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7:49PM

Niners lose ball and game to the only team that hadn’t won

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The clues were as obvious as the footballs bouncing on the grass — and picked up by the opposition. And, in one case, run back for a touchdown.

If you lose the ball, which the 49ers did, then you lose the game. Which the 49ers also did.

Do turnovers make bad teams? Or do bad teams make turnovers? This is not so much a conundrum as a gentle way of saying that, right now, the San Francisco 49ers are a mess. They were beaten by the only team in the NFL that until Sunday had beaten no one else.

But if you give away the ball five times, twice on interceptions and thrice on fumbles, you’re going to lose to anyone and everyone, so it’s no surprise that the Niners were stopped, 28-18, by the Arizona Cardinals and that both Arizona the Niners are 1-4.

The surprise is that until the end, San Francisco was in the game, in a manner of speaking. And another surprise will be if the 49ers can win one of their next two games, Monday night at Green Bay and then a week from Sunday back here at Levi’s Stadium against the overwhelming Los Angeles Rams.

“We doubled their time of possession,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan — 40 minutes, 12 seconds to a virtual 20 minutes. “Our defense played its tail off. You look at a lot of things, it’s hard to find out how we lose this game. Then it’s very easy: turnovers.”

Especially one of them, a 23-yard fumble return by Cardinals linebacker Josh Byrnes, who picked up the ball after Niners quarterback C.J. Beathard was sacked and lost it on his own 33. The ball bounced, Byrnes grabbed it, and, yikes, with 4:41 to play Arizona grabbed a 21-12 lead — and the game.

Asked how many of the turnovers could be blamed on Beathard, the second-year quarterback who is filling in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Shanahan did his best not to throw Beathard under the bus. He merely tossed him under one of those motorized scooters.

“I mean he’s the quarterback,” said the coach. “It’s his responsibility to protect the ball. But 10 other guys should make it easier on him. Usually fumbles are hard to pin on the quarterback.”

The Niners lost several starters, including halfback Matt Breida, a strong blocker as well as a fine runner. But pro football is a game of injuries, and the slogan is “Next man up.” Every player in the locker room is capable, or he wouldn’t be there.

“You can’t win ballgames turning the ball over five times,” Beathard confirmed. “I feel like we played well in all the other aspects except turnovers. Just got to take better care of the ball.”

Beathard didn’t quite know what happened when he was sacked by Byrnes, and the ball was returned for a score.

“I was trying to get the ball to (wide receiver) Trent Taylor,” said Beathard, “and he was getting held. I decided to wait a little bit. The guy hit the ball out of my hands and that was it. Just got to get the ball out quicker.”

Maybe Beathard is what we see. Surely the Niners would have thought more of him or they wouldn’t have signed Garoppolo, who was seen as a savior. Bur the savior is done until next year after knee surgery, so for better or worse it’s Beathard’s baby.

And Shanahan’s worry. After an 0-9 start last year as a rookie coach, Shanahan, and the Niners, finished with five straight wins. Yes, Garoppolo was in charge. Now he’s not.

“Last year it was frustrating to start that way,” said Shanahan, answering a question. “And we don’t like to lose. We put a lot of work into this. Every Sunday we come out confident, and we expect to win. We’ve come up short a number of times.

“I told our team we’d love to be 5-0 right now, and we’re not. We know why we lose each game. We fought hard, but when you have five turnovers it’s borderline impossible.”

The word borderline is not applicable. It’s simply impossible. As the Niners proved.

 

9:41AM

S.F. Examiner: Turnovers, penalties plague Niners in loss to Cardinals

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The 49ers flexed their muscles Thursday night. Well, running back Carlos Hyde did, and it cost him 15 yards for taunting. Which is sort of the way things went for the Niners at a Levi’s Stadium that was — what? — half-full against an opponent, who despite being forced to use a backup quarterback, all there.

In this battle between 1-3 teams who at the start seemed destined to set an NFL record for punts — the first combined nine offensive series ended in that manner — the Arizona Cardinals beat the Niners, 33-21.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

6:39PM

49ers not good enough to overcome bad officiating

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a football coach named Henry (Red) Sanders, best known for his years at UCLA, who had the perfect response when people complained about the referees or others in football who judged what was happening on the football field.

