Giants-A’s: Full moon, great weather, compelling baseball

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — This was what sport is all about, the bay at play on an evening when the moon was full, the weather was fantastic and the baseball was compelling down to the final pitch, a strike by Will Smith that ended a drama you almost hoped was endless.

Two teams with a chance for the postseason. Two groups of fans with a single thought. One beautiful Tuesday evening of fine pitching and timely hitting that left the winners, the Giants, phew, 3-2, gasping, and the losing team, the Athletics, hinting at what might have been.

“Unfortunately, we came up one at-bat short,” said the man who manages the A’s, Bob Melvin. 

The game itself, the first of a two-game series at Oracle Park, didn’t come up short of expectations. Bruce Bochy had predicted it would be a good one and it was, full of the little things that embellish the big things.

The place was alive, seemingly almost as many A’s fans — chanting “Let’s go Oakland” — as Giants fans. A good natured rivalry without any nastiness, excluding the boos that broke out when during the seventh inning the video screen displayed a man with a Dodgers hat. The nerve of that guy.

A different sort of nerve was displayed by Smith, the Giants' closer, who had a ninth inning, his only inning, in which he threw 35 pitches, walked in a run, exhaled after a line drive to left with two runners on went foul by a foot and still got the save.

“The two-run lead helped, obviously,” said Smith, who came in with nobody on and San Francisco ahead, 3-1. “I don’t want to walk in runs. Still we had a one-run lead. That ball down the line? I was walking down the line with it.”

He walked away satisfied, striking out Chad Pinder for the final out.

“You trust your players,” said Bochy as to how he survives games like this. “Let the guys play. There’s nothing you can do. Sometimes you wish you had a seat belt. We’re used to it here. How many years have we played this type of baseball? We go into close ballgames with so much confidence. If it doesn’t work, well, Smith still is our guy out there.”

And Madison Bumgarner was the guy before Smith, pitching as Mad Bum, now on track once more, is supposed to pitch. One mistake, a fastball to Stephen Piscotty in the fifth, powered into the bleachers. Nine strikeouts and the victory. He’s now 8-7.

“I felt like I got to where I was comfortable,” said Mad Bum. “Pretty much everything was working pretty well. I felt (in the seventh) it was a good time to throw a fastball. He hit it (for the home run).

Bumgarner also was adept at the plate, in a subtle way. With runners on first and second and nobody out in the seventh, he laid down a sacrifice bunt. Aramis Garcia went from second to third and scored what proved to be the winning run on Scooter Gennett’s sacrifice fly.

Oakland starter Brett Anderson kept the Giants scoreless through five innings. Then in order, Buster Posey doubled, Evan Longoria doubled and Kevin Pillar doubled: three hits, two runs. 

“He was mowing them down pretty good, and then all of sudden three doubles,” said Melvin of Anderson. “Give them some credit, too. Two out nobody on. To put a rally together like that was impressive, especially the way (Anderson) has been pitching.”

Anderson had retired Posey twice with sinkers. The third time, he got the ball high. “But the biggest thing,” Anderson insisted, “was I threw a horrible changeup to Pillar, and he was able to square it up for that third double. That was the difference in the game.”

Not really. The difference was the walk to Garcia by Jake Diekman to lead off the seventh, Garcia scoring the Giants' third run.

“Give them credit,” Bochy said of the A’s. “They battled out there. Both teams were fighting to the end. But that’s what you expect. They are a very good team.”

The Giants aren’t a bad one. And together they produced an exciting game. That’s all we can ask.


At Giants reunion, tales of flying hot dog wrappers and the quake

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Some of the nostalgia wasn’t so sweet. “Hot dog wrappers blowing around,” Will Clark recalled about games at — where else? — Candlestick Park.

Much of it was very sweet. “Thanks to the fans who went through it,” was Clark’s next comment.

Will the Thrill, or Nuschler, the middle name by which he occasionally was referred. This was a Sunday for nostalgia, for a return to San Francisco — if not the ‘Stick — by players from the 1989 Giants, the team that took part in arguably the most infamous World Series in history.

This also was a day for Clark, whose uniform number, 22, will be retired, as announced by Giants president Larry Baer — who, in a way, was celebrating his own return to the team.

Thirty years; some guys with less hair (right, Will?). Some with more pounds (Kevin Mitchell was filling that jersey).

Backslaps and hugs. The way Mitchell and Clark embraced belied those rumors they were more rivals than teammates.

These men, now in their 50s, other than Roger Craig, the manager, 89, and Norm Sherry, the pitching coach, 88, brought their friendships and stories to Oracle Park as part of a 30th reunion.

