04 June 2004

Storybook Ending

Let me ask you something.

If you could have your choice of the end result of a particular baseball game, what would it be? If the gods came down and said, "Listen [your name here], I know you're going to this game tonight, and you've never been to this stadium, and probably won't ever come again. How would you like the game to turn out?" ...you'd ask for a win for the home team, right? Assuming, of course that it does not otherwise much matter to you who wins, just that the environment would be fun and memorable, the first thing you'd ask for is victory.

But what if you could script out the whole game? What if you had every possible option at your disposal? If you could make virtually every aspect of this game turn out practically any way you want it, how would it go?

Well, since you asked, I'll tell you: It would go exactly like the San Francisco Giants / Colorado Rockies game went last Friday night.

Sold out stadium with a beautiful view of the San Francisco bay? No problem.

Forty thousand screaming fans? Done.

Free hat? Uh-huh.

Dramatic, come-from-behind, victory for the home team? Yep.

Bottom of the ninth inning, two-out, full-count, walk off home run? Got one of those too.

Oh, and just for good measure, it was hit by Superman.

My wife and I were out in SF visiting a couple of friends who moved out there last year, and they made the mistake of asking me if there was anything in particular I'd like to do while we're out here, just for this 5-day weekend. "Gosh," I thought to myself, "what would I like to do?" As you might imagine, it took all of about a nanosecond for Self to smack me in the head and yell, "Go see a ballgame, dummy!"

So Self and my wife and our two friends and I got tickets to see the Giants-Rockies game Friday night. Personally, it would not have mattered a whole lot to me who was pitching or anything else, as long as Barry Bonds was healthy and playing. He was. So I didn't much mind that the two starting pitchers, Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes, coming into the game, had combined to allow nearly 12 earned runs per nine innings. Amazingly, they both pitched fairly well. Of course, most of the Giants, besides Barry Bonds, can't hit their way out of a paper bag, and neither can most of the Rockies once they get placed in sea-level air, so let's not give the Cy Young Award to Estes or Tomko just yet. But still, it surprised me that neither of them sucked very much.

Speaking of sucking: The Giants' "Offense".

The San Francisco Giants, even with the single most significant offensive force known to man, have scored fewer runs this season than every team in MLB except the Devil Rays and the Expos, who both really suck, in case you've been under a rock or something for the last few years. So you can imagine how bad the rest of the Giant hitters must be, if His Awesomeness can only manage to carry the rest of them up to a #27 ranking.

My wife and friends, unlike Self and I, are not particularly baseball fans. In fact, my wife practically can't stand it, though to her infinite credit, she suffers my talking about it much better than I would suffer her telling me as often about, say, knitting. The friends we went to visit are not really sports fans at all, except for golf, and that's just the guy. His wife had never been to any kind of professional sporting event at all, so you can imagine how excited we all were at how this little escapade concluded.

Since my friends aren't much into baseball, their relative ignorance afforded me the opportunity to talk (entirely too much, I'm sure) about the game, its players and history. I got to explain park effects a little, since the Rockies, the poster-children for home/road splits, were in town. I got to explain some of the history of ballparks, since we were in a new one that replaced one of the old ones but had been designed to look and feel like a really old one. (They call that "retro" by the way.) And before the game, during the Rockies' batting practice, I got to explain how Roger Clemens, who was pitching for Houston, on the big scoreboard beyond centerfield, was probably the best pitcher of the last half century, and that we would get to see the best hitter of that span play live tonight.

And oh, did he play. Bonds' has easily led all of MLB in walks each of the last several years, and this year is no exception. At the start of last Friday’s game, he had 16 more than the next closest player, Adam Dunn, who is a walking machine himself, despite roughly 40 fewer plate appearances. This strength of Bonds’ performance as a ballplayer, that pitchers literally fear to challenge him, is also somewhat of a weakness in terms of his performance as an entertainer. To a novice, few things could seem like more of a let-down than having someone talk up how great a hitter Barry Bonds is, to have him swagger up to the plate with his music blasting over the PA system, his very presence threatening to break the game open, the pitcher standing in a puddle of his own pee on the mound, and then to have him walk on four pitches. Thankfully, we didn't have to see that, as Bonds went 3-for-5, with two singles despite the infield shift the Rockies used.

The rest of the Giants hitters, as I mentioned, aren't much with the stick. The only hitter other than Bonds having anything resembling a decent year is Marquis Grissom, with a .300-ish average but few walks or steals and not a lot of power. Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski (who didn’t start) have respectable averages and a little patience, but no power, and Pedro Feliz is only doing as well as he is because Bonds has already been on-base in front of him about 100 times this season. Several other players are hitting in the low .200s, or, in the case of backup backstop Yorvit Torrealba, the low, low .200’s, like .182. Neifi Perez, I explained to my friends and wife, is so bad that I regularly use the term “sub-Neifi” to describe a particularly horrendous offensive performer, like say, Derek Jeter’s first two months this year.

So you can imagine my surprise when they kept getting runners on base throughout the game…and then my dismay as they, not too surprisingly, ended each inning without a run crossing the plate. However, the Rockies' bullpen did not seem to mind that they were not expected to suck, since they weren't at Coors Field, so they went ahead and sucked anyway.

Rockies' closer Shawn Chacon started the ninth inning having only to get the bottom of the Giants lineup out in order to finish the game, and he couldn't do it. After A.J. popped out, pinch "hitter" Dustan Mohr, a career .250 hitter in three years of part time duty with the Twins, and hitting only .149 coming into the game, walked. Michael Tucker, who's also a ~.250 career hitter, did the same, and then Edgardo Alfonzo grounded out to short, moving both runners up. Shawn Chacon, who ironically, started the only other game I've seen in one of the one of the ballparks of the new millennium, the Pirates 11-3 drubbing of the Rockies in May of 2001, blew the save by allowing Marquis Grissom to single up the middle, which scored both runners, tying the game. The Rockies then, to face Barry Bonds, brought in Tim Hara-kiri, er, Harikkala who worked to a full count and then promptly committed pitching suicide by throwing the ball over the plate, allowing Bonds to hit a home run that just barely cleared the fence in left center field, and ended the game, much to the jubilation of the 20,000 of us who didn't leave at the end of the seventh.

After the game, everyone walking down the concourse from the top level was chanting "BARRY! BARRY! BARRY!", which was cool. Never experienced that before. But my friend, who had never been to a game before, noted that perhaps Marquis Grissom deserved a chant or two. After all, he not only kept the game alive for Barry to get his shot, but tied it up with his own hit. Maybe she was right?

Shawn Shacon, who blew the save and took the loss, even though Harikkala gave up the homer, was only recently made the Rockies' closer. He was not a good starter for three seasons, and I guess he has stamina issues or something, so they made him the closer coming into this season. Age 26 seems a little young to be giving up on a guy as a starting pitcher, doesn't it? But with Jose Jimenez getting expensive, and about to be promoted to Chief Astronaut for the United States Interplanetary Expeditionary Force, they had to get someone to pick up those saves. Shacon hasn't really done that as well as they'd hoped, or as well as Phil Rogers expected, blowing 4 saves in 14 chances so far this year, only closing the door about 78% of the time. Not exactly Eric Gagne territory, here.

But Shawn shouldn't worry. If this doesn't work out, I've already found him a job:

I guess it wasn't a storybook ending for everybody. Posted by Hello

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