Three Years: I Can't Believe It Either -- Part 5

by Gregg Pearlman

Sunday, August 29, 1999

Like many Giants fans, I haven't thrown in the towel, and won't until or unless the Giants are mathematically eliminated. Last season would've been ample evidence that this would be the road to take. But it sure doesn't look as if the Diamondbacks have the slightest interest in going away, possibly because they just don't know how important it is for them to fail.

The Giants, after that horrific stretch, won seven straight -- and gained a whole game on Arizona in that stretch. Well, that's just inoperative. That's the time during which the Diamondbacks were supposed to cave in, but no. For instance, the Marlins just couldn't possibly play well against them, oh, no. The unfairness is rampant.

For crying out loud, the Giants got great work out of Mark Gardner yesterday. This should indicate "Team of Destiny," shouldn't it? Well, historically, during good Giants seasons, there's almost always been something to indicate "Team of Destiny." Robby Thompson's game-winning homer off Bryan Harvey of the Marlins in 1993 was a strong indicator. The comeback from a four-game deficit by the second-to-last day of the season that year told us all that the Giants had to go all the way. In 1997 it was the Brian Johnson game-winning homer in the twelfth inning against the Dodgers on September 18. "Oh, yeah, we've got it nailed down," we had every right to think. Last year, Barry Bonds' game-winning homers against the Dodgers and Rockies told us that, hey, maybe it could be our year. But, of course, no. Never. Ever.

This year it's a little easier to fathom, because the Giants are so far behind the Diamondbacks, with so little of the season left, that the Diamondbacks would have to start fielding five guys on defense for the Giants to catch them. Or so it would seem.

But as I say, history has told us, "Don't write the Giants off." So we don't. And you know what happens? We agonize for the rest of the season, and the Giants don't make it anyway. I hope history doesn't bear that out this time, but I'm not optimistic. Of course, I never am, so that works out perfectly.

The Giants are 68-61, either 7-1/2 or 8-1/2 behind the Diamondbacks, who either won or lost last night against the Mets, who, last time I checked, were leading 3-1 fairly late. However, today's Examiner is too much of a wuss to have included the late score.

The recent results look like this:

The point where it began seriously to feel as though the tide was turning was during the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader, when the Giants very nearly blew a 6-0 lead. The next day the Giants blew two big leads and lost to an absolutely hapless Cubs team, and that was pretty much sigh time.

Sighing right along with me are James F., Richard, Carlos, R.W., Marty, Jim J., Dave F., John B., Mark V., John K., Ben F., Ron M., Jason L., Jonathan, William R., Stefan, Anson, John G., JVV, Rodney, DLew, Ron J., Ian, Bob W., and Don T.

"It's over," James F. declares. Over the rest of the season, he predicts Diamondbacks records of 1-2 against the Mets and Atlanta; 2-1 against the Expos, Brewers, Phillies, Pirates, Rockies (twice), and Giants; 3-0 against the Marlins; and 3-1 against the Padres. "So I predict 21-12 the rest of the season. This leaves the Giants needing 30 wins from the remaining 33 non-Arizona games. It's over."

The Giants, of course, started to go south before the All-Star Game, then dropped like presidential trou afterward, as per usual.

"Larry Krueger [of KNBR] usually seems kind of thick-headed to me," says Richard, "but he made a really interesting observation/speculation: maybe the reason the Giants keep laying post-All-Star-Game eggs is that they all start worrying about the trade deadline those last three weeks of July. Since Sabes has proven he will make at least one move (good or bad) by the deadline, maybe this is a distraction."

"I think we've been thinking this, too," says Carlos. "Last season there was definite expectation in the clubhouse that something was up in light of the 1997 blockbuster trade; 1998 was probably more negative in that it affected 'Proven Major Leaguers' on the team like Darryl Hamilton and Steve Reed, as opposed to minor league scrubs. So this year, they knew that anything was up."

"If so," Richard says, "Sabean has gotten himself into the paradox of having to dig the team out of a hole his own regularly threatened actions get them into. I don't know if this is true, but it certainly is an interesting idea."

"Tail wagging the dog?" says Carlos. "Still, it's no excuse to go 10-20. Going 15-15 would have been okay, but not throwing it away like that. Oh well, maybe it is a good excuse."

I think it's a pretty wussy explanation.

The scary thing is, the 1997 deal was a "blockbuster"? Kind of an interesting thing, there, because no doubt it was perceived as one at the time -- after all, we picked up a terrific lefty starter in Wilson Alvarez, a fireballing closer-type in Roberto Hernandez, and a wily vet/Proven Major Leaguer in Danny Darwin. Fact is, though, only Hernandez performed particularly well. Oh, Darwin had a couple of good outings, though he showed us -- in spades -- that he couldn't get through the lineup more than once. Alvarez had a few nice starts, but homers killed him as a Giant. What happened with Hernandez, I thought, was that Rod Beck suddenly felt shunted aside, despite being told, in so many words, that he was "still the closer." (The fact that he asked was a bit problematic. Criminy, just do your job, whatever it is. This is a pennant race.) What Dusty Baker did, though, was throw Hernandez out there for two-inning stints, damn near daily. Hernandez would perform spectacularly for a few games, then there'd be this "gone to the well once too often" thing, and the movement on his fastball would disappear, and somebody like Gary Sheffield would smack it very very far. By the time the Division Series came along, Hernandez was pretty much burned out and very hittable.

