The Sports Xchange: A's Chavez gets his first win of season

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange

OAKLAND — It's not exactly a Hollywood story, so call it a Fontana story. That's a working class city in Southern California about 40 miles east of Hollywood. Yet the location in this instance is not as important as the plot. 

"It's all about getting an opportunity," said Bob Melvin, manager of the Oakland Athletics, "and doing something with it. Jesse got that opportunity." 

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014 The Sports Xchange


Giants still can’t hit

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s impossible to dislike Bruce Bochy. He never belittles his players, never gives the press the slightest chance to find something wrong with the Giants.

Even when there is something wrong with the Giants.

They’re not hitting. Other than Angel Pagan (.377), Brandon Crawford (.311) and the new guy, Michael Morse (.306).

And since Pagan and Crawford didn’t start on Thursday, their day of rest after two night games and ahead of a trip to San Diego, the Giants couldn’t hit.

At least not well enough to beat the Dodgers, who won 2-1 Thursday before the usual sellout at AT&T Park after the Giants had taken the first two games of the series.

“Win two out every three,” said Madison Bumgarner, “you’re doing OK.” Absolutely. Win three out of three, you’re doing better.

Someone had the temerity to ask Bochy if this Giants team, as Giant teams of the past few years, was strictly dependent on pitching — which, of course it is.

“I don’t think so,” was Bochy’s answer. “I think we saw great pitching in this series (against the Giants).”

Is that why Hunter Pence is hitting .206, Pablo Sandoval .175?

“We’re not swinging the bats right now,” said the manager. “It’s hard to put runs on the board.”

Hasn’t it always been the last five years? A week ago Matt Cain held Colorado to one run. And lost, 1-0. Nightmares of the past, when Tim Lincecum went through the same problems.

Every game becomes agony, the bite-your-cuticles, hold-your-heart complications that Mike Krukow, the pitcher turned TV announcer, labeled “sweet torture.” 

Sweet if you win, that is. And how can the Giants win if they keep leaving men on base and Sandoval literally isn’t hitting his weight?   

Three times he came to the plate with Pence on base Thursday and never got a ball out of the infield.

In the last five games, the Giants scored a total 11 runs. That they won three of those is attributable to Sergio Romo, Jean Machi and others on the pitching staff.

Bumgarner started Thursday and made it only into the fifth before Bochy decided to change — even though Mad Bum had given up only one run. Then again, there were Dodgers on first and second when he was relieved by Yusmeiro Petit.

“The outside corner was hard to get today,” said Bochy of Bumgarner, who walked three and gave up six hits. Whether that was Bumgarner’s fault or the fault of home place ump Seth Buckminster can be debated.

Unarguable is the fact that Sandoval, the third-place hitter, is having a miserable time, most likely because this is the last year of his contract and he’s trying to make a big-dollar impression on whomever (Giants or any team) would sign him.

Bochy said that Sandoval should be thinking of hitting, that his agents are the ones who ought to be concerned with salaries and the like. It’s human nature, however, for a man to let the situation control his life.

“It’s got to be in his mind,” said a former Giants player.

Bochy said Sandoval, with only 11 hits, two homers and six RBI in 63 at bats is “really pressing. But it’s his job to play and not let anything else be a distraction.”

Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was distracting enough for the Giants. He pitched a shutout for seven innings before leaving the game for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth.

“We had the right guys up,” said Bochy, referring to when the Giants scored a run and had two more runners on, in the ninth against Kenley Jansen.

That would be Ehire Adrianza, who, taking over at second on a double-switch in the fifth, had three hits, one of those driving in Brandon Belt with San Francisco’s only run.

That would be Crawford, who pinch-hit for Joaquin Arias and flied out to end the game.

Bochy was not distraught. “The pitching,” he said about the series, “was really good for us.”

It had to be. Because the hitting was really bad for them.

“There’s not a guy out there I don’t have confidence in,” said Bochy, the general in support of his troops.

Statements such as that always are appreciated and admirable. A single at the proper time would be just as appreciated.