“When my team makes as few as few mistakes as the officials,” said Sanders, “we’ll win every game.”

That said, the officiating of the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday was awful, both in terms of making calls and keeping the pace of play from slowing to a point of stagnation.

That said, good teams overcome whatever is beyond their control, or whatever is within their control, which is why they are good. The 49ers are not a good team.

Indeed, they played well defensively against the Cards, who statistically have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. And the Niners were also decent, if once again inconsistent, on offense. At the end, however, they were losers, 19-13, to a Cardinals team that, after a sloppy, boring, perplexingly erratic victory, has a 9-2 record — best in the NFC West — compared to the Niners’ 3-8 mark.

Sport is about getting the job done, no matter how many bad plays, bad breaks or bad calls. Sport is about making the best from the worst. When he was at the top of his game, Roger Federer blinked away a linesman’s error and won the next point and invariably the match. When he was at his best, Tiger Woods would pull off a great shot from a terrible lie — where others might have moaned about their misfortune.

Those 49ers of the '80s and early '90s, the ones that won Super Bowls, faced bad calls, bad weather and other obstacles that would have stymied lesser teams, yet they didn’t stop the Niners. They had the talent, the courage and the confidence.

These Niners of 2016 at the least have resilience and perception. They comprehend that the battle is to the strong and race to the swift. They realize that grumbling about the officiating doesn’t help; in fact it seems an excuse more than a justification. So, despite their won-loss mark, and the inescapable fact they are destined for no better than a .500 record even if they win their remaining five games, they are to be respected.

The officiating crew for this game at Levi’s Stadium, where maybe one third of the 70,799 sold-out seats were empty, was to be pitied. And belittled. And questioned. What was going on out there? Why did they need to confer so many times after a penalty flag? Referee Pete Morelli appeared befuddled by everything and anything.

Maybe this wasn’t the sequence that decided the game, and maybe each call was correct and needed, but early in the third quarter the Niners were called for seven penalties in 12 plays, four in seven plays, three of those defensive pass interference near the goal line or in the end zone. Eventually, painfully, the Cardinals scored on a one-yard run to take a 13-3 lead.

Were the Niners simply that clumsy, that klutzy, that they were grabbing and clutching the potential Cardinals receivers? Or were the officials subconsciously favoring Arizona, which certainly came in as the superior team?

“Them not being able to get those quick-hitting touchdown passes,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said about the Cardinals, “and flaring their arms and things like that. I think that’s what caused the flags. We’re playing hard.”

And then there was a seemingly phantom roughing-the-passer penalty against the Niners in the fourth quarter. Second and 10 on the Arizona 32, and Quinton Dial bulled into Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, dropping him for a loss. But the hit was high in the chest, or perhaps at the neckline, and the 15-yard roughing the passer penalty moved the ball to the 47. From there, Arizona drove in to score. 

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” the Niners’ beleaguered first-year coach, Jim Tomsula, said wisely. One, because he would be fined. Two because not only would it be fruitless but it also would detract from his image — as bad as that might be.

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” he repeated when asked a second time.

Tomsula did comment on his team, however, saying it has made progress — in its previous game against Arizona it was battered, 47-7 — and there were positives in a negative game, especially from quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 25 of 36 for 318 yards and had one TD pass along with one interception.

“I thought Blaine has continually gotten better as he’s been in here,” said Tomsula after Gabbert’s third start since replacing Colin Kaepernick. “There’s obviously things that we need to clean up, but I think he’s continually getting better.

“I see a positive in the offense in terms of reads and picking things up. But it is a loss. We lost the football game.”

And no matter how terrible we believed their work was, the officials are not to be blamed. They didn’t drop a pass or miss a tackle. The 49ers are not good enough to overcome bad officiating.

9:25AM

Ishikawa’s shot brings Giants a pennant, and memories

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Always the Giants, in New York, in San Francisco. Always the miracle workers, bending reality, banging dramatic home runs, winning pennants.

This one, on a Thursday night by the Bay that will cling to the memory, wasn’t exactly Bobby Thomson homering off Ralph Branca, and the great Red Smith writing, “Truth has overcome anything fiction could envision.” But it will do.

