By Art Spander
SAN FRANCISCO — That’s who they really are, the Giants. At least who they’re supposed to be, a team that keeps the game close, which has great pitching and effective fielding. For three games, three reassuring games, that’s exactly what they did.
There was a loss Wednesday, an agonizing, grinding 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park, a loss that reminded how difficult it is to win in baseball.
A loss, but not a downer.
Not one of those “What the heck is going on here?” type of exhibitions the Giants had a week ago at Toronto and Colorado when they got pummeled, giving up extra-base hits, dropping ground balls — or throwing them away — and dropping five games out six.
A “horrible trip” is what Bruce Bochy called it, and for a manager perennially upbeat, that’s a concession as shocking as what happened to the pitching and defense.
But the return to the ballpark by the bay brought a return to what we had known as Giants baseball, an 8-0 win over the Nats on Monday, a 4-2 win in 10 innings on Tuesday, and then that 10-inning, 2-1 defeat on Wednesday. Four runs allowed in three games.
"The guys bounced back," said Bochy. "They got on track here. This was more (like) our baseball. It was very encouraging how we played in this series. We played well again.
“Sure it was a loss (Wednesday), but the way we played was encouraging. Good pitching. What we thought we could do.”
Which was hang to in there. To go through some of that sweet torture made famous in that championship season of 2010.
On Tuesday, they rallied to tie and then won in 10 on Pablo Sandoval’s home run.
On Wednesday, they rallied to tie, then lost in 10 when the superkid, Bryce Harper, who earlier had homered, doubled and scored on Ian Desmond’s single.
“Their defense beat us,” said Bochy. Quite probably. After Buster Posey singled home Angel Pagan with one out in the eighth, Hunter Pence drove a liner to right that Harper grabbed on a dive. Then when Brandon Belt smashed one on the ground to right, first baseman Adam LaRoche stopped the ball from going through and forced Posey at second.
Two innings later, Washington, underachieving this season, got the run that got the win.
“He’s a good hitter,” Bochy said of Harper, an understatement.
Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, has been labeled the “New Natural.” He was the overall No. 1 pick in the 2010 amateur draft — a year after teammate, Stephen Strasburg, the pitcher, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
The Nats have talent. So do the Giants, or they wouldn’t have won the World Series twice in the past three seasons. The Giants also had problems, those one-sided losses in Toronto and Colorado. With Ryan Vogelsong out with a broken finger and Santiago Casilla also on the disabled list, they still have them.
Yet Matt Cain’s start on Tuesday, only two runs allowed, and Madison Bumgarner’s on Wednesday — seven innings, one run — were reminders of the way it was and should be once more.
“It was no fun to give it up (at Colorado), but we know what we can do,” said Bumgarner. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
What he didn’t say was that the ugly exhibition on the road wasn’t what people have come think of as the San Francisco Giants. “No,” was his one-word response when asked if that was anything close to what he or his teammates expected.
What Bochy and the 190th consecutive sellout crowd at AT&T expected Wednesday was exactly what they got, great pitching, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez — formerly with the Oakland A’s — and Bumgarner matching shutouts through five innings.
Then, leading off the sixth, Harper, a left-handed batter, powered a 1-2 pitch off Bumgarner, a left-handed thrower, into the left field stands.
"I think he made it pretty clear that he's going to play as hard as he can every day," Bumgarner said of Harper. "It's fun to play against guys like that. Most everybody plays that way, but ... he's the kind of player who can bring out the best in you."
The Giants, with a day off Thursday, believe the games against the Nats brought out the best in them after a week when they played their worst.
The only disappointing thing Wednesday, other than the final score, was the end of Marco Scutaro’s hitting streak, which had reached 19 consecutive games.
Scutaro was the Giants’ final batter. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, he hit one that appeared might reach the fence but was caught on the warning track by Roger Bernadina.
“He just missed it,” said Bochy.
By Art Spander
By Art Spander
This was at a dinner in conjunction with the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am a couple of years ago, a California Golf Writers function, and Ken Venturi, the most famous man in the room, looked out at an audience comprised of those he saw more as acquaintances than admirers.