A lot of folks feel that this deal won us the division, but I think of it more as "it didn't hurt us that much." Simply put, Alvarez was disappointing, Hernandez was overused, and Darwin was misused in the sense of having been acquired in the first place. (I'm convinced that taking Darwin was a condition of closing the deal. That is, the White Sox refused to play along unless the Giants agreed to take Darwin.)

The 1998 trades, in many ways, were a joke. The fact that Joe Carter really stepped up in the last month, I believe, say more about Carter smelling success (and perhaps the rest of the league underestimating the old, overrated guy) than Sabean's ability to judge talent. On that same day, however, to get that lucky, productive period out of Carter, the Giants evidently had to make a pact with the Devil or something. What in the world made them believe that coughing up still-prospect Jacob Cruz and Steve Reed, who at the time was probably the best reliever in the league, for three wastes of time? What possible advantage was gained in all this activity?

Carter had such a rotten start here that the timing of the next big trade made it look as though Sabean panicked -- and, I felt at the time, he had every right to. To me it seemed as though Sabes felt awful smug about his "blockbuster" deal with the Sox, not to mention the acquisitions of Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino, J.T. Snow, and Brian Johnson. And for the most part, he deserved to feel that way, because most of these guys really put it together in black. (Tavarez? Jury out. Vizcaino? Kinda boring, if "steady.") The smugness, I felt, led to the assumption that "I've gotta make a trade, because my trades work out big-time." He didn't need to deal Reed; he didn't need to pick up Carter. And "the next big trade" made the Carter deal look so much worse.

That was the Ellis Burks acquisition. The Giants gave up Darryl Hamilton, who'd really had a pretty good year and was a fairly major key to the Giants' success to that point, as well as two fairly high-level pitching prospects. Still, I liked this deal, because I simply didn't trust Carter. On the other hand, it did rather leave a gap in center field, which -- to my amazement -- Marvin Benard filled, and then some.

But as well as Carter and Benard did, did Sabean have to make any of these trades? And would the apparent "gotta make a deal" attitude really affect the players so much that they had to tank it after the All-Star Game?

"Well now," says R.W., "don't all major league ballplayers have to deal with the prospect of being part of a trade or having a transaction upset their comfort zone? Maybe Krueger is trying to stir things up among fans to provide fodder for KNBR talk shows." "Oh, without a doubt," Richard says. "Stirring things up without a lot behind him is his standard mode of operation.

"However, this just rings true to me for some reason. Especially as the July slide has gotten worse every year since he took over the GM reins."

R.W. says, "Sabean is a fine young executive with a great staff around him."

"Wish I could agree with this wholeheartedly, but I don't," says Richard. "Well, the 'young' part is okay, I guess."

"The nucleus of the team is in place and signed, the pitching staff is young and promising, and the great draft of 1998 is going to be along in a couple of years to star in a beautiful new park in the greatest city in the world," R.W. says. "Life is good."

"Next year probably may end up being better than this year -- possibly," Richard replies. "In the big picture, I suppose you are right. Even in those circumstances when it doesn't apply to the Giants."

I suppose "trade fear" could be a factor. However, at least since the Rosen days, the Giants annually have performed poorly after the Break. Then again, since we're talking about Trader Al, maybe the same concerns existed then.

The Chicago series started out as an elaborate practical joke. The rule is, until the game is actually under way, the home team (or "manager of the home team," as the rulebook says) is the "sole judge" of whether threatening weather or field conditions warrant postponement. Well, Cubs management decided to host a rain delay, despite the lack of any actual rain. They reasoned that since meteorologists said that a storm would hit after an inning or two, they may as well just wait it out until it passed. Well, it didn't hit. And it didn't hit. And it didn't hit. Finally it hit, but rained for maybe half an hour -- at which point the teams probably could've played at least four innings, maybe five, to make it an official game. Finally they got the game in, and the Giants won big.

"I can't wait for the Cubs to arrive in San Francisco next year," says Marty. "I'm making a sign: ' HEY CUBS! THERE'S RAIN 200 MILES OFF THE COAST... WANNA WAIT FOR IT?'"

That Monday game was rescheduled as part of a Wednesday doubleheader. The only problem was that it rained the next day, too, and delayed the start of that game. Oh, and you know what? The doubleheader was delayed two hours as well. The Giants won all three of these games, however. On Thursday it didn't rain... and the Giants failed miserably. Talk about conspiracy.

"Anyone ever recall anything like [Monday] night?" says Jim J. "Ninety minutes of clouds and no baseball?

"I noted last weekend, actually, that the Marlins/Astros game was canceled before it had started to rain; however, what followed was a three-inch monsoon like downpour that didn't make the national news only because it didn't have a name... like 'Paco' or 'Ugueth.' Weather's something of a spectator sport in South Florida.

"Dusty's conspiracy theory regarding Tapani seems pretty silly; but I don't have a good alternate explanation as to why a bone-dry 90 minutes was wasted waiting for a deluge than never really arrived."

(Jim's talking about Dusty's suggestion that the Cubs staged the unnecessary delay so they could set up a doubleheader deliberately and give Kevin Tapani a couple extra days of rest.)

"I have never seen a rainless rain delay before, except when the game was canceled because of tornado warnings in the area or something like that," says Dave F. "It made me angry."

