Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid


Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid

Ray Ratto

PHILADELPHIA -- Everyone is a hero in a room full of fit-only-for-throwing champagne, and so it was that the Giants danced their way into a Sunday hangover and a midweek flirtation with greatness.

But nobody in the fetid-smelling Citizens Bank Park clubhouse the Giants had painted with two coats of brut was fooled into thinking that they had been cleansed of their sins. They knew (a) that their shared image of rogues and misfits is a media construct and not the reality, (b) that nobody shared their faith in their abilities before that moment, not even themselves, and (c) that the Texas Rangers are going to be a bitch.

(C), though, takes care if itself, starting Wednesday when the World Series opens in The Thing On King. (A) and (B) are different stories entirely.

Yes, Aubrey Huff wears a thong as a prop, and Brian Wilson wears a beard only a varnish salesman could love, and Tim Lincecum likes to drop the occasional F-bomb so that the Internet gremlins can have a conniption when he does it on TV.

But thats the stuff for the tourists, and everyone inside and outside the team knows it. In fact, the Giants are a severely one-dimensional team whose dimension is so overwhelming that its shortcomings morph into character portraits.

In other words, they pitched the Philadelphia Phillies into such a state of submission that their hitting and fielding failures became semi-humorous quirks. And you know what? Whatever spackles the rec room wall, Phil.

They are 3 starters deep, deeper than most teams. They are either four or five relievers deep, too, which is much deeper than most teams. Thats what they do, and when general manager Brian Sabean objected to the notion that the lesser team had won the Saturday night, he was right to say, We won because we out-pitched the Phillies, and thats a fact. They did.

But they are also a team that goes a long time between driving in a man in scoring position, and they do kick the odd ball around the lot. They arent bad at those things, they just arent, well, exceptional at them.

And they still won. Full points to them, and well played, lads.

(B), though, is the more interesting notion, because nobody either in their right mind or even fairly well out of it saw this team capable of what it has done, let alone what it might in the next fortnight.

Of the 35 players and management personnel who might reasonably claim a chunk of a World Series share, four can say they never really heard much criticism of their work. Five, tops, depending on how you view Madison Bumgarners stay in the big leagues.

Huff hit the popularity ground running by hitting well and being a most agreeable spokesman and companion. Buster Posey was the new heat-throb (as opposed to heart-throb, which is such a lower form of approval). Pat Burrell came at midseason and never performed out of character or beneath his capabilities. And Javier Lopez was by acclimation the midseason acquisition of the year.

Everyone else did their turn in the public scorn barrel, because Giant fans and media in the Bay Area saw what they saw and didnt believe that what they saw was pennant-worthy.

So the roster took its beatings. Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito all took their turns being worked over. Freddy Sanchez didnt stay healthy, Juan Uribe wasnt consistent, Pablo Sandoval was a huge (pun intended) disappointment. Aaron Rowand was still condemned as a waste of money and Andres Torres was hyperactivity itself, thrashing between cant-get-him-out and cant-get-him-on-base.

And the bullpen caught its usual ebbs and flows of grief, even Wilson and his penchant for making the skulls of all those around him throb with worry over his next 27-pitch save.

Finally, there was Sabean, who doesnt like young players or things with numbers, and Bruce Bochy, who speaks too slow and isnt effervescent in interview situations and doesnt react quickly enough.

And they all turned out to be wrong in the end, at least wrong enough. Bochy turned out to be a spectacular riverboat gambler, Sabean timed the arrivals of Posey and Bumgarner deftly, and rebuilt a team on the fly. And all the players who seemed to lack some of the essentials up close actually formed a stunningly cohesive whole when one stopped microanalyzing them.

Even the players werent sure of themselves, to be honest. Bochy managed Game 6, and the entire postseason in fact, as though losing meant the death penalty. He managed Game 6 in particular with an extraordinary verve because as he said, We didnt want to come back here tomorrow.

That is not the unvarnished confidence of a man who knows he has the best team. That is a practical man who doesnt want to test fate in a Game 7 against a team that, when right, could put a beating even on this pitching.

There was nothing wrong with that strategy, because Bochy has been working this team more actively and with more hands in the pie than at any other time in his career. He has done this based on the logic that comes from not having a team that makes its own lineup, or sets its own bullpen. The Giants needed every manipulation Bochy performed, and if that is weakness, it is also realism.

Thus, when you fear saying, I never thought this could happen, you shouldnt. Nobody saw it coming, nobody. The team had to be remade on the fly, so the Giants didnt see it coming either.

In short, embrace the surprise, acknowledge the bizarro world, enjoy the fact that you, and they, are playing with the casinos money. Youre not being graded on your clairvoyance; if you were everyone would fail miserably.

Youre being graded solely on your ability to enjoy this team for its mutant beauty, its myriad shortcomings and its true strengths. Theyre not the team youre used to, so give in to what it is.

Oh, and enjoy the World Series with a frothy mug of antacid. Youll thank us later.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.