One: Prayers in Faraway Places
I receive the following e-mail from Fez, Morocco: “Five times a day, or is it six, the muezzin calls me to pray for the Giants.” I know the dude; he’s lying. He doesn’t believe in, let alone pray to, any Higher Power. But I believe he does something — eats a fig, sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in French, shaves, or doesn’t shave, something — to bring, if not divine providence, then at least a little luck, to the Giants.
As George Gmelch explains in his essay, “Baseball Magic,” superstitions, taboos, routines and rituals are drawn to baseball by the game’s profound uncertainties.
Players are known for their elaborate rituals, fetishes and taboos, such as refusing to use a ball that has been hit safely “because it had a hit in it,” or eating chicken before every game — anything that might shift the cosmic balance in their favor.
Two: The Heat is On
And the Giants need all the luck they can get. Tonight we begin the season’s last home stand — six games — after which the Giants will have made it to the National League playoffs for the first time since 2003. Or not. At batting practice, Giant players seem loose and relaxed but focused, as their boss, Bill Neukom, hangs out with the guys, watching his fortunes swing.
Three: Rattlesnake Danger High
Hiking on Mt. Tam this weekend, Pat nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. We discuss whether seeing the rattler is a bad omen for the Giants. Even though the D-backs will not escape their last-place hole, they recently swept the Giants’ main rivals, so cannot be lightly dismissed.
Maybe it’s a good omen, says Bob, because she didn’t step on it.
Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants’ starting pitcher, throws like he’s stepping in dogsh@#. Having finally pitched four good games consecutively, Sanchez opens the game by walking Steven Drew on four bad pitches. He puts down the side, but he can’t get his fastball down, and that could mean trouble.
Four: Bochy Ignores Press. Again.
Sanchez in trouble: two walks, a single and a wild pitch load the bases in the second inning. He feeds D-backs’ pitcher Rodrigo Lopez four straight fastballs, three almost identical. Lopez hits the last one just far enough to bring home a run. Jonathan gets out of the second, but in the third, Kelly Johnson says hello to a high inside fastball that could not have been more to his liking. Following Johnson’s solo homer, Chris Young launches a missile to the left that Pat Burrell catches at the wall. OK, enough for Sanchez?
“A short leash,” says the TV commentator next to me in the press box. “Get him out of there.” Manager Bruce Bochy either does not hear the suggestion or ignores it. He leaves Sanchez in, and Sanchez gets out of the inning without adding to his woe.
In the bottom of the third, Andres Torres, minus his appendix, hits a triple to right center, just off the glove of Arizona rookie Cole Gillespie. He scores easily on Mike Fontenot’s subsequent scorcher up the middle. But at the end of three, the Snakes lead 2-1.
Five: Dream Team
Berber drummers send my friend off to sleep in the Sahara night. In another e-mail he writes, “One riff sounded to me like ‘hits-hits-hits-hits-hits-hits.’ Giant ones, I dreamed.”
Is there any Saharan riff that sounds like “Uuuuuuuu” – “Reebay”?
Six: Are You the Panda You’ve Been Waiting For?
A question has haunted the press box for some weeks: Why do fans continue to wear panda hats when the Panda, Pablo Sandoval, is hitting so poorly he was benched last week? Tonight, however, we notice very few.
Because it’s hot, says Jean in the bleachers, explaining why she doesn’t wear her panda hat. It’s a great hat for cold nights, but not tonight.
One of Sandoval’s well-known failings this year is his lack of patience at the plate. With two out in the bottom of the sixth, sure enough he swings at the first pitch he sees. And connects for his second hit of the night, a double. And he scores when pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz singles to left. 3-2 Giants at the end of six.
Seven: It’s All in Your Head
Giant propaganda, employing the word “magic” to describe the experience at Mission Creek ballpark, exploits big-time baseball’s propensity toward magical thinking. With its parade of ghosts, curses and lucky charms, or the endless replaying of Bobby Thompson’s 1951 home run on the Jumbotron, baseball mythology works on all of us. “We Believe!” Oops — wrong team.
Even the hot dog has been ideologically co-opted, I think as I eat and watch Fontenot lead off with a walk in the bottom of the seventh. Aubrey Huff gets him to second, and Pat Burrell hits a clean single to left to bring him home. Giants 4-2. Was it the mustard I used?
Eight: Sanchez’ Miraculous Survival
Schierholtz pinch-hit for Jonathan Sanchez in the sixth. Despite his rocky start, Sanchez somehow survived. Maybe it was magic; maybe his curveball began to bite and he became reacquainted with the strike zone. Whatever; he stomped the D-backs in his final three innings, and the bullpen has carried on since then.
Now, with runners at first and third and only one out in the eighth, here comes All-Star closer Brian Wilson. He got hammered on Saturday in Denver, but tonight Wilson dispatches the heart of the Arizona batting order without missing a beat.
Nine: The Magic Number
No one has left the ballpark. Romes leads cheers in the bleachers. I ask him if there’s anything he does to influence fate in the Giants’ favor. He thinks for a minute, then says he comes to the ballpark and shouts himself hoarse.
Everybody should do it, he shouts, as he rhythmically pounds the top of a garbage can. Alright! reply the screaming fans around him, all exchanging high-fives when Wilson completes the job.
Leaving the ballpark, we learn that San Diego lost. The Giants’ magic number is now four; any combination of San Francisco victories and San Diego defeats totaling four puts the Giants in the playoffs as National League Western Division Champions.