Heck, Ted Robinson was so mad that he used the word "buffoonery" twice, once the announcement came down that the game had been called.

Dave, who lives in Texas, says, "I rarely have an opportunity to watch the Giants on TV. We out-of-the-Bay-Area fans like those Cubs and Braves series, because it means we get to see our favorite team play. Go home, take the kid to Scouts, pop open a cold one, and there's a rain delay with no rain.

"I though the umpire crew made the call on this. Is this correct? If not, who does make the decision?"

Just so I can make it official, Rule 3.10 (a) says, "The manager of the home team shall be the sole judge as to whether a game shall be started because of unsuitable weather conditions or the unfit condition of the playing field, except for the second game of a doubleheader. EXCEPTION: Any league may permanently authorize its president to suspend the application of this rule as to that league during the closing weeks of its championship season in order to assure that the championship is decided each year on its merits. When the postponement of, and possible failure to play, a game in the final series of a championship season between any two teams might affect the final standing of any club in the league, the president, on appeal from any league club, may assume the authority granted the home team manager by this rule."

"In view of [Monday's] events," says John B., "I think it odd that [Tuesday's] Cubs pitchers thus far have been Andrew LorRAINe, Steve RAIN, and Dan SeRAfINi. If they can bring back Chuck RAINey, or somehow acquire Tim RAINes to mop up, the day will be complete. Whatever it is they were trying to accomplish, it hasn't worked. Maybe they should've started Steve Trachsel, the 'Human RAIN Delay.'

"Oh, and Jim Riggleman scrambled just so can come out 'RAIN jiggle mm.'"

"Wow," says Richard. "I had no idea the whole thing ran this deep."

At least the results of the first three games were pretty sweet. The pitching was nothing special, to be sure, but balls hit by Giants players were flying. Barry Bonds hit about 13 home runs in the series, and J.T. Snow hit about eight more. Jeff Kent returned from the disabled list and homered in his first at-bat.

Then came Thursday.

Now, before I get into the details of the game, I should mention that while the Giants were in the throes of a nice winning streak, there was comparatively little action on the Giants newsgroup, possibly because we feared jinxing the club. The posting sure picked up after Thursday's game.

The Giants led it 7-2 early on. I felt antsy about this, as I said, because earlier the Cubs had led 2-1 -- the first time they'd led in the entire series. I had the feeling that Livan Hernandez wasn't going to do the job, and indeed he didn't. The Cubs made it 7-6, thanks in part to yet another mammoth dinger by Sammy Sosa, the guy Dusty said he'd pitch around all series.

The Giants made it 10-6, but it still didn't seem safe. Then suddenly it was 10-8. Then the overused John Johnstone put a bunch of runners on, and in came Robb Nen -- in the eighth -- to face Mark Grace -- with Johnstone having walked Sosa intentionally to load the bases.

Well, clearly Dusty liked the matchup, as Grace had a bad lifetime record against Nen. However, with little ado, Grace lined a game-tying base hit, driving in his fourth and fifth runs of the game. Then Nen got out of the inning. Meanwhile, Rod Beck threw a terrific seventh and eighth against us. Thanks.

And now in the ninth, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, and Rich Aurilia all went out very quickly. Ten straight Giants were retired. At that point they sounded listless, as though they'd given it all they had, and it was too late.

In the bottom of the ninth Jeff Reed hit a fly ball to short center. F.P. Santangelo went for the catch instead of playing it safe... and played it into a double. Nen got an out or two -- who knows? -- and then Mickey Morandini ripped a shot into the gap in right-center. Santangelo couldn't get this one on a dive either, so the game was over. The Giants lost, 11-10, blowing leads of 7-2 and 10-6. Rotten pitching. Just rotten. This particular loss was doubly disheartening, at least, because the Diamondbacks have refused to lose.

"At which point did you realize that the Giants were going to blow yet another big lead this season and lose today?" says Mark V. "I think it was when Nen came in for me. First thing I thought was 'Great. Mr. Choke artist on the mound, bases loaded, he'll at least let them tie it up....' Next pitch, Mark Grace singles, tie game. Right there I knew it was all over."

For me, it was when Jerry Spradlin came in. Just when he came in. Two batters, both reach. I think both scored, too. But I had an uneasy feeling early, when the Cubs went ahead 2-1 for their first lead in the series.

"Mickey #$%&ing Morandini, with a slugging percentage of .335, doubles to drive home the winning run," Dave F. reminds us. "I thought the road sweep was in the bag. Get back to my desk just in time to 'see,' via ESPN's Gamecast, Mickey double home the winning run. This loss real louses up a great road trip. Kind of like dill pickles on top of a chocolate sundae."

John K. says, "Bottom of the eighth, second and third for the Cubs, two outs, with Sammy Sosa coming up, Johnstone pitching. I get a stomach ache because I can see the handwriting on the wall. Intentional walk to Sosa, bring in Nen to pitch to Grace, who of course singles. I'd take Johnstone against Sosa with a base to play with any day over Sliderless Nen vs. Grace with the bases loaded. Plus the matchup advantage."

"I think everyone saw it coming except Dusty," says Ben F. "I even pictured it in my mind as soon as Dusty went out to the mound."

"But if he pitches to Sosa, and Sosa hits one, then just as many people on the Giants newsgroup are calling him an idiot for pitching to the major league home run leader," Ron M. points out.