On Jackie Robinson Night, Giants win in early morning

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — The game was everything baseball could be and should be, full of passion and tension, and carrying with it thoughts of a pioneer whose courage and skill helped shape the sport to what it has become.

This was the night the Major Leagues honored Jackie Robinson, and at AT&T Park, the timing was perfect, even if the game time, 4 hours and 54 minutes, may not have been.

The Dodgers, Jackie’s team, against the Giants, which almost were Jackie’s team.

The Brooklyn Dodgers, of course, when Robinson in June 1947 became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. And the New York Giants, who nine and half years later, in December 1956, traded for Robinson, unaware — as were the Dodgers — that Jackie had retired.

So much on this Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, 12 innings of baseball coming to an end at 12:14 a.m., a beautiful end for the several thousand fans who remained from the sellout crowd of 42,469.

Hector Sanchez singled home Brandon Crawford from third, and the Giants were 3-2 winners.

The rivalry. The revelry. The reminders that major league baseball was off-limits to African-Americans until 1947 when Jackie, as beautifully planned by Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, was elevated to the big club.

You know the story. You’ve seen the movie “42,” a slightly embellished version of Jackie’s life, as Hollywood biopics tend to be. That was Jackie’s number, 42, and Tuesday night it was worn by every player on both teams, by every player in the majors.

A grand gesture by the Giants, who used both their main radio announcer, Jon Miller, and famed Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully for the pre-game introductions. For the 86-year-old Scully, there was great meaning.

Beginning with the Dodgers in 1950, Scully not only knew Robinson but that winter he somehow got involved in an ice skating race with Jackie.

“We had some sort of symposium up at Grossinger’s in the Catskills,” Scully said earlier in the long evening. “There was a rink. I had grown up in New York, so I knew how to skate. Jackie, I don’t think had ever been on skates.

“He said, ‘I’ll race you.’ I was surprised. ‘But you don’t know how to skate.’  He told me, ‘That’s the way to learn.’”

What America learned was that baseball truly became an American game when the doors were opened to all races.

Another African-American who followed Robinson into the majors was Monte Irvin, who joined the Giants out of the Negro Leagues and played his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Irvin, 95, was invited to the pre-game festivities but sent a note, read to the crowd, that at his age air travel was too hard on his body. 

Irwin played with Willie Mays, and Mays, heading for his 83rd birthday, was in the Giants' clubhouse before the game, although he didn’t take part in any ceremonies. Too bad.

Another nice touch was the tribute to Boston on this first-year anniversary of the bombing at the marathon finish line. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the Red Sox’ theme song, was played over the sound system, and the AT&T crowd sang along, as the fans do at Fenway Park.

There was a full moon peering down from beyond McCovey Cove, further embellishing an evening made even more special when Sanchez, who had struck out as pinch hitter in the ninth and then replaced Buster Posey at catcher, ripped a pitch off Brandon League with two outs in the bottom of the 12th.

“I had to do something,” joked Sanchez. “My wife was sitting in our car in the parking lot for three hours.”

League was the seventh Dodgers pitcher. Yusmeiro Petit, who got the victory, was the eighth used by the Giants.

“It’s great that every year we honor Jackie Robinson the way we do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in his pre-game interview in the dugout. “No man had his impact on baseball and society.”

Bochy made his comments at 4:30 p.m. nearly eight full hours before he and his team were done for the evening. And the morning.

This one won’t be forgotten for a long while.


Newsday (N.Y.): Miguel Jimenez, at 50, shows the youngsters something at Masters

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He was close, and that did mean something for a 50-year-old in a sport where most of his competition is a decade or two younger.

Miguel Angel Jimenez didn't beat Bubba Watson, who won the Masters for the second time in three years. Nor did he finish ahead of Jordan Spieth or Jonas Blixt who, both being in their 20s -- Spieth 20, Blixt, 29 -- are young enough to be Jimenez's sons.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Bleacher Report: Renewed Bubba Watson Escapes Pressures, Looks Dominant After 2014 Masters

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He's won that second major, and do not forget the adage: Anyone can win one, but it takes a great golfer to win two or more.

What Bubba Watson won't forget is how he reacted to the first.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014 Bleacher Report, Inc.