In 1951, the Giants came from more than a dozen games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers to tie, and Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world,” gave them the playoff series. That was forever.

This was for now, and yet still for a lifetime. “What a story,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.” Indeed.

Travis Ishikawa, once a Giant, then a castoff, returned to hit his own Thomson-esque three-run blow in the bottom of the ninth Thursday, giving San Francisco a 6-3 victory and the pennant.

The Giants won the best-of-seven National League Championship Series from St. Louis, four games to one, and for the third time in five years march on to the baseball’s ultimate, the World Series.

For four games the Giants did the little things, racing the bases, forcing the issue, riding key hits and a bit of luck. But in the fifth game they went big, breaking loose after six postseason games without a home run to get three homers, including the game-winner by the most unlikely of heroes, Ishikawa.

Joe Panik, the rookie second baseman, had a two-run shot in the third. Then off the bench, Michael Morse, pinch-hitting, tied the game, 3-3, with a ball into the left field bleachers in the eighth. After that, it was a given somehow the Giants would get this game.

But no one figured on Ishikawa, a first baseman forced to play left field where in the second he misplayed a fly ball that allowed the Cards to score. “It was a terrible read on my part,” said Ishikawa. “I ran a tough route.”

His teammates wouldn’t let him suffer. “I told him don’t worry,” said Jake Peavy, the pitcher San Francisco got in a trade from Boston. “We’ll get it back. That’s the way this team is, so spirited.”

And so intriguing. Ishikawa was a backup on the Giants’ 2010 World Series champions, but he ached to play. What he did, however, was move, not play, joining four major league and numerous minor league franchises. The worst season was 2013 when he was with teams in four eastern cities and rarely saw his family in San Jose. He thought about quitting.

Instead for 2014 he signed with Pittsburgh, but when early in the season the Pirates wanted to ship him to Triple A, he requested his release. He joined the Giants — who sent him to the minors.

“I remember calling a buddy of mine halfway through the year,” said Ishikawa, “crying in Texas. No matter what, I was 0-for-4 and just didn’t look like I could hit a ball off a tee. He continued to encourage me.

“And after the All-Star break I was able to do just enough to allow the Giants to bring me up, which I wasn’t expecting ... I came up, just thinking I was going to be a pinch-hitter, and obviously Bochy, with his mastermind of intuition, just throwing me out in the outfield and giving me this opportunity. It’s unbelievable.”

A phrase that describes the first home run to decide a pennant for the Giants since, yes, Thomson’s six decades earlier.”

Not that the 31-year-old Ishikawa thought it was clearing the bricks in right field when he connected. He believed it would be off the wall, still enough to bring home Joaquin Arias, running for Pablo Sandoval, from third with the winner.

“It was a 2-0 count,” said Ishikawa. “I knew (Michael Wacha, who had been brought in to pitch the ninth) didn’t want to go to 3-0. I was just trying to be aggressive, put the barrel of the bat on the ball.

“When I first hit it I thought it was going to be a walkoff hit, so I was throwing my hands in the air, and then I just heard the crowd going crazy. So my thought was, ‘OK, if this gets out, it’s going to be fantastic.’ “

Which it did, and which it was.

All this way, and no mention yet of the wonderful Madison Bumgarner, who started and allowed only five hits, but because two were home runs, one each in the fourth by Matt Adams and Tony Cruz, left after eight innings trailing 3-2.

“That was as fun a game as you can have,” said Mad Bum, chosen the MVP of the NLCS for shutting out the Cards in the first game and keeping them under control in this fifth game.

“I don’t know I’m 100 percent deserving of it,” said Bumgarner. “We’re just excited to be moving on.”

Probably no less excited to get out a clubhouse where for a half-hour the Giants had doused each other, and trapped media, in Mumm’s sparkling wine. “It’s time to celebrate,” confirmed Bochy.

Not surprisingly when the Series begins Tuesday against the Royals in Kansas City, Bumgarner will be the Giants pitcher. “Yeah, definitely,” said Bochy.

And the guess is Ishikawa, the out-of-position first baseman, will be in left.

“I’m sure he’s going to wake up and realize what just happened,” said Bochy. “He’s such a great kid. ... You know it’s all about perseverance, and he didn’t give up. He said there’s a time or two he thought about it, and I’m sure it’s all worthwhile now.”