"Sosa already hit one earlier in the game," says Ben, "and I'd rather have Johnstone vs. Sosa then Grace vs. Nen. The options were: Your best reliever who was showing signs of tiring vs. the home run leader, or your lousy ace reliever who had past success vs. the next hitter who is having a great season. I still choose Johnstone."

"Oh, [and] Dusty can't remember that it's not 1968," says John K. "In the first, he sacrificed a guy to third. That one run strategy just doesn't cut it."

"I don't blame Dusty on this one," says Ben. "Stan Javier was up, and he has done nothing this year."

"Dusty was the guy who made out the lineup card prior to the game," says Jason L. "If Javier is so bad that Dusty has to lay down the sacrifice with a runner in scoring position, what the hell is he doing in the lineup to begin with?"

"Exactly," says Jonathan. "Not to mention -- there's pretty much no hitter so bad that he should be bunting in that spot.

"I don't blame Dusty for bringing in Nen, though; Johnstone wasn't pitching well, and you don't have a lot of options at that point. I do think he should have hit for Livan in the sixth; someone getting on there would have (all things being equal) meant at least one more run, maybe more."

Ben says, "I thought Dusty brought in Spradlin way too early. He should have allowed Rich Rodriguez to at least start the inning and allowing a baserunner before yanking him. I think Dusty wastes too many pitchers with one-out appearances. Spradlin would not be my choice to bring in anyway."

"Johnnie B., why of why do you continue to go to Nen?" says William R. "After almost blowing another save [Wednesday], he comes back with Nen again? I know you believe in loyalty to your players, Dusty, but how about the other 24 players you are managing? How about being loyal to them?

"Almost singlehandedly Nen is robbing the Giants of a chance at the division. He has been horrible, blowing numerous save chances and the life and energy of the team. A 6-1 road trip would normally be great. But this loss is painful.

"Dusty, please look elsewhere for relief. Felix Rodriguez, Johnstone or maybe even Gardner -- what have you got to lose, the way Nen is pitching?"

"One person can't blow a season," says Stefan (who, sadly, will be "proven" "wrong" annually by the Bonds-bashers), "and it's hard to even blow a game on one's own. In the ninth inning [of Thursday's game], if F.P. Santangelo plays Jeff Reed's ball correctly, it's a single. He's still on base when Gary Gaetti grounds out: double play. Inning over. And a couple of times, balls Kent would have got to when healthy went into right for base hits. If Livan had defended better (smarter) in the fourth and pitched better in the fifth, the Giants probably would have won."

"Those are minor faults," says Anson. "The [Giants] scored 10 runs! Bullpen has to take the blame for this one."

Stefan says, "I don't think Hernandez's pitching was a minor fault. He gave up six of the 11 Cub runs. So the bullpen was handed a 10-6 lead, not 10-0. And we learned in Florida that we can't protect a four-run lead.

"Nen's failures are most visible because of his role, but teams lose as teams. The Giants' woes since the All-Star-Game came from a teamwide slump."

"True," Anson replies, "but only the best reliever should be used for that role, which right now Nen is not. Lately he's been blowing half of his save opportunities, it seems like. Being a closer, he just can't do that."

"I'm as bummed as anyone," says Stefan, lying, because I was more bummed. "I felt it coming, too. I just think it's incorrect to lay blame on one person (Nen). Morandini not only drove in the winner, but scored the tying run. How'd he get on base? Johnstone walked him. That said, I agree with what the idea of letting Johnstone face Sosa and be careful. If he ends up walking, that doesn't hurt."

I'd kind of like to blame one person: Spradlin. Not that it's his fault in particular that the Giants lost, just that, as I said earlier, I felt the loss coming as soon as Spradlin entered the game.

John G. says, "If you want to criticize Sabean, I'll join you when it comes to the Jerry Spradlin trade this year. I remember that Gregg remarked after the trade that [before Spradlin became a Giant] he felt good when Spradlin came into the game against us, because it seemed we had a chance to win. I agree. I had the same feeling. While he's big and throws hard, he lacks control, either giving up walks or making very hittable pitches.

"How I wish we had Steve Bourgeois and/or Bobby Howry still, in comparison. That trade worked out for us, but it's working out now for Chicago. Why can't the Giants bring up some young, effective relievers, a la Scott Williamson and Jeff Zimmerman. Give the kids a chance!"

"Dusty has to use Spradlin in important situations," says Richard. "Otherwise, he might accidentally use Alan Embree in a circumstance where Embree might do some good."

By the way, the Giants missed out on the services of Ellis Burks late in this series and early in the current one against the Pirates because Burks' wife gave birth to their fourth child. (Congratulations, Burks family.)

Which reminds me that during the rain delay Monday, somebody called Larry Krueger on KNBR and expressed his opinion that in April or May, it would be okay for Burks to leave for this reason, but now, with the Giants in desperate need of victories, it's inappropriate for him to leave.

I laughed.

Burks doesn't show up for this... maybe there's no wife and kids when he comes home next time.

JVV mentions Glenn Dickey, "he of the famous columns railing against the timing of Joe Montana's decision to have kids."

I don't remember those columns. I was probably busy ignoring Dickey at the time.

Cyndy "Cynthia" Garvey, on at least one occasion, has railed against ex-husband Stu, wait, sorry, Steve, because he missed the birth of one of their kids for a World Series game.