They knew his story, his triumphs and his failures. How he had battled himself as well as the best...
Copyright 2013 Global Golf Post
By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange
OAKLAND — Someone wondered before the first pitch what Oakland Athletics' manager Bob Melvin was going to do about Yoenis Cespedes.
The second-year major-leaguer from Cuba was hitting below the dreaded "Mendoza Line" of .200, at .198. Or as the players say, he's on the wrong interstate, I-98.
Copyright 2013 The Sports Xchange
By Art Spander
OAKLAND — Such a perfect name. Warriors. Because they were. Warriors. Fighters, Battlers. Their coach called them “an inspiration.” The other coach called them really competitive. High praise, and that counts, if not as much as the final score in what for the Golden State Warriors the season of 2012-13 would be the final game.
It is done now, finished. Or has it just begun? The future looks wonderful for the Warriors. Yet that doesn’t ease the pain. It is the here and now that was important for the W’s, the game Thursday night at Oracle in front of fans so enthusiastic and loud it seemed they could will Golden State to a victory. They couldn’t.
The San Antonio Spurs, the old guys, the four-time champions, were too much for the Warriors, resilient as champions always are, and holding on to a 94-82 victory.
So the Spurs win the NBA Western Conference semifinal, four games to two. They go on to play the Memphis Grizzlies in the next round. The Warriors needed this one to keep the season alive. They didn’t get it. There will be no seventh game.
There will be only thoughts of what could have been. Those and the chants of the passionate 19,956 at Oracle.
Disappointment, certainly, for Mark Jackson, the coach; for the players; maybe most of all for the fans, clad in their yellow T-shirts and limitless hopes. They wouldn’t leave, serenading the players and no less themselves with the rolling, repetitive word, “Warr-iors . . . Warr-iors.”
A salute to the season, maybe to reason. The Spurs figured out this series quickly. If they were going to win, they had to stop Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And after Game 2, mostly they did.
They jammed the middle and fought through the picks. They shoved and clawed. And, as in Thursday night’s game, even when their own offense was ineffective — Tony Parker, the San Antonio guard, was 3 for 16, while teammate Manu Ginobili was 1 for 6 — the Spurs stayed in and on top. Only briefly in the first quarter, and only by two points, did the Warriors ever lead.
“Defense,” said Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach. “Yeah, if we can hold them in the 80s, we should have a decent chance at the end of the game . . . Down the stretch, we made a couple of shots and they didn’t.”
Down the stretch is where 90 percent of all NBA games are won. Down the stretch, the Warriors closed from seven points to four to two. Yes, two, 77-75, with 4:52 left, and regaining the ball and Oracle going mad, a cauldron of sound. But then Curry missed a 3-pointer and Parker made one. Then Kawhi Leonard made a 2-pointer.
Reality. The Spurs would win. The deed was done. Except for the fans.
“As an announcer,” said Jackson, the Warriors coach who did NBA games for ESPN, “I can recall calling the (Oklahoma City) Thunder game in the playoffs. They got knocked out. We’re sitting there closing on the air, and the fans are chanting, acknowledging the great season. I’m sitting there as an announcer thinking, ‘This is cool.’
“We’ve got the best fans in the business. It was an incredible moment for them to acknowledge what took place this year and also for my guys to acknowledge that we don’t take these fans for granted. It’s been a great ride.”
If Thursday night a wobbly one. Center Andrew Bogut’s bad ankle, surgically repaired more than a year ago when he still was with Milwaukee, was sore even before the game, and he played only some six minutes in the second half.
Forward Harrison Barnes, just named to the all-rookie team, caught an elbow above an eye near the end of the first half, went down for the longest while, had to helped to the locker room and was given six stitches. He returned after intermission but was unable to stay in the game.
David Lee, of course, had torn a hip flexor in the first game of the Denver series and was declared out until next season. His courageous comeback was part of the story, but he was limited.
Curry’s right ankle, a chronic problem, was tweaked in Game 3, and he wasn’t completely right in the last three games. Even then, he ended up with 22 Thursday night, the best of either team.
So when Jackson insisted, “My guys gave me everything they had,” it wasn’t fiction.
