves after Sandoval’s homer, but the Giants still need to push across another run against the best bullpen in the league. On the back of Aubrey Huff’s double, the Giants score that run in the eighth.
Innings Nine Through Eleven: The Little Things
In “The Psychology of Baseball,” Mike Stadler generally agrees with what Gould reported. Other studies also cast doubt on whether streaks and slumps are anything more than random. The same goes for clutch players and chokers, at least at the professional level, though not everyone agrees. Bill James, who made sport out of statistics, writes in “Underestimating the Fog” that just because we can’t see an underlying pattern or sequence, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It may be that the “fog” of uncertainty is too thick.
San Francisco’s fog, not uncertain, begins to roll back over the ballpark in the bottom of the eleventh. Buster Posey hits a sharp ground ball that springs past the pitcher over second, where Jerry Hairston, giving chase, kicks it into shallow center. Posey sees the Padres are confused, so he doesn’t stop at first. The crowd draws a collective breath — is he nuts? Maybe, but he’s right this time. Sandoval draws an intentional walk; Juan Uribe lines the first pitch he sees into right field; Posey doesn’t stop when he rounds third, beats the throw but belly flops on the plate anyway, and the Giants have broken the Padres’ hex!
After the game, Bruce Bochy could only shake his head: “It was a big win.”