I think it was a Henry Schulman piece in the Chronicle using the phrase, "Life events take precedence over baseball." Frankly, I don't understand why this statement even needed to be made. It should be a given.

"Granted, I'm just a touch emotional right now, and granted also that there is plenty of blame to go around where [Thursday's] game is concerned, but Robb Nen is the worst pitcher in the Giants' bullpen right now," says John B. "He is worse than Spradlin, he is worse than either Rodriguez, he is worse than Gardner. If Tavarez were still here, Nen would be worse than him too. Heck, Ron Perranoski could unretire and go take a seat in the pen, and Nen would still be the worst pitcher there."

"Well, [he's] probably better than Spradlin," says Dave F. "Nen at least managed to get some outs."

"Seriously," John says, "when we saw that Dusty was bringing Nen into the game, who among us didn't know right then that the game was over? He could've brought any other Giants' pitcher in, in that situation, and I'd have had more confidence that maybe the 10-8 lead could somehow be preserved. Yes, even Gardner. I think I'd almost rather have seen John Yandle come in and give it a shot. I mean, who knows? (If you didn't get that, trust me -- it was funny.) [I didn't get that, but John tells me that Yandle is the Giants' batting practice pitcher. -- GP] But Nen right now is the most consistent pitcher in the Giants' pen. He's consistently hittable, consistently ineffective, and consistently likely to lose any game he enters, provided the game is tied, or the Giants are leading.

"I have been perhaps one of the few deluded fans holding out some sort of forlorn hope that the Giants could get hot, that the Diamondbacks could have a long stretch of .500 ball, and that the Giants could somehow still come back and win the West. But if Nen continues to be this putrid, and I see no reason to expect anything different -- not this year anyway -- the Giants truly are doomed. There's just no way to play .750-.800 ball (which is pretty much what the Giants need to play) when your closer is just pure stink, the way Nen is right now. Wait 'til next year."

"I am also frustrated, but I am not sure what I would have done differently," says Dave. "I saw the second game on Tuesday, and Johnstone looked very good. On Thursday, however, he had just given up two runs in an inning. Rich Rodriguez, Spradlin, Embree, and Johnstone were done. Your choices are Gardner, Felix, or Nen. Felix gave up a run on three hits in an inning [Wednesday]. Gardner -- not exactly the guy I want out there. I would have reluctantly gone to Nen just like Dusty did.

"Pitchers go through rough spots. Nen will get through this. It's better than if they'd re-signed Beck."

"Nen's rough spot is last two-thirds of the season," says Ben. "I don't see him getting through this this season."

Rob Neyer of says, "The Sporting News recently anointed [Barry] Bonds as the greatest player of the 1990s, and they were right. But I'll go further than that. I'll say that Bonds, if he can stay healthy for another four or five seasons, could wind up as the greatest player of the last 70 years, since Babe Ruth retired.

"Amazingly consistent, Bonds has never suffered through an off season. He's led the National League in on-base percentage four times and slugging percentage three times, but that really doesn't do justice to his consistency. From 1990 through 1998, Bonds never finished worse than fourth in OBP or sixth in slugging percentage.

"But of course, Bonds is more than just a devastating hitter. He's also a Gold Glove left fielder (eight of them, at last count) and an excellent baserunner (457 steals, only 132 caught). Put it all together, and Bonds is quite possibly the greatest all-around player that ever lived."

"'Greatest all-around ever'?" says Rodney. "What was this guy smoking? When you talk about five-tool players, Mays has to be up there. The lasting image of Bonds' throwing (in)ability was when he couldn't gun down Sid Bream in that NLCS. If the power-speed combo was as important back in Willie's day, I'm sure he would've been the first 400-400 man."

DLew says, "I always try and stay positive... but... as a Giants fan, I just don't see Bonds as anything more than a selfish player who pads his stats. He chokes in the clutch, always has."

"You are wrong," says James F.

That very statement may mean nothing to you, but really, what James is saying is, "Hi there, Noah!" Not that he, or anyone else, necessarily thinks DLew is Noah in disguise, but what DLew says about Bonds is exactly the same kind of cement-headed drivel we'd expect to see from Noah.

But you'd be proud of me, EEEEEE! readers -- or indifferent; take your pick -- because I just plain blew this one off. The guy oughta be forced to read, like, all the old installments of EEEEEE!.

"You make that sound like a punishment," James says.

Well, it would be, in terms of sheer quantity and the endless Barry Bonds arguments.... As a whole, though, the Giants newsgroup responded somewhat incredulously to DLew's assertion, bringing facts and statistics to the table. DLew responded by calling the group "a bunch of statheads" or something, and implored group members to "take Bonds' weenie our of your mouths." Very grown up, I thought.

His response to "You are wrong" is, "No, I'm not. Proof positive -- how did Bonds do in the doubleheader? Hmmmm... real good when the Giants killed the Cubs... not so good when it was close."

"Right, let's see," says James. "Opener: homer for 5-1 lead, three-run homer for 11-1 lead. Nightcap: homer for 5-0 lead.

         ab  r  h bi bb so lo 
Game 1    3  2  2  4  2  0  1
Game 2    5  1  2  1  0  0  1
Total     8  3  4  5  2  0  2
"Observation: This guy hits three homers in a doubleheader, knocking in five runs, and you're still not happy? What does he have to do? Hit grand slams every at bat?"

