Opening Day: Second Deck added
First game: Reds hosting the Mets, Harang v. Santana.
First major radio advertiser: Bud Light, continuing the "Real Men of Genius" series. New installments in the form of "Mr. Rolling Cooler Cooler Roller" and "Mr. T-Shirt Cannon Inventor." Good to have them back; one does figure beer would be recession-proof. (Although let's not forget who owns the Budweiser monolith now. "America is not for sale, and neither is her beer.") I've always found the Real Men of Genius ads to be half a dash smarter than the usual beer commerical kitsch. Maybe it's because they play better on radio than TV.
First baserunning blunder: Edwin Encarnacion. Strayed too far off first on a liner to right that Ryan Church bobbled but still caught. Mental mistakes are supposed to be the perpetual thorn in Encarnacion's side, and here he is already playing into the caricature.
First run, first RBI, first home run: Daniel Murphy, top 5th off Harang. Reds play-by-play man Marty Brennaman calls him Dennis Murphy.
First pinch-hitter: Micah Owings, bottom fifth. Announcers rationalized that Dusty Baker was using Owings as their first pinch hitter to save his "good" pinch-hitters for the late innings. Left out of the discussion was the possibility of Owings actually being any "good" himself. Santana strikes him out swinging.
First reliever: Daniel Ray Herrera, top sixth. Promptly allows double to Luis Castillo, walks the pitcher Santana, walks Reyes on four to a chorus of boos.
"Definitely not the Herrera we saw all spring training."Brief mound visit from Dick Pole, whereupon Herrera calms down and gets Murphy on an RBI groundout. But still he suffers the indignity of being removed mid-inning in his first appearance of 2009, and the Mets have widened the lead to 2-0.
"But as Dusty Baker said, once they put a second deck on the stadium everything changes."
[Over to Rockies at Diamondbacks, where our ace Brandon Webb is taking the hill. There follows half an hour of technical glitches, after which we find that only Spanish feeds are available. MLB Gameday Audio and I are still working out some kinks.]
Shouldn't have to expound on this, but let's just say that in times like these it can feel surprisingly hollow to dissect Jeff Francoeur's bounceback potential, Tom Glavine's last hurrah or the Braves' playoff chances overall, And what could possibly have suffered from worse timing than the unveiling of two lavish New York ballparks that weren't really necessary in the first place (as new ballparks so rarely are)?
In spite of all the analysts furiously rushing to call the bottom to Depression '09, we still have yet to see several dominoes fall as a result of the crash. One of those dominoes is MLB attendance this year, particularly luxury box attendance, particularly in weaker markets such as Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Bill Simmons wrote a great piece recently on the NBA's fiduciary woes and how that's affecting the product on the court. It may not be surprising to see Detroit's baseball franchise start to crumble along with the rest of the city. But even if Miguel Cabrera isn't pawned off for pennies on the dollar to the Red Sox in June, far and away the most fascinating subplot of the season is to see what effects occur as a result of this pandemic of Sudden Onset Poverty.
Generally there are two ways to predict what's going to happen to baseball this year. The half-full view says America will need entertainment now more than ever in these troubled times. (Look for that article to be popping up on ESPN.com and its counterparts right around Opening Day.) The half-empty view says America has more important things to worry about than whether this year's Johnny Breakout is chemically aided, or whether his team's push for the wild card is heroic or hopeless, or whether to spend good money finding out. Considering that virtually every institution in the nation has suddenly found themselves woefully short of cash in the past nine months, we are putting our penny on the latter.
Yet another pressing uncertainty: MLBeat is not sure how it is going to adequately cover the 2009 season. The ol' employer has not only discontinued its Giants season tickets in reaction to the crisis, it has laid off yours truly (and has taken many more severe measures than that to avoid having to shutter up altogether). So when it comes to forking over any portion of the pittance that was Yon Severance Check on Giants tickets, A's tickets, the booze that inevitably accompanies a trip to either stadium, MLB.tv, digital cable, and several other options, well...apologies to you, faithful audience.
Instead we're going with a Cost-Effective 2009. This means using my newfound spare time to manage the living daylights out of four different fantasy teams, as well as running one of the leagues. (Co-author John has finally joined the league this year, so perhaps he will see fit to add his own perspective on the Smokey League experience.) Only my league has an entrance fee, and it goes towards a pot that I intend on winning with -- recurring theme alert -- all my newfound free time. This approach will not only save money but also represent a deeper headlong dive into the realm of following a sport exclusively through its fantasy component. This has worked for me and fantasy NBA for years.