10:02AM

Giants' clubhouse sign says it all: ‘Never Unprepared’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — This was the game they should have lost. Well, could have lost. Their starting pitcher couldn’t make it into the fourth. The other team, the Cardinals, was banging balls off fences and, like that, was in front, 4-1.

Yet once again, the Giants found a way.

Once again the Giants pecked and pestered, getting great work from the bullpen and great movement from base runners, pressing the issue until the Cardinals were forced into making wrong decisions.

“Never Unprepared.” That small sign is posted on the Giants’ clubhouse door. Always ready. Always willing. To take the extra base. To take the mound, if only to face one batter.

“Whatever we need,” said Javier Lopez, the lefthander who was the fifth of the seven San Francisco pitchers. “We’re not flashy.”

Who needs flashy? The Giants beat St. Louis, 6-4, Wednesday night at AT&T Park, where the music pounded and the rally rags waved. They’re up three games to one in the best of seven National League Championship Series. They’re one game away from making to the World Series for the third time in five years.

But they’re also wary. Two years ago, 2012, it was the Cardinals who had the 3-1 lead in the NLCS. And the Giants won three in a row. They know what’s possible. Even with Madison Bumgarner pitching in Thursday’s Game 5.

“Great win, great comeback,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “We’ve won three. But we have work to do.”

The work they’ve done in the first four games has been outstanding, if understated. Once more, no home runs — for the sixth straight game of the postseason — but beautiful defense and capable offense, waiting out a walk instead of flailing at a pitch, knowing what to do if there’s a deep fly or a soft grounder.

“It has to start somewhere,” said Bochy.

It started everywhere. It started when Yusmeiro Petit came in to pitch the fourth inning after Ryan Vogelsong, who had been so effective in his previous five postseason games, was so ineffective.

Petit, who would get the win, went three innings, allowing only one hit. Then Jeremy Affeldt went two-thirds of an inning. And Jean Machi one batter. And Lopez one-third of an inning. And Sergio Romo one inning. And finally Santiago Casilla one inning, the ninth, if one in which he gave up his first hit since September 11, a stretch of 10 games.

It started with pinch hitter Joaquin Arias singling to begin the third, Buster Posey singling, Pablo Sandoval walking and Hunter Pence singling. Now the score was 4-3. Now the momentum had switched.

The sixth was classic Giants less-is-more baseball. Juan Perez, pinch hitting (well, pinch walking), got to first. Brandon Crawford singled. Pinch hitter Matt Duffy sacrificed. Gregor Blanco grounded to first, but Matt Adams, after fielding the ball, couldn’t get Perez at the plate. The game was tied.

Not for long. Joe Panik also grounded to first, but Adams stepped on the bag, removing the force, and when he threw high to second to try for Blanco, Crawford dashed home from third.

Fundamental baseball. “Never Unprepared” baseball.

“I had talked to (third base coach) Tim Flannery,” said Crawford. “He said if there was a throw to second to take off for home. That’s what happened. We’re putting the pressure on.

“A big reason for our success is we’ve been getting on base and playing defense.”

Said Bochy, “Great base running by Crawford. If you’re not hitting the long ball, you have to find ways to manufacture runs.”

Neither team made an error that would be recorded in the box score in the a game that was just seven minutes short of four hours, but the Cardinals made the sort of botches that are the difference in playoff baseball.    

“We found a way to score a couple of weird ones there,” said Posey, the Giants' leader. He drove in three runs and scored one.

“I can speak as a catcher. Sometimes those two-out RBIs can be big in shifting momentum.”

The runs in the third, the ones that brought the Giants into the game, as they also did the unsettled sellout crowd of 43,147, were scored with two outs. You sensed then the Cards might be in trouble.

“You have to do the little things,” said Bochy in a message repeated more than once of late. “Granted we’ve gotten a couple breaks, but at the same time, we’ve done some good things, little things. Arias pinch hits, and we find a way to get him across. Now you’re getting a little bit closer, and the hope starts to build up and the momentum starts to change, and that’s what happened.

“I’ve always said, to win a game you need pitching and you need timely hits. And tonight we got them.”

And got to within a game of another World Series.