Willie Mays

Following the route of Mission Creek from the sacred baseball fields of San Francisco (now a hideous mall) to the mudflats of Mission Bay (now a Clockwork Orange development scam) doesn’t take long, even for a dawdler. Often it’s a beautiful walk, providing a calming counterpoint to the chaotic spectacle you will soon witness, chained to your seat at the ballpark. In the cold, like tonight, a wanderer from the Mission can stop at a familiar oasis, Philz Coffee, now in Mission Bay, to warm up before the first inning.

This early in the season, you don’t want to miss the first inning. Tonight you would have missed Melky Cabrera’s triple. Driving in the Giants’ first run, Cabrera’s hit was a statement made by “your” San Francisco Giants, version 2012. Down a game to perennial powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies in a three-game series, the players wanted to demonstrate they were capable of better theater than last night’s lifeless show. Cabrera’s hit was a hint that the troupe was up for the challenge. In case the audience missed that message, Pablo Sandoval drove home Cabrera, and the Giants led 2-0 at the end of one.

It could have been worse, much worse, had the lanky Madison Bumgarner followed the previous game’s hipster example of ace Tim Lincecum. Two successive errors by shortstop Brandon Crawford (one credited to Bumgarner) created another angst-ridden first inning scene: runners at first and second with no outs, All-Star Jimmy Rollins at the plate, and on deck, the MLB’s own Grendel, Hunter Pence. Was Bumgarner distracted? Hung over? Does it occur to him, standing alone among 40,000 screaming individuals, that a game, a series, and who knows, maybe a season, rest precariously on his next pitch? Or sequence of pitches? Does he wonder why anyone in the world would pay him millions of dollars to make those pitches for the next five years? Of course not. He understands, as Lincecum apparently does not, that his job is to throw, not think. He does his job.

Let’s get back to Hunter Pence. It could be that steroids are not as necessary as once believed to produce a huge body (assuming that Pence is not juiced). Listed as 6 feet, 4 inches, he looks a lot bigger: a football player’s body in a baseball player’s uniform. He’s also hugely talented, in the field and at the plate; a true fright to behold, especially for one as nouveau riche as Bumgarner. In his second at bat, Pence expects a slider and Bumgarner foolishly serves up two. The second one doesn’t land until crossing the center field wall.

“Your” SF Giants are impressed by Pence, but they keep going after sinker-ball pitching Joe Blanton. They get to him in the fifth after Sandoval’s lead-off double. Panda 2012 has opened the season hitting and bouncing around like Panda 2009. He’s brought home to raucous jubilation by Buster Posey and Nate Schierholtz, who are also hitting well so far this season.

The game ends 4-2 without any added torture from the bullpen. Is it the absence of Brian Wilson, or an executive order banning a practice that has been outlawed for decades? Who can say, and who knows if and when it will return. Fortunately, we had shortstop Crawford to turn up the anxiety and keep the drama going with a variety of muffs and miracles that left the audience reaching for their heart pills every time the Phillies punched the ball to the left side of the infield.

OK, so “your” Giants got some hits, scored some runs and tied the series in miserably frigid conditions reminiscent of August in Candlestick Park. Tonight, the rubber match featuring two of the best pitchers one hundred million dollars can buy: Cliff Lee for the Philllies, Matt Cain for the Giants. Bundle up.

The Free Dictionary: To do or perform habitually or customarily; make a habit of: practices courtesy in social situations.

Mark Rabine

Mark Rabine has lived in the Mission for over 40 years. "What a long strange trip it's been."

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