Ratto: Giants Kiss Third Rail, Live to Tell the Tale


Ratto: Giants Kiss Third Rail, Live to Tell the Tale


SAN FRANCISCO -- Well, now theyre just showing off.

The San Francisco Giants, who like to see how close they can get to the third rail before dancing away, decided Wednesday night to put their tongues right on it.

And of course, they survived. In fact, they won Game 4 of the National League Championship Series because of their devotion to a man too injured to start the game ... because the third baseman who couldnt be trusted to get the big hit did ... because the catcher who had been struggling at the plate broke out enough for two normally-hyped players ... because the center fielder who costs too much made a throw worth every bit of his salary ... because the bullpen that looked like it couldnt actually did.

And now, with a 6-5 win so rich that it causes cholesterol levels to ring carnival bells putting them one game away from the World Series nobody in their right mind saw for this team, they now can say theyre just screwing with the legend now.

Oh, they dont say they are, because that's tempting fate too much. But Juan Uribe alone -- I mean, thats so over the top, it hardly seems believable.

He hurt his wrist sliding in Game 1. He didnt play in Game 2. He played ineffectively in Game 3. And he didnt play in Game 4 until, well, until the game had to be won.

And on a night when Aaron Rowand, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Buster Posey, Cody Ross, Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey stood out as heroes, it was the guy who couldnt play -- until he could -- that made the two plays that brought down the house.

The first, a very long throw from the hole to snatch a single from pinch-hitter Ross Gload, was epic enough. The second, the sacrifice fly off Game 2Game 6 starter Roy Oswalt (Roy Oswalt!) so deep that it scored Huff with the game-winner, basically put the story on tilt.

He came in and took BP, and he said that he could go, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, shrugging with that what-do-you-think-he-said look he likes to wear. He said he was available, and when we checked on him late in the game, he was good to go.

Oh yes he was.

I knew I could play (infield), Uribe said. I knew I could do that. But when I swing, it hurts a little bit. But I went out and tried to help the team.

He swung through a fastball from Oswalt, who had come on to start the ninth after essentially telling Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel he wanted to go. He then looked at a fastball down, had a fastball hit the knob of his bat and shoot toward the Philadelphia dugout, took another fastball out of the zone, and then got a knee-high changeup that he lifted to Ben Francisco in left.

A perfect throw might have had Huff, but Rowand had already used up all the perfect throws on this night to cut down Carlos Ruiz at the plate in the fifth. This wasnt perfect, and Uribe became the latest in a long series of Giants heroes in a postseason that makes sense only when you abandon sense.

The only regular player who hasnt done anything substantive to help win a game is backup catch Eli Whiteside. The only pitcher, Guillermo Mota. The rest of the time, the Giants have behaved like a wrestling tag team with unlimited partners. Or maybe a Mini Cooper that doubles as a clown car, emitting players and performances you are sure the car cannot hold.

Bochys maneuverings seem to work with uncanny regularity, and there seems no end to the wizardry his players emit when placed in the high tension moments.

And dont forget that all but a few players -- Huff, Posey, Pat Burrell -- have had their turn in the abuse-o-wheel that is Giants fandom. They talk about the torture of following this team, but they dont actually like it until its done, which is too late to claim credit.

Its the moments when the adrenaline rises into the mouth and tastes like burnt almonds, when the fan knows, absolutely knows, that the bad thing is going to happen, when Uribes hand is going to fly out of his glove and land in someones drink.

Thats when the torture is really torture, and when Uribe came up, surely outmatched by one of the games best pitchers, the stadium knew.

But it hoped, and when Uribe chased Francisco back and Huff was golden, thats when everyones bingo card was filled. The Giants have won six of eight games in the postseason with a full complement of heroes, a different one each night.

So yeah, it is showing off, even more brazenly than Huffs choice of aprs-jeu delicates. The Giants have depth they didnt know they had, and now they are beating up yet another team with it.

And Thursday, they can clinch the World Series berth. No doubt with Mota pitching six innings of spotless relief and Whiteside hitting three homers.

Well, OK. Thats probably over the top. But not by as much as you would have thought.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.