"Observation: Obviously he didn't do as well in the second game. Reasons: Let's see. The pitching was generally better in Game 2, perhaps, as evidenced by the fact that, in the first game, the Giants went 14-for-41 (12-for-38 excluding Bonds); in the second game 9-for-33 (7-for-28, excluding Bonds). In both games, Bonds was better than the average Giant.

"Mindless speculation: If he happens to homer once more in Game 2, maybe leading off the fifth, then maybe the Cubs don't get back in the game.

"Conclusion: Your argument is flawed. It could equally well be expressed: When Bonds played well, the Giants demolished the Cubs; when he played not-quite-as-well, they only edged past them."

Another thing is that his knee and back, evidently, were tremendously sore the whole day.

"You as much as proved my point," insists DLew, who, rumor has it, once said the same thing when, after he asserted that cats usually have seventeen legs, his detractors produced millions of cats with only four legs. "Since you're so into stats, go find out when Bonds does most of his 'damage.' As I stated and you proved, when the Giants are winning by a large margin, he hits homers."

"You could easily phrase this: when Bonds hits homers, the Giants win by large margins," says James.

"However," says D, "how can you, as a Giants fan sit there and say that when Bonds comes up in a clutch situation, he does well?? He usually walks?"

James says, "That's not his fault. He walks because the opposition are (generally) scared of pitching to him in the clutch. He has a good enough eye at the plate to walk rather than strike out/ground out/whatever-out at pitches that aren't strikes."

"My point is, Bonds does good when it's 'convenient' for him," says DLew.

"Bollocks," says James, simply.

"He rarely if ever wins a game in the late innings," DLew persists.

"Because of a lack of opportunities," James says.

DLew won't go away: "Bonds cannot and does not hit in the clutch. How can you even think he does?"

"The stats prove you wrong and me right," says James. "You are Noah and I claim my five pounds."

I won't produce the stats here. Suffice it to say that they prove James right and DLew wrong. Just like James says. Plus, there are tons of specific examples. Plus there's that bit about how it doesn't matter when runs score so much as that they score; if you're going to tell me the guy's useless when he homers in three straight first innings, all of which prove to drive in winning runs, then you don't rate further reply.

James has discussed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list pertaining to the Giants newsgroup, and I've been interested in that very thing for a long time. There'd be nice long sections about Bonds, what some statistics mean, what's relevant, and that bit about slugging percentage and OBP being the building blocks of runs, and runs being the building blocks of wins.

"Did Babe Ruth do any pinch-hitting as a pitcher?" says Anson. "And if yes, how did he do?"

I just finished reading Babe by Robert Creamer, and he briefly discussed Babe Ruth's pinch-hitting stats," says Richard. "He was 13-for-67 as a pinch-hitter in his career. Creamer doesn't say if any of those hits were home runs, but I assume at least a few were. He did pinch-hit at least a few times as a pitcher.

"He mostly pitched during the dead ball era, and he really didn't start pumping out homers until he was close to an everyday player. Still, he may have hit one as a pitcher; if I have the time, I will go back and scan those chapters."

"Side point for those wondering why he didn't continue to pitch and play the outfield when not pitching," says Ron J. "He simply refused to do it. In fact, he left the Red Sox briefly in 1919 in a dispute about this."

Ron points out that while with the Red Sox, Ruth played in "a park that was murder on home-run hitters. For instance, in 1918 he led the league in home runs (with 11) while hitting zero at home. In his time in Boston, Ruth hit only 11 home runs at home, 38 on the road. And he hit nine of those homers in 1919 (20 on the road)."

This discussion cropped up because early in the Chicago series, Russ Ortiz -- clearly the Giants' best-hitting pitcher this year -- fell apart in the bottom of the fifth, finished the inning, and left the game for a pinch-hitter in the sixth: Shawn Estes.

"Mind you," says Ian, "I'm not completely against the concept, but Ortiz hits as well as Estes so why make the move? Even if you're going to pull Russ, why not let him hit? He's warmed up, he's taken a couple of swings, so shouldn't he be more prepared for a bunt attempt than Estes coming off the bench?"

"Actually, maybe the real reason not to use Estes as a pinch-hitter is that he's the designated pinch-runner off the bench," says Jason L. "Why waste that?"

Well, one theory, propounded by the Giants announcers, is that Ortiz was told after the bottom of the fifth that his day was through, so he'd headed to the clubhouse -- not that this is an excuse.

"Having lived my life never hearing of such a thing in the majors," says Bob W., "it's now happened twice this year: just a couple of weeks ago Hernandez hit for someone and now Estes hit for Ortiz. I have to ask: What is Dusty thinking?"

Now, wait a minute, youngster: Seriously? You've never heard of a pitcher pinch-hitting before? I'm guessing I've seen it at least three dozen times over the years, involving oldsters like Reuschel, Blue, and Don Robinson, as well as current Giants pitchers Estes, Gardner (Yes! Really!), and Hernandez. Don't think I've seen Ortiz pinch-hit yet. Probably not Felix Rodriguez, either.

Most of the time they go up there and whiff, though Gardner, last year or the year before, was sent up in two straight games to "pinch-bunt." Failed once, I think.

I was at the game in '90 or '91 when Robinson hit a pinch-homer -- the first by a pitcher in 20 years. (The last guy to do it? Gary Peters of the Red Sox.) I don't think it's been done since. (Also, unless this has changed, the only pitcher ever to both hit and surrender a pinch-hit grand slam: Hall-of-Famer Early Wynn.)