“Would love to have played here,” said the retired pitcher Scott Garrelts, surely echoing the thoughts of others who with the Giants in the 1980s never had that opportunity.

You had to be here, or at least be involved in baseball, as player, executive, fan or journalist, to understand those up-from-nowhere Giants. So much of their existence was shaped by Candlestick and the all-too-present woe-is-us atmosphere.

In 1985, Al Rosen became general manager and Craig manager of the Giants. The culture changed. As did their record.

“Roger said let’s use Candlestick to our advantage,” recalled Garrelts, who now lives in Louisiana, “Yeah, it’s cold and nasty, but when you walk out that door to the field, why start cussing? Before Roger and Al, we struggled.”

In fact, during the reunion, Baer, who only returned July 1 from the four-month suspension imposed by baseball for a confrontation with his wife that was captured on video, mentioned that the current Giants carried Craig’s “hmm baby spirit.”

Rosen was all tradition and discipline. “Al didn’t let you get away with anything,” said Garrelts. “He didn’t care who you were. These days, there’s so much emphasis on analytics. How in the world did Willie Mays ever play?”

The reunion guest list included Kelly Downs, Ernie Riles, Atlee Hammaker, Craig Lefferts and, of course, Dusty Baker, who would go on to manage the Giants in the 2002 World Series. That went seven games, the Giants losing to the Angels.

The 1989 Series, Giants against the A’s, the “Battle of the Bay,” as it was labeled, went only four games, Oakland sweeping — but also going almost two weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck a few moments before the first pitch of Game 3, shattering freeways and knocking out a section of the Bay Bridge.

“I was in the locker room watching TV,” said Garrelts, “and suddenly the room just rolled. I busted out the door to the parking lot. Nothing was moving. I came back in, went out to the field and realized there were fires in the city, and the Bay Bridge was down.”

Chris Speier knew earthquakes, if not any as intense as Loma Prieta, which had a magnitude of 7.1 or 7.2. Speier grew up in Alameda, went to UC Santa Barbara and as a shortstop joined San Francisco to start a baseball career he hopes to resume with the Giants in some capacity.

Speier on the afternoon of the quake, which hit at 5:04 pm. Oct. 17, 1989, had finished warm-ups and was talking to Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers, who were to sing the national anthem.

“We looked into the outfield,” Speier, now 69, remembers about the moments the quake hit, “and guys trying to run couldn’t run. It looked like the ocean was coming through. Huge waves of grass.

“Larry looks at me. His face is completely white. He ran out through the doors. He was done.”

The Giants were not. Thirty years later, they came back to hear cheers in a ballpark they never knew.


Gruden takes a stand for missing Antonio Brown

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Yes, Antonio Brown was listed as a starting wide receiver on the lineup card for the Raiders' opening preseason game Saturday night. No, he didn’t start. He didn’t play. He wasn’t even at the Coliseum.   

But these are the Raiders, for one last bittersweet season the Oakland Raiders, so issues and controversy never are far away — although when the team moves next season to Las Vegas, it will be plenty far away.

Yet that’s the future. Maybe so is Brown, the guy who wanted to be free of the Pittsburgh Steelers and came in trade during the off-season to the Raiders.

He brings a great ability to catch touchdown passes and, with his style (injuring his feet in a cryogenic chamber) and stubbornness (refusing to use the new helmet ordered by the NFL), a special independence.

After the Raiders' 14-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in a quite normal first game of any season, especially one that doesn’t count except for the players trying to make the team, second-year coach Jon Gruden took a stand for Brown — hardly a surprise because he was very much in favor of the move to acquire him.

“I support this guy,” Gruden said of Brown. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. The foot injury wasn’t his fault.”

The story is Brown went to Europe for cryogenic treatment, in which a part of the body is subjected to temperatures far below zero for a short amount of time. But Brown wore flip-flops on his feet instead of shoes and incurred frostbite.

“It was a total accident,” Gruden explained. “A serious injury. People are smirking at it. He’s hurt. He hasn’t done anything wrong. And the helmet thing is a personal matter.”

Brown, 31, has worn the same type of helmet for 10 years and reportedly wants to continue, even threatening to quit instead of changing to a newer model endorsed by the league.

He had a two-hour conference call with an independent arbitrator Friday to point out why, according to ESPN, he should be allowed to keep the original helmet. Brown said the new helmet restricted his vision, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he has filed a grievance with the league.

“It’s a personal matter,” said Gruden. “He has a strong feeling what he should wear on his head, and we support him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot.

“We hope he’ll be back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. He’s one of the premier competitors I’ve ever been around.”

Before Gruden returned to coach in 2018, he was the analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, studying players from every team.   

