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9:25AM

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.

9:39AM

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.

9:16AM

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.

DFA-ed.

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.

2:04PM

Just another game for Giants — and just another loss

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Just another game. That’s what it was for the Giants. Another game and, yes, another defeat, if at home as opposed to the one the day before on the road.

For the Giants, it is obvious, it doesn’t matter who they play or where they play — or in many games, how they play.

In fact, Monday night they played well, relatively speaking. They had fine pitching, especially by starter Drew Pomeranz. He made only one mistake. At another time, the mistake is irrelevant. But for the Giants of 2019, there are no irrelevant mistakes.

The Colorado Rockies beat the Giants, 2-0, Monday night at Oracle Park. The runs came on a home run in the third by David Dahl with Charlie Blackmon on second. Blackmon had a bloop double and Dahl’s homer barely cleared the left field fence.

But those guys can hit. They’re both batting .300-something. Nobody on the Giants can hit, other than Pablo Sandoval. Which is why San Francisco scored no runs after scoring only two runs on Sunday against the Diamondbacks.

Two runs in 18 innings. Not exactly overwhelming.

Just another game in what sadly isn’t going to be just another season. It’s not even July and the Giants are 11 games under .500.

Attendance already is rotten (tickets sold Monday night, 30,018; people in house, maybe 20,000). Where do the Giants go from here?

The main man, Larry Baer, is supposed be back from his suspension at the end of the month to provide leadership. Is it too late to sign Bryce Harper? Sorry.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy came out to face the media after this one, as he always does every game. Poor Bruce, in this lame-duck season. Poor Giants, in this going-nowhere season.

Bochy has too much class to be rude or abrasive like Mickey Callaway of the Mets, a franchise at war with itself. So Bruce simply offers platitudes and occasionally, as when asked why in the fifth he pinch hit for Pomeranz — who equaled a career-high with 11 strikeouts — an explanation.

It was a necessity, that’s why. There was a runner on second — Joe Panik had doubled — and one out. Brandon Belt became the batter instead of Pomeranz and walked. But then Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson each struck out.

Yaz and Dickerson could be part of the new wave, if there is going to be a new wave. Each came up from Sacramento within the past few weeks. Might as well learn what they can do. When you’re not very good, why not make some changes?

The dreaded Dodgers keep hitting home runs and winning. About the only thing the Giants seem able to hit is rock bottom. 

In the seventh, with Panik on first and two outs Yastrzemski doubled to left. Panik was sent home. You have to gamble now and then. The throw clearly beat the runner who was called out, but might have been safe. The Giants can’t win games. The Giants can’t win TV replay decisions, either.

“I didn’t look at it,” said Bochy. “It was that close. The ball beat him, but I don’t know about the tag.” The officials back in New Jersey, doing the review, knew about the tag. Or thought they did.

Pomeranz has been inconsistent this year, but he was sharp Monday night. So, unfortunately for the Giants, was Colorado starter Jon Gray, who in six innings gave up just four hits.

“I just simplified my approach,” said Pomeranz. “I quit trying to set up guys. I didn’t want to walk guys.” On Monday night, he walked two.

“On the home run, I was trying to stay in on him and it just kind of cut back to the middle of the plate. That’s the one pitch I’ll probably think about the rest of the night. That’s baseball. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes one pitch decides the game.”

Even when it’s just another game.

10:18PM

Giants: Now even Bochy seems discouraged

SAN FRANCISCO — Even the manager sounded depressed. For good reason. Yes, Bruce Bochy, eternal optimist, from whom there’s almost never a discouraging word, who rarely says anything downbeat about his players, even when their play seemingly demands it, was sounding all too negative.

These San Francisco Giants, the team Bochy will suffer through this one last season, is playing the sort of ball that is intolerable and, the way it is missing grounders, virtually indefensible.

Now, before end of May, it is legitimate to believe the Giants have reached the end of the road.

Two days ago, they were pathetic, losing — collapsing, if you will — to the Arizona Diamondbacks 18-2. Embarrassing. And then Saturday, the D-Backs again scored in double figures, thumping the Giants 10-4.

The only difference is that Saturday, when the announced attendance was 31,551 at Oracle Park, the fans stayed to the end, enjoying the sunshine and breezes if not the result of a fourth straight loss and fifth in six games.

“It’s hard to put a positive spin on this one,” agreed Bochy.

Other than mentioning the defense of Kevin Pillar, who Saturday was in right, and started a remarkable double play by catching a ball, throwing to Joe Panik who then fired to Brandon Belt to get the runner trying to return to first. Otherwise, the D-Backs would have had more than two runs in the inning.

Not that it really mattered. Arizona just kept slamming balls off and over the fences we’re told are too distant at Oracle — at least for the Giants. The game began, boom, with a Ketel Marte triple off Andrew Suarez. And away they went.

Oh, how times have changed. Five seasons ago the Giants won their third World Series in a stretch of five years. Now they’re not only in last place, they’re boring — other than an inning or three.

No one expected miracles when Farhan Zaidi took control of baseball operations at the end of last season — it was an old team with a poor farm system — but he could have worked some sort of transaction to keep everyone interested.

The former baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, used to advise fans that the entire idea is to provide hope — to keep everyone believing that a team is going to be up there in the final days of the schedule, Right now, the Giants appear to be without hope.

The starting pitching is getting pummeled. The offense is minimal, which is a nice way of saying terrible. The Giants scored three runs in the seventh, although when you’re trailing 10-1 that’s just window dressing. They did get runners on before that. And failed to bring them home.

“We couldn’t keep the line moving,” said Bochy.

How do you fix this mess? Zaidi warned last summer, when he came from the Dodgers to take over the Giants, that he did not believe in the quick fix, although even if he did — you know, signing a zillion-dollar free agent such as Bryce Harper — it was beyond the realm of possibility.

The Chicago Cubs, where tradition and the ballpark, “beautiful Wrigley Field,” were enough to fill the seats, and Houston Astros, who had no tradition but did have a lot of talent in the minors, were willing to go through a complete rebuilding — and each won a World Series.

But places like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco won’t accept a tear-down and rebuild. They won’t accept losing either. You have to at least be competitive. Or season tickets will tumble along with the ball club.

Bochy did point out the Giants have a fine defensive outfield, anchored by Pillar and Steven Duggar, who Saturday made another one of his airborne catches. Added to those two as of Saturday when he was called up from Sacramento is Mike Yastrzemski, who Giants partisans can only wish will remind all of baseball of his grandfather.

Carl Yastrzemski, now 79, played his entire magnificent career (Triple Crown, Hall of Fame) with the Red Soxand when Mike was in high school gave him a few lessons on the art of hitting. Mike was 0-for-3 Saturday, but that was only Day One.

Maybe the kid comes through. Maybe he doesn’t. For sure it will be more enticing to follow his progress than the lack of progress of his new team, the San Francisco Giants.