Innings One Through Three: Prelude to a Massacre
In the hot fetid air along the banks of Mission Creek, the air that erases the East Bay with its Beijing-like brush, “your” San Francisco Giants celebrate Japanese Heritage Night. They forget to mention the Fillmore, but remember to list the warships. Overall, the ceremonies pay the usual homage to baseball as a force for Good in the Universe, but I hear nothing about Japanese baseball being the best baseball currently played on the planet.
Japanese baseball tends to emphasize speed and stealth over pure power; an opposite style to last night’s game, won by the Giants 11-2 with a 14-hit onslaught featuring two home runs and five doubles. Was last night an aberration? How will the team fare against good or even decent pitching? Tonight we may find out, as Travis Wood takes the mound for the Reds. Although only a rookie, he’s been a savior the past couple of months, with an ERA of 2.51.
The Giants do to Wood what they did to Edinson Volquez last night; some speed, not much stealth, and a lot of power. As usual, Andres Torres starts off the proceedings, this time with a single. With two outs, he’s on second when Pat Burrell walks. Newly acquired Cody Ross singles Torres home, and Pablo Sandoval singles home Ross and Burrell. Three runs scored in the first, and in the second, Freddy Sanchez hits a home run, his third of the year.
Leading off, Torres has become a legitimate virtuoso. Sandoval and Sanchez have awakened from their long hibernation. At the end of three, Giants lead 4-1.
Innings Four Through Six: Shock and Awe
Out in the left field View Deck, I’m sitting with Joaquin, who was born in Guatemala, raised in San Francisco and dreams of living in Cincinnati. His suffering for the Cincinnati Reds is certainly genuine. “This is very sad,” he says, holding his head in his hands, before returning to texting, Facebooking and flipping burgers on his phone. He shows me virtual meat patties to which “you can add cheese, condiments, pickles….”
Jonathan Sanchez is pitching tonight. Joaquin remembers fondly how Jonathan stopped the Giants’ skid last week in Philly. “True,” I say. “But in an inconsistent world, on an inconsistent team, with an inconsistent pitching staff, there is no singular inconsistency more inconsistent than Jonathan Sanchez. He started off well, but his fastball began to slow down in the third, giving up a home run to Brandon Phillips. And he’s having a harder time putting the ball where he wants it to go. Cheer up!” That’s my message to Joaquin as the Reds score another run the Japanese way: two singles, a walk, a steal.
“In most ball games,” Christy Matthewson, the great Giant pitcher of the early 20th century, once wrote, “there comes an inning on which hangs victory or defeat.” The fifth inning was that inning. With the Giants leading 7-2 as a result of a three-run fourth, Phillips hit his second home run of the night when Sanchez tried to fool him with a changeup. The next batter, Drew Stubbs, also connected on a changeup, doubling down the left-field line. Sanchez got Joey Votto with a couple of curves, so returned to his fading fastball against Scott Rolen, who was not fooled. Rolen’s two-run homer sent Sanchez to the showers.
With exactly half the game played, the Giants lead 7-5. “Yes!” exclaims Joaquin, now pumped by possibility and further enthused because the Reds are bringing in Mike Leake to relieve Wood.
How do the Giants respond? Ross singles, Sandoval doubles and Juan Uribe hits a home run. Is that all? No. Freddy Sanchez singles — again. Nate Schierholtz walks, setting up a Buster Posey three-run shot to center field. That’s six runs in the fifth, to which add another three in the sixth, including a Panda home run. That’s a powerful response.
Innings Seven Through Nine: Still Think the Giants Need a Bat?
The two World Baseball Classics, played in 2006 and 2009, were both won by Japan. The first time they beat Cuba 10-6. The last time they beat Korea 4-3, in 10 innings. Japanese teams win because they play sound fundamental ball. According to the “Baseball Guru,” Japanese teams spend five times as much time drilling the players on bunting, fielding and base running during spring training as do their U.S. counterparts. More than stats and power, Japan stresses team harmony, no doubt because in their view, baseball is a team sport. The Japanese game doesn’t worship individual efforts like home runs, although they do import Americans to hit them.
The Giants hit four home runs and three doubles among 18 hits, an astounding offensive output on any given night. The explosion of hits and runs over the last two nights in a ballpark that has been called “cavernous” and a “pitcher’s park” has to be among the most unpredictable events of this season. For those fans who watched Giant hitters whiffing in May and June, this is a different team. A better hitting team, it’s true, but the pitching has become dangerously uncertain, as Jonathan Sanchez’ miserable performance reveals.
The rest of the game winds down quickly. Joaquin drowns his sorrows in a half-pound kielbasa, then makes tracks for the MUNI.
It’s still 83º, and the air as stagnant as Calcutta. The final score: 16-5.