Jason points out that "The Giants lost a game to the Dodgers some years back when Tim Leary got a bases-loaded, full-count, two-out pinch-hit single in the bottom of the twelfth inning against Joe Price."

This is one of my worst memories. I was in San Diego at the time, trying to listen to this on my Walkman. The reception was terrible, and I had the volume cranked to the max so I could hear the game through the static, all of which gave me a horrible headache. And then to have this happen... bleah. Oh, plus Donell Nixon got thrown out at the plate, stupidly attempting to advance on a ground ball. Horrible night."

"Of course, I remember the game at the Stick where Donny Robinson came up to pinch-hit in the sixth inning against the Padres' Bruce Hurst. First pitch... yard!. It was sweet.

I was happy to see it... but it made a 4-2 game 4-3, I think.

"I've seen numerous occasions (usually long extra-inning games) in which one team runs out or low on position players, and a pitcher comes off the bench to take a hack. There are also plenty of situations in which a starter will pinch-hit in a bunting situation, not necessarily when the team was out of position players. I don't recall any specific instances, but I'm sure Roger Craig used Rick Reuschel to pinch-bunt now and again, since Reuschel was a guy you could count on to get the stupid bunt down."

Well, the only recent pinch-bunter I remember (aside from Estes) is Gardner. Haven't seen a lot of pitchers assuming non-pitching positions lately, though. Remember earlier in the year when Dusty said he was thinking of putting Estes in the outfield in an extra-inning game? Ticked off Chris Brock, who was an outfielder in college.

"Actually, pitchers as pinch-hitters is not all that uncommon," says Don T. "Don Robinson, who was about a career [.230] hitter, was used quite frequently as a pinch-hitter by Roger Craig in the 1980s. Going back further, the Dodgers used to use Don Drysdale a lot in this role also."

He hit seven home runs in 1958 and 1965 (when he hit .300).

"Myths to the contrary," says Ron J., "Drysdale wasn't objectively a good hitter. Compared to other pitchers sure, but his career numbers were .186/.228/.295 (and it drops to .172/.216/.269 outside of 1965. Why would a manager use that as a pinch-hitter?)

"But there was a Dodger pitcher who did do everything attributed to Drysdale: Don Newcombe. Newcombe was a league-average hitter (career Runs Created per 27 Outs of 4.44 in a 4.45 context, compared to Drysdale's 1.58 in a 4.14 context) who was a career 20-for-87 as a pinch-hitter. Twice had more than 20 pinch-hit at-bats.

"Managers used to [use pitchers as pinch-hitters] a lot, especially in extra-inning games where the bench was depleted and they had a good-hitting pitcher on the bench," says Don.

"Red Lucas is sixth all-time in career pinch-hits," says Ron. "He was a relief pitcher (mostly) in the '20s and '30s. Led the league four times in pinch-hits. Because of Lucas, the relief pitcher/pinch-hitter became something of a fad for a while."

Finally dying with Renie Martin, I guess. (Actually, Lucas started about 75% of the games he pitched. I checked.)

Lucas had no power, but got used a lot as a pinch-hitter. He appeared in 907 games, but only pitched in 396 of them, appearing also at second, short, third, and the outfield a handful of times. This tells you he spent a lot of time pinch-hitting, going 114-for-437 in that role (.261). I'm guessing he didn't hit for much power, as in 1,439 career at-bats, he hit only 61 doubles, 13 triples, and three home runs. And he couldn't have been used as a pinch-runner much: only two lifetime steals. I expect that his reputation as a pinch-hitter is what got him onto the Reds' All-Time All-Star team in the Sports Illustrated Baseball table game, because as a pitcher he went 157-135 in 15 years, with a 3.72 ERA. He gave up way more hits than innings pitched, and though his control evidently was very good (1.61 walks per nine innings pitched), he didn't strike out anybody, either (2.13).

"Of course, Wes Ferrell (best-hitting career pitcher of all time) pinch-hit a lot," says Ron. "So did Bob Lemon (who first reached the majors at third base)."

I believe I've read, too, that Lemon was the center fielder in a no-hitter pitched by Bob Feller.

"Gary Peters was the last pitcher to pinch-hit regularly enough for the Baseball Encyclopedia to have his pinch-hitting stats (16-for-66, career).

"Not that you'd need further justification for wanting to carry Walter Johnson, but he had 110 pinch-hit at-bats. Limited success (21 hits), but that's okay. You could probably find some uses for him in between pinch-hitting assignments."

Well, maybe if I needed a fresh arm or something, in a blowout.

"Don Robinson had a career .231 average, .252 OBP, and .330 SP," says Jason. "That .231 is okay for a batting average, but the other numbers are not so hot. Yeah, they're probably pretty good for a pitcher."

I'm pretty surprised his average was that low. I thought that it was in the .250s or .260s when the Pirates talked about making an outfielder out of him.