And maybe, just maybe, if we cut enough corners and discover an extra $15ish burning a hole in the pocket, we'll consider springing for a season's worth of MLB Gameday Audio. Baseball via audio is one of the last few remaining throwbacks to the olden days, and it can be a refreshing tonic to the swooshing animatronic graphics or the self-fulfilling manufactured drama of Fox or ESPN. We have long wanted to go around MLB and produce a summary of the best and worst radio announcing teams. Perhaps this will be the year.
Choices at midnight
include The Tribe in extras
If baseball is dead
it rises late at night
to haunt the vacant airwaves.
Would Cliff Lee
cough up a seven-run lead?
The Indians and Tigers tied at 12.
From Blake Dewitt's hometown
of Sikeston, Missouri
a Midwest miracle:
the Sound of Vin Scully late at night,
telling me where Ramon Troncoso is from.
Why Ask Why
Here's what Will Carroll wrote in BP yesterday for one of his little throwaway daily notes, notable because it's the closest I've seen anyone come to just saying it:
If anyone tells you that Tim Lincecum will be affected in the second half by his All-Star illness, don't believe them. And next time someone mentions the way that the media deals with players now, versus what they did with Mickey Mantle, don't believe that either.Point taken -- but why does it have to be this way?
Anyhow, the Brewers dispatched the Giants in workmanlike fashion to complete a three-game sweep. The talent disparity on the field seemed noticeable, particularly when Braun and Corey Hart hit homers that had a way of feeling like impossible feats for a lineup featuring Eugenio Velez in left and someone named Ivan Ochoa at short (Brian Bocock having been reduced to but a memory). In front of us sat two friendly Brewers fans who were shocked to learn that the Giants do not feature even one player who could be counted upon to hit twenty homers in a full season's worth of playing time. Rowand, maybe...Bengie Molina but that's kind of a stretch...and yep, we're all done.
Other inexplicable events from this day included: a Mets fan two rows behind us (dead ringer for Bobby Valentine when he wore the fake mustache) who unfortunately proved louder and dumber than the entire rest of our section combined; a Giants fan two rows behind him who thought one solitary noise clapper, if employed incessantly for three straight innings, would somehow get everyone fired up rather than extensively annoyed; and the Giants' decision, during the postgame Picnic in the Park for season ticketholders (always a favorite event of ours due to free beer and hot dogs), to feature zoo animals including a baby camel, boa constrictor, and whatever in the world this is:
But the most unanswerable question came from the nice middle-aged lady sitting next to me about a third of the way into the game. She patiently waited for a break in between innings so that I wasn't occupied, then asked, "I really don't mean this in a sarcastic way, but why do you do that?" She was pointing to my scorebook.
I get this every time I come to a Giants game. Usually it's from someone just obnoxious enough who says they can't understand why I would, to which my stock reply is that I don't really understand the people who don't keep score. But this woman was not only kind, but completely serious and totally deserving of a real response.
I trotted out the usual reasons: to have as a keepsake, to help me pay more attention to the game, and as a sort of homage to the old-school way of doing things. But none of those are good enough reasons on their own, really. She wasn't convinced. Then I realized, I wasn't convinced either. Why is it exactly that I do this again?
It always gets interesting in our little corner of the world when the Mets come to town. The man most responsible for our company having the season tickets that I manage to hog each year is one of those rabid, beyond-all-reason Mets fans. He's also one of those types who seems to--well let's just say Teh Alcohols seem to follow him around particularly when it comes to such momentous occasions as the Mets' only visit to San Francisco all year.
But that's not the only reason this was a Drinkin' Game. For one, it was another one of those cold and windy nights at the Call Center that I frankly don't see any way of enjoying/tolerating/surviving without a healthy dose of booze in the bloodstream. For another, my bottle of Johnnie Walker Black had been confiscated by security at the turnstile the day before, so I was out for revenge. (Always carry it on your person if you can; nobody has the time or inclination to pat down 40,000 doughy baseball fans.)
One flask of Beam and one large bottle of Suntory later, mission was accomplished. All of this is a roundabout way of saying, mistakes were made on the scorecard.