“He loves to play so much,” Gruden said, exaggerating a trifle, “he’d play with no helmet. Whatever his decision, we’ll stand by it. We have confidence he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders in years to come.”                                                    

The factors for either team Saturday, in what amounted to an exhibition game, were not those that would be apparent in September, when the regular season gets underway. Neither Jared Goff, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl, or the Raiders’ Derek Carr played a single down at quarterback.

Mike Glennon, who started, and Nathan Peterman were the Raiders' quarterbacks, Glennon completing 17 of 25 for 200 yards and Peterman 9 of 12 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Peterman also had Oakland’s longest run when he scrambled for 50 yards.

“I though both quarterbacks in their opening possessions had beautiful touchdown drives,” said Gruden. ‘That’s what we want. We want quarterbacks to take control of the game and get us on schedule. You take the opening drive 80 yards and score.

“Credit to both those guys. Mike had two interceptions. The one in the red zone can’t happen. He got fooled on the other one. I thought Glennon did some good things in the pocket. Nathan showed his athleticism. He can run. As he continues to gain command, he’s going to be interesting to watch.”

So, presumably, will Antonio Brown, if he ever gets on the field.


For Giants, a markdown on Panik items, loss on the field

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — They reacted quickly at the Giants Dugout Store, the one at Oracle Park. Joe Panik was dropped, or in baseball-ese “designated for assignment,” and within hours of the announcement there was a 40 percent markdown on all Panik merchandise.

Cruel, but strictly business, a term you hear quite often about baseball, an activity some think of as a game. What makes the jersey valuable, and thus sellable, is fans identifying with the player who wears it. He’s their guy.

But now their guy, if it was Panik, is no longer a Giant. He’s gone.


Then, not long after Panik was released Tuesday — he could have joined Sacramento, the Giants Triple A team, but chose to deal for himself — San Francisco’s chance for a wild card were all but gone.

Completely unrelated, unless there was lingering shock over the departure of a longtime teammate, the Giants on Tuesday evening were whipped by the Washington Nationals, 5-3.

It was a third straight defeat for the Giants, who fell two games below .500. That rollicking July, when San Francisco was 19-6, has turned into a stumbling August, so far 1-5.

“We’re not going to be putting up numbers like we did,” Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager, pointed out to those who don’t understand the sport’s historical balance. “It was going to be hard to keep that pace.”

At least on Tuesday the Giants made it exciting, contrary to the 2-0 loss to the Nats on Monday, a dreadful game for San Francisco. On Tuesday, they had a runner on in the bottom of the ninth and at bat Pablo Sandoval, who already had two doubles in the game. But like Casey in the famous poem, Sandoval struck out.

This had a to be tough emotional day for the Giants' personnel. Panik may not have been Buster Posey or Barry Bonds, MVPs, superstars. But Panik made a load of big plays, and he was both an All-Star and at second base a Gold Glove award winner.

We’ve been taught there’s no sentiment in baseball, or sports in general. Just as in life, everything is temporary. And as Barry Bonds’ late father, Bobby, a great player in his own right, used to say about the unpredictability, “They traded Willie Mays, didn’t they?”

Indeed. And Babe Ruth, although not Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron or Carl Yastrzemski, whose grandson is on the Giants and, apropos of nothing but pertinent to a great deal, went 0-for-4 Tuesday against the Nats.

Bochy didn’t believe the players were affected by the departure of Panik, which may or may not have been considered a surprise. A few days ago the Giants traded for Scooter Gennett, a second baseman (he had a double in three at bats on Tuesday).

He wasn’t going to be on the bench. Which meant after six-plus seasons with the Giants, who took him in the first round of the 2011 draft, Panik was.

The Giants' head of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, was brought in to change the team’s direction. That had to mean a change in personnel.

The axiom is it’s better to trade a player a year early then a year late. Panik wasn’t traded literally but was symbolically. He’s a part of the past, not the future — ironic for someone only 28 years old. 

Bochy said telling Panik he had to be released was one of the most difficult things in a managerial career that’s lasted for years and is nearing an end with his retirement at the end of this season.

“He’s a Giant,” Bochy said about Panik. “He’s done so many good things for us, helped us win a (2014 World Series) championship here.”

And now he’s been dispatched, as the Giants seek a way to win another.


Newsday (N.Y.): American Tony Finau continues improvement at major tournaments

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Tony Finau is the baggage handler’s son from Salt Lake City who turned down a college basketball scholarship — he was a great rebounder in high school — to become a golf pro and play on the mini-tours. He got his education on the greens instead of the classrooms.

Read the full story here.

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