Jason provides his year-by-year numbers:

            AVG    OBP     SP
78 PIT     .235   .235   .259
79 PIT     .204   .250   .204
80 PIT     .333   .333   .456
81 PIT     .250   .308   .250
82 PIT     .282   .311   .412
83 PIT     .154   .154   .385
84 PIT     .290   .371   .387
85 PIT     .238   .273   .476
86 PIT     .667   .667   .833 (six at-bats)
87 PIT/SF  .222   .263   .444
88 SF      .173   .204   .269
89 SF      .185   .195   .309
90 SF      .143   .143   .254
91 SF      .150   .171   .175
92 PHI     .389   .389   .556 (18 at-bats)
Total      .231   .252   .330
"Career: 146-for-631, 23 doubles, 0 triples, 13 homers, 16 walks (one intentional!), 168 strikeouts, and just 15 sacrifices (despite appearing in 524 games as a pitcher, including 229 starts).

"Robinson appeared in one game as an outfielder for the Pirates in 1984 and had two putouts without an error.

"He's listed as having pitched in 524 games, but appeared in 551 games total, so there are 27 games extra games. I can't find pinch-hitting stats in any of my references."

Interesting how coming to the hitter-hostile Candlestick Park murdered Robinson's hitting prowess....

The thing that really amazes me is the intentional walk. I'm trying to figure out what the circumstances could possibly be. The only thing I can think of is, he was batting for, say, the number-eight hitter (why, I can't imagine) with the pitcher on deck, and nobody in the bullpen. Or maybe the Pirates had more than one pitcher in the lineup at the time, due to bench shortage. I mean, maybe that was the day Robinson played the outfield.

Anybody else know of a pitcher receiving an intentional walk? Or, for that matter, pinch-hitting for a position player (aside from (a) the examples I'm about to mention, and (b) somebody like Red Lucas... okay, you could include Red Lucas)?

As I've often said in the Giants newsgroup and EEEEEE!, I've seen pitchers pinch-hit for position players twice in the same game. This would be on Closing Day, '86, in extra innings against the Dodgers. I don't remember the exact sequence, but Mike Krukow almost won it with a liner to center, but the ball was caught by the center fielder, who played him like a pitcher. He was pinch-hitting for either Randy Bockus or Jeff Robinson, I believe. Bockus played the outfield that day. Robinson, I'm pretty sure, was the other pinch-hitter (and might have played the outfield; can't remember), and he batted for Robby Thompson, whose back was shot, and he couldn't swing the bat. When Krukow pinch-hit for him (or Bockus) later, he was technically batting for a position player -- albeit a pitcher playing a position. This would be the only game I remember seeing in which a Giants pitcher played another position.

But back to Estes, Ortiz, and Dusty. Jason says, "My thought is that today's first game is a blowout (11-4 in the top of the sixth), so [Dusty is] pulling the pitcher but not committing a position player, thinking of the second game."

That has to be it. He's only got four guys on the bench.

Santangelo had been on deck, but after Brent Mayne singled, Dusty brought up Estes to get the pinch-whiff trying to bunt.

"When the Rockies made the postseason (1995), they ran out of position players because they stupidly decided to carry 12 pitchers," says Jason. "Lance Painter came on to pinch-hit against Mark Wohlers. The outcome was clear."

"They ran out of players because Don Baylor made a stupid double-switch," says Jonathan. "The 12 pitchers only created the possibility, but it still could have been easily avoided."

Yes. Really dumb.

"On more than one level," says Jason. "Dumb to (a) carry that few position players, and (b) use them all up by the tenth inning."

This is something that I would hope Dusty learned from.

I remember that after that Giants-Dodgers game involving pitchers in the outfield, Tommy Lasorda whined in the papers -- I mean whined -- about what rotten luck it was that none of his hitters could hit the ball at a pitcher in the outfield.

Meanwhile, I know I'm not the only one who remembers the Kent Tekulve game....

Hey, also, I remember having this yearly baseball paperback from 1970 or '71 -- the one where have little line drawings of the field dimensions and lists of probable players at each position, plus batting, pitching, and fielding stats for everybody who played the previous year -- and it listed Sam McDowell playing first base and, I believe, second base on at least one occasion for Cleveland. This ought to have been quite interesting, since Sudden Sam was rather lefthanded. I mean, I remember seeing lefty-throwing Gonzalo Marquez play second for the A's, back in the day when Dick Williams was forever pinch-hitting for his second baseman every time he came up, but Gonzalo was at least a position player. What possible excuse could there have been to put McDowell at second? Or even first? For what it's worth, I think Al Dark was the manager that year.

The Giants newsgroup recently was home to a spam post asking for a "Dedicated Giants fan wanted to write weekly column."

"We're looking for someone who knows their baseball to write a column for the Giants page on our site," they say. "The majority of our site is sports news, updated daily, so we want your columns to be geared towards opinions and in depth analysis rather than just reporting the score. You get a dedicated page for your column that we design and update -- no html knowledge required. We've already got a dedicated following of Giants fans who come everyday for our news, so we can guarantee that your column will be seen by other true, rabid Giants fans."

They provide their URL -- check out for August 23 posts in the group if you're interested.

"Oh man, this is so very tempting in a way," says Richard. "Imagine a column dedicated to the stuff we churn out in here:

"The mind boggles."

You're telling me. What I wouldn't give to see a regular column devoted to this stuff. Maybe occasional features, too -- stuff about what being a Giants fan is like, maybe a fond farewell to Candlestick, even -- dare I say it? -- some music in RealAudio format. Where do I sign up?

"Of course," cautions Richard, "the whole thing also smells of actual work, which would be a downtick."

Well, that's where the spammer lost me....

Copyright ©1999 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 8/29/99
Gregg Pearlman,

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