The Padres Might Be Worse Than the Giants
This game was notable for its quick, clean tenor and the abrupt change thereof in the final inning. Lincecum and Randy Wolf tossed the kind of pitcher's duel that seemed to have more to do with the ineptitude of the offenses involved than with anyone's blazing stuff (Franchise tallied only two Ks in seven mostly easy innings). The Giants in particular did not appear likely to be able to muster more than one run at any point, but when Hoffman came in to protect a two-run lead in the tenth the base hits started coming faster than I could write them down. The gun never read higher than 85 for any of Hoffman's pitches. I wonder if Petco Park's traditional playing of "Hell's Bells" in the ninth these days is just sad in that wistfully nostalgic sort of way. If the Padres were in contention they would have probably found a way to end this particular death march by now.
Oh and one final note: I have no idea who Brian Horwitz and Alex Hinshaw are. Nobody else in the park did either. But this game will go down as a lifelong memory for both of them.
The first words out of their mouth as soon as the broadcast went on air were "Omar's back!" as if the shortstop Vizquel had finally returned from a six-month pilgrimage in the Himalayas. They described the smile on his face as he took pregame grounders with the genuine appreciation of old veterans who know how it feels to cherish every moment out there on a major league field. "You don't ever want to take the uniform off," they later said referring to Vizquel, Philly starter Jamie Moyer and all of the players on both teams who are reluctant to call it quits.
They show the diplomacy necessary to keep relationships with the players they cover, but every now and then the truth slips out. Jose Castillo "hasn't been playing at an All-Star level or anything close to it," despite his four-hit game today. Jamie Moyer's fastball "comes in at 77 -- that's it. That's all there is." Moyer was gone after four innings in a blowout loss for the Phils.
The hits came easy today for the Giants, and Lincecum mowed down the Philly lineup with corresponding effortlessness (8 IP, 8 K). With Vizquel, Rowand, and Winn all back in the lineup (and Brian Bocock mercifully sent back down to the farm), the Giants do somewhat resemble a major-league team. On days like this it seems I've been a little rough on them. Final score: Giants 8, Phillies 2.
Tulowitzki made a charging barehand play in the first inning but the throw popped right out of Todd Helton's glove, the kind of error you see maybe once a year. The Rockies trainer came out to check on Tulo but cleared him to stay out there. Couple plays later he pulled up short of grabbing an easy grounder up the middle: a strained quad.
The Rockies were clearly caught unprepared, because their backup plan was to insert Chris Ianetta at third base, move Garrett Atkins to second, and move Clint Barmes to short. Naturally the Denver nine played flawless defense for the rest of the game, and Ianetta homered off Lincecum in the very next frame, doubled in the sixth and scored the pivotal run in the game.
Every game is like a snowflake, and this one would have been unique even before the Giants ace allowed that go-ahead run in the sixth on a balk. Lincecum had shown another layer of promise tonight by pitching efficiently in chilly conditions and wriggling out of a first-inning jam, but here he false-started his windup with Ianetta on third. Bengie Molina the catcher tried to call timeout before anything happened but Gary Darling was already calling waving the runner home. Molina and Bruce Bochy argued vehemently to the crowd's delight but to no avail.
The Giants fall to 12-16, putting them on pace for a 69-win season. To reach 63 wins and avoid a 100-loss season would have to be considered a moral victory for a squad so thin on hitting talent. But if it's going to happen they'll need to avoid losses like these, where they a) balked in the go-ahead run; b) got picked off first in an unforgivable situation (tying run on third, one out, seventh inning); c) got needlessly thrown out at third on a grounder to shortstop (also in the seventh); and d) wasted a 3-0 count in the ninth with the tying run on second and Fuentes the closer struggling to find the zone by lifting a harmless popup to second (earning the rare 'X' in the scorebook, intended to signify scorn).
Those last two blunders came courtesy of Randy Winn, one of the guys supposedly responsible for the veteran leadership on this team. But so far it's the kids on this team that have shown the most spark: Lincecum, Fred Lewis (2-5, 2 SB tonight), Jonathan Sanchez, Eugenio Velez (a mediocre player but with dazzling speed). And I'll even finally give a nod in the direction of Brian Bocock, a little 23-year-old shortstop who is completely overmatched in the majors but who made a gutsy play tonight in the eighth. Drawn in on the grass with Willy Taveras on third and one out, he fielded a Matt Holliday grounder that came to him alongside the flying splintered barrel of the bat. The projectiles arrived simultaneously and not three feet apart, but Bocock fielded the correct object, looked the runner back to third and made the play like it was a routine Cactus League drill. I've been waiting for Bocock to show us something that separated him from a stranger summoned off the street, and thanks to that one little play I have now seen it.