“It was incredible. I can go out and win championships, and I will not be any prouder of any group that I ever coached than this group. At the end of the day, our tank will be empty and the light will be beaming bright.”
The light has been dimmed. The season has been concluded. But it was a joy. “Warr-iors, Warr-iors.”
By Art Spander
OAKLAND — Another one of those "tote that barge, lift that bale" situations for the Oakland Athletics, another game that was worked and not played, agonized and not enjoyed.
“Our type of baseball,” said Josh Donaldson.
On Tuesday night, however, that type, the type that drags on when most of the fans have dragged themselves home — and when the announced attendance is 12,969, that doesn’t leave many in the stands — wasn’t successful.
The Texas Rangers got a couple of home runs in the 10th off a star-crossed A’s reliever named Chris Resop, and when this one came to a close, long after every other game in the majors already had done so, 3 hours 43 minutes after the first pitch, the Rangers were 6-5 winners.
Resop was the sixth A’s pitcher. He came in for the 10th, got Lance Berkman to ground out. Then he went 3-0 on Adrian Beltre. It’s like baiting a lion.
“I was just trying to get back in the strike zone,” Resop would say quietly, his right shoulder encased in ice.
The ball stayed there for a blink of an eye, then Beltre, who already had a double and a single in the game, powered it over the center field fence to break a 4-4 tie. After Nelson Cruz was retired, Resop threw another over the plate, and Mitch Moreland, who had hit one out in the fourth off Bartolo Colon, hit one out in the 10th off Resop.
“It’s not what I wanted,” said Resop.
“Rough,” someone sympathized. Resop disagreed. “This is worse than rough,” he said. “This is tough. This is not fun at all. You hate to let the others down. It’s a team game, but at the end of the day, there’s one person who could make the difference. I was trying to be too fine.”
The Swingin’ A’s, they used to call the franchise in a different time. Now it’s the Plodding A’s, the team that turns a sporting event into a seven-act production of Shakespeare. Nothing is easy. Nothing is quick. Nothing is brief.
There was that 19-inning game a couple weeks ago, right here at O.Co Coliseum. Then Tuesday night, when the pace was acceptable, everything slowed and slowed.
The A’s trailed 3-0. The A’s led 4-3. Seven innings had passed. It wasn’t going to be tidy, but at least it would be a win, and in regulation. The A’s needed it. Oh, did the Bay Area need it. The Warriors had lost. The Sharks had lost. The Giants had lost. Saved by the A’s? It was to dream.
The Rangers tied the game in the eighth, and then, boom (Beltre), boom (Moreland), they led by two in the 10th, 6-4, and they held on despite an Oakland run.
Maybe 1,500 fans were left. Maybe 30 or so beat their drums and blew their horns. So few people, so much noise. So little satisfaction.
“(Resop) is just going through a bad stretch,” said Bob Melvin, the A’s manager. Melvin has gone through his own bad stretch.
Last week he was ejected in Cleveland for arguing, correctly, that a ball hit by Oakland’s Adam Rosales was a home run, not a double. Tuesday night he was ejected, incorrectly, for arguing that Daric Barton beat out a grounder to short in the eighth.
“I probably deserved to go,” said Melvin of getting thumbed over the Barton play. “From where I was, I thought he was safe. But he (umpire D.J. Reyburn) got the call right, so I deserved it.”
The A’s have lost seven of nine. Sometimes it’s the hitting, or lack of it. Sometimes it’s the pitching. Or lack of it. When a team rallies from being down 3-0, goes ahead and then squanders a lead and a game, the feelings are mixed.
“We continue to battle,” reminded Melvin, “especially here at home.”
That’s admirable, but moral victories are of little use, especially for a team that was in the playoffs last season and is expected — was expected — to return in 2013.
Josh Donaldson, the A’s third baseman, had four straight hits, including two doubles, before flying out in the 10th. He’s hitting .315. He’s optimistic, not about his numbers but about his team.
“We feel competitive,” said Donaldson. “We’re aggressive. We play hard.”
Unquestionably. Now, if they only could play faster and with less stress.