Innings One Through Three: Losing is a Team Effort

“And now it begins,” says the sportswriter sitting behind me.

Barry Zito, tonight’s starting pitcher for “your” San Francisco Giants, just gave up a lead-off single to Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew, after having had him down two strikes. Not a good sign. Nor is it a good sign when, two batters later, Diamondbacks second baseman Kelly Johnson hits another single after having also been down two strikes.

There’s a sudden breeze in the press box as all of us sportswriters simultaneously shake our heads when Zito walks the next batter on six pitches. Bases loaded and up comes Adam LaRoche, who finished off yesterday’s game in the first inning with a splash home run. Zito gets him out on a weak grounder. Even though a run scores, with two outs now, disaster can still be averted. That is, until Barry, ahead in the count one ball and two strikes, walks Mark Reynolds on three errant fastballs.

“Something bad is going to happen,” whispers my inner pessimist. Catcher Miguel Montero doesn’t wait for the second strike before doubling deep into center and clearing the bases. It doesn’t end there. Zito intentionally walks weak-hitting Ryan Roberts to get to weaker-hitting pitcher Daniel Hudson, who Zito hits with his third pitch and bases are loaded again. Stephen Drew gets a fat, juicy pitch to hit, but gets under it, popping a routine fly to shallow right. José Guillen puts out his glove to make the catch, and misses. Two more runs score.

Andres Torres opens the Giants’ half of the first inning with a triple to center. A good sign. He scores on Aubrey Huff’s weak ground ball.

In the second inning, second baseman Freddy Sanchez commits his second error in two games; this time an errant throw to first. At the end of two, Zito has now thrown 64 pitches to get six outs.

The Giants hit much better than last night, but leave five runners stranded and at the end of three, Arizona still leads 6-1.

Innings Four Through Six: Does Nostalgia Relieve Depression?

Although the first inning was a good x-ray of the Giants’ current pitching problems, the top of the fourth is even better. Zito starts out looking sharp, getting Justin Upton on a fly and striking out Kelly Johnson with three straight pitches. But with two outs, he walks Chris Young on five pitches, and my inner pessimist starts whispering to me again. Adam LaRoche singles, and the Giants send Ramon Ramirez to the bullpen. Another conference on the mound to give Ramirez time to warm up. The Giants’ brain trust decides to let Zito pitch to Mark Reynolds, who’s batting average is an anemic .210. Zito can’t get a fastball or curveball into the strike zone, so he tries a changeup and gets a strike. He comes back with the identical pitch in the identical spot, and Reynolds booms it into left field for a three-run dinger.

In the bottom half of the inning, Pablo Sandoval continues his return to hitting respectability, hitting a solo, though somewhat forlorn, home run to right.

No modern team sport is as thoroughly drenched in nostalgia as baseball. Which is a good thing, for when the drama drains, as it did tonight halfway through the first inning, there’s always nostalgia to compensate.

Tonight is “Seals Night” at Mission Creek, and the Giants are giving away Joe DiMaggio bobbleheads. Suzanne, sitting next to me on the Club level, where I’ve gone to get warm, wraps a scarf around her DiMaggio: “I don’t want him to see this,” she says, referring to the carnage on the field.

In 1903, the San Francisco Stars joined the Pacific Coast League, playing in the old Recreation Park at 15th and Valencia. The Stars changed their name to the Seals and in 1931, the new Seals Stadium opened at 16th and Bryant in what was referred to at the time as the city’s “warm belt,” because it’s generally free of summer fog.

Innings Seven Through Nine: Hope on Ice

Like our current Mission Creek Ballpark, in its time, Seals Stadium was considered the finest ballpark in the country, with its Art Deco exterior and intimate interior. In addition to being the arena where Joe DiMaggio first rose to prominence, it was the longtime home of Lefty O’Doul, first as a player, then a manager. For more on Seals Stadium and pre-Giants San Francisco baseball, go to FoundSF and Burrito Justice.

In today’s bleachers, where an icy wind rips directly through your layers of Giants regalia, nobody really wants to look at the game. I ask Marvin and Donna why they’re still here. Donna, wrapped in a Giants blanket and Panda hat, remains silent. Marvin laughs while poking her: “Eight runs down, the score now 11-3? That’s nothing.” He pulls out his flask and offers me a drink.

Fans will need more convincing than alcohol to survive the current cold streak.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ starting pitchers, criticized most of the year for inconsistency, are beginning to show they can be consistent and predictable.

That’s not a good sign.