Casilla to Giants fans: 'I can do this job'

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Casilla to Giants fans: 'I can do this job'

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PHILADELPHIA A thought drifted through Santiago Casillas mind with two outs in the 10th inning and Jimmy Rollins stepping to bat.

It wasnt that Casilla had blown five of his previous eightsave attempts. It wasnt the firm reminder that pitching coach Dave Righettiand manager Bruce Bochy had given him to keep mixing his pitches to the veryend. It wasnt the cacophony of voices from back home who want the Giants toget an established closer on the trade market.

Instead, Casilla thought back to the last time he stood onthis mound, in this place. It was Game 2 of the 2010 NL Championship Series,and he gave up the bases-clearing double to Rollins that blew open a tightgame.

With a one-run lead and the tying run on first base, Casillathought this: This is a different game. This is going to be different.

He mixed his pitches to the end.

Casilla bought a strike with his slider, he missed with acurveball, then he came back with a backdoor cutter that Rollins mildly put inplay to seal the Giants 6-5 victory and ensure a pair of series victories onthis tough trip to Atlanta and Philadelphia.

RECAP: Baggs' Instant Replay -- Giants 6, Philliese 5 (10)

It felt like the Giants played a weeks worth of games in onelate afternoon, for all the back-and-forth action on Saturday. They rallied after Ryan Howards crushing, three-run shot off Matt Cain put thembehind. They tied it on Melky Cabreras solo shot and took the lead againstPhillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with a squeeze of redemption from GregorBlanco.

So when the Giants moved to the bottom of the 10th, they entrusted Casilla to protect more than just aone-run lead on the road. He was protecting their collective effort, theirspirit and their tenacity. To blow this one wouldve been an especially harshshock to the system. It's games like these that make executives spend millions to have "that guy" in the bullpen.

Bochy said he briefly considered letting Sergio Romo hit forhimself in the 10th so he could start the bottom of the inning. But Bochy thought it would be a needless risk. Hehad Casilla rested and ready, and he still believed in him. He wanted to makesure his closer, for all his struggles in the last two weeks, got that message,too.

That should build some confidence, Bochy said. Heregrouped. You could see he came out pitching right away a different guy.

Casilla went curve-slider-curve to retire John Mayberry Jr.on a fly out. Righetti came out for a visit following a walk to PlacidoPolanco, just to remind the right-hander not to get too cheddar-happy.

And when Casilla got two strikes on pinch hitter Ty Wigginton, he didn't go dead red. He buried one ofthose spike curves of his, Wigginton couldn't lay off and Buster Posey blocked it to get the strikeout.

Casilla made an interesting comment after the game. He said he had fallen intothe trap of pitching like it was the sixth or seventh innings, when hitters arestill trying to take pitches or time fastballs. He noted that he gave up only twohome runs last year but already has surrendered six this season.

The ninth is different because they swing hard, he said.Ive learned a little bit. Too many fastballs with two strikes. I have a goodslider. I have a good curve.

Thats why he said he didnt lose confidence, even when hewas giving up the lead with alarming frequency. His stuff wasn't the problem.

I never lose the feeling in my heart, Casilla said. Iknow I can pitch any inning. I dont lose that. You make a mistake here, youhave to pay and I pay!

But I feel good to know the manager, Bochy, he believes inme.

From everything I'm told, that belief is authentic. The Giants really do think theycan make it down the stretch and thrive in the postseason with Casilla in thecloser role. Theyll look to upgrade in the bullpen, for sure, and JonathanBroxton is an arm they like. Other closers, such as Rafael Betancourt andHuston Street, are less obtainable. Brett Myers just got dealt to the WhiteSox. So obtaining another closer isnt as easy as the catalog of names mightsuggest. If help arrives, it's more realistic that it'll come in the form of another right-handed setup man.

I asked Casilla: What would you tell people who arentconvinced you can be this teams closer down the stretch and into the playoffs?

I tell them that sometimes you go through a bad time,Casilla said. "I tell them that I know if I keep pitching, I can help this team.I can do this job. I tell them 'hey, were in first place.'

Casillas save was his 24th in 30 opportunities,third in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel and Joel Hanrahan.

He was in the middle of telling reporters that he didntcare about any statistics except team victories when Clay Hensley, residentwise guy, shouted from across the room: Aw, dont believe him. He just caresabout saves and ERA.

Hensley was smiling all the while. Casilla wasted no timewhile delivering a comeback line:

Hey! We won a World Series here, and you werent here!

Now thats how you mix it up.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."