Giants make their outs count to tame Tigers in Game 2

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Giants make their outs count to tame Tigers in Game 2

SAN FRANCISCO Tim Flannery does it every spring.

Hell receive throws at first base during infield practice,leap off the bag the instant the ball slaps leather and pump both arms like hejust clinched the World Series.

Because thats what you practice for, the Giants bald,crystal blue-eyed third base coach said. If it doesnt matter then, when willit?

Relay throws. Bunting situations. Productive outs. Theymattered on the World Series stage on a warm, late-October night at AT&TPark. And thanks to the small stuff, the Giants are thinking very, very big.

They scored their Game 2 runs on a double-play grounder inthe seventh inning and a sacrifice fly in the eighth. They were aided by aperfect, shuffleboard bunt that delivered more than the intended bargain. And theGiants prevented a run, too, because a second baseman smartly wandered acrossthe diamond to back up a relay throw that arrived with too much thrust.

RELATED: Anatomy of a perfect relay

The Giants did what they were supposed to do in a 2-0victory over the Detroit Tigers. They played National League baseball in aNational League ballpark, and made their AL opponents look like a bunch of fat,stodgy, athletically challenged softball players.

Madison Bumgarner possessed something well short of dominantstuff, but he had enough bite on an improved slider and he varied its location.That was sufficient to frustrate the big-swinging Tigers, who kept snappingtheir jaws only to find the chain didnt quite reach.

And all of the sudden, the Giants -- this collection ofcockroaches, survivors of six elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals-- are up two games to none as the series shifts to the Motor City. Thats notto suggest the ring fittings should commence post haste. The roaches have notbecome the exterminators yet, and this World Series is far from over.

But after besting Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, letsjust say the house is tented.

You cant count anybody out, said right-hander SergioRomo, who retired three hitters in smoke-bomb fashion to record his first WorldSeries save. I mean, just look where we came from. And besides, theyre the ALchamps. They were picked to be here from the get-go. But to beat those twounbelievable starters? To shut down that lineup? Yeah, we like our position.

There will be much blathering and bloviating over thingslike fate and destiny, citing paranormal signs such as Angel Pagans doink shotoff third base in Game 1 or Gregor Blancos masterful bunt, which came to reston the fair side of the chalk to set up the first run of Game 2.

But lets leave a seasoned observer to dispel all that.

I dont think theyre getting the breaks, Tigers managerJim Leyland said. I think theyve earned everything theyve got. Up to thispoint, theyve outplayed us.

They did a little bit better than us today. They did quitea bit better yesterday. But I always tip my hat. I mean, theyre playinggood. Theyre playing like the Giants play, and we expected that coming in.Theyre good. Theyre really good.

Game 2 was about outs, what you did with them and how hardyou made your opponent work to achieve them. The Giants saw enough pitches to getFister out of a scoreless game following Hunter Pences leadoff single inthe seventh, and Brandon Belt drew a walk from left-hander Drew Smyly.

That brought Blanco to the plate, and even when an erratic Smylystarted him with a 2-0 count, the bunt sign stayed on. Blanco fouled oneattempt but could not have placed the 3-1 pitch any better, hugging it up thethird base line as three Tigers stood over and watched it to a stop, as if tryingto see their reflection in their shoes.

I was hoping their guys would grab the ball because Ithought it was going foul, said Flannery, noting that a ball on the dirtusually hits the lip of the grass and takes a left turn. Well, I guess thisone didnt tonight. When it didnt do anything else, I thought, This is one ofthose weird things.

You just go home and you thank the higher power orwhoevers in charge, and try not to piss any others off.

Leyland had a choice to make, and it wasnt Vishnu or Yahweh. Withthe bases loaded and no outs, the manager stationed his infielders atdouble-play depth. Sure, Leylands lineup had six outs remaining and an emptystomach, but he figured one run would be easier to make up than two, should theGiants bleed something through a drawn-in infield.

Brandon Crawford delivered the grounder to second base thatgave both clubs what they wanted.
Flannery watched that 4-6-3 grounder and knew Marco Scutarohad a hand in it. The veteran second baseman, the most significant late Julyacquisition since Neil Armstrong picked up a moon rock, had been tutoringCrawford and other younger players, telling them always to think about usingthe middle of the field with a runner on third and less than two out.

If Crawford hits that to first base, the run doesntscore, Flannery said.

Scutaro's awareness extends to run prevention, too. If he had not driftedover from second base to back up Blancos throw from left field on DelmonYoungs double, then Prince Fielder would have scored from first base. And ifScutaros relay to the plate had been less accurate, perhaps steering catcherBuster Posey into the baseline, the Giants might have lost much more than aWorld Series game.

You can ask Todd Greene about that. (Or you can just GoogleToddGreene PrinceFielder collision.)

When the throw went over my head, I thought, I hopeMarcos there, Crawford said. I didnt really think about it. But thinkingnow, its a dangerous play (for Posey), I guess. But he got in the rightposition and made a good tag.

The Giantsadded a run in the eighth after Angel Pagan stole his way into scoringposition, enticing Leyland to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval with a baseopen. Posey walked to load the bases, and Pence already owner of a 10-pitchat-bat and a rally-starting single -- completed a tenacious night at the platewith a sacrifice fly.

But all of those small deeds would have amounted to nothingif not for the littlest player on the field.

Me? Im 5-foot-10, Romo said. But I dont feel 5-10 outthere. I feel 6-10. I feel like Im legitimately somebody out there and I feellike my teammates look at me as someone whos important.

Especially here, when you hear that crowd. Its electric.Its somewhat indescribable.

Romo only began to address reporters after taking severalminutes to compose himself. He arrived at his locker 15 minutes after the finalout and buried his head in his hands, still shaking with the tension of hisfirst World Series save opportunity. He almost seemed to hyperventilate whileripping off his uniform as if having hot flashes.

No, he did not stop to think that he needed a 1-2-3 inningto keep Miguel Cabrera and Fielder from batting in the ninth. He only stareddown the hitters as they came at him, cocking his arm and daring them to hithis 88 mph two-seamer and running slider. And when they could not, Romo punchedhis glove and started the handshake line.

Ive heard it said some guys can get outs in certaininnings and some guys cant, Romo said. Me, I dont have time to worry aboutthat. I just know a lot of guys are riding on the pitches Ive beenthrowing.

Romo delivered them. Belt caught the last one near the coaches' box. And seven months after the last early-morningfrost thawed away on the grass in Scottsdale, the Giants are one step nearer topumping both arms.

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."