Ratto: Giants' Lopez Holds Key to Unlocking NLCS


Ratto: Giants' Lopez Holds Key to Unlocking NLCS


PHILADELPHIA -- Of all the inspirational moments to come out of Saturdays 4-3 Giants win over Philadelphia in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, these were the best three:

1. Tim Lincecum, on the wolf whistles he got from the fans at Citizens Bank Park: They must think I have a really nice butt.

2. P.R. head Jim Moorehead after Aubrey Huff walked through the clubhouse with a beer in his hand, ice strapped to his ankle and his red thong in full view and doing its job: We ARE Americas Misfits.

3. Cody Ross saying anything at all. The man speaks homer, so he doesnt have be eloquent.

And yet, on a night with multiple heroes, or ordinary players doing heros turns, the most important might have been Javier Lopez. Yeah, that Javier Lopez.

Ross hit two home runs off Phillies show pony Roy Halladay. Pat Burrell returned to the scene of his greatest triumphs and aired out an RBI double. Juan Uribe followed with a line single to center to provide the ever popular fourth run. Brian Wilson teased and then strangled the Phils for yet another inning-plus save. Lincecum grappled with both the Phillies, the frugal home plate umpire Derryl Cousins, and his own work to match Halladay stride for stride.

But as it is likely to be for the rest of this series, the game is ultimately going to go through Lopez, and what he does with the Phillies two best hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. It wont be noticed by many folks because, as Moorehead said, they are Americas Misfits, but it may end up being the secret truth that helps tell the bigger story.

I dont know about that, he said. Im just trying to make my pitches, attack the zone, hit my spots, make them work for what they get.

Clich bingo! He hit em all.

But while he doesnt want to tell a lot of about the secret rocket formula, he did get through enough of the Utley and Howard at-bats in the eighth to bring the game to Wilson, which after all is why he is paid. Utley grounded out modestly to second baseman Freddy Sanchez on an 0-2 slider, and Howard worked through a fastball and four sliders of varying velocity before swinging through another fastball.

That was all he did. That was all the Giants needed. He performed the vital task of taking Lincecums lead and presenting it to Wilson seamlessly, and Wilson closed from there in a tidy 33-pitch effort.

Well, he did face six hitters, after all.

But in Lopez nine pitches, he changed arm angles from side to sub, varied his speeds from 74 to 88 mph, got ahead of both Utley and Howard and eliminated them from doing what they are best equipped to do in this series -- hit uncatchable balls very far.

And he did so working with Cousins tightish strike zone, one that irritated both Lincecum and Halladay at times but which was consistently unfriendly to any and all pitchers.

Well, you actually have a pretty good vantage point from the bullpen (in almost dead center field), Lopez said, so I could get a sense of what was working for the other guys. Plus Ive faced them before, and I know what they can punish.

The closest he came was on the 1-1 slider that Howard smoked foul. I dropped down a little more on that one, he said. And I didnt do that again.

Much has, or will be made of how Lopez is fitting the job Damaso Marte did for the Yankees in last years World Series stifling Utley and Howard and Raul Ibanez. In a situation-loaded series like this, his work on those hitters in late-inning situations will define whether Bruce Bochy can get to Wilson without the agita of baserunners in one-run games.

Of course, it will be lost in the ancillary fun of Cody (Rodeo Boy) Ross, the most powerful eight-hitter ever created. And Burrells history, and Huffs accoutrements, and Wilsons costume shop beard.

And of course Lincecum, whose hair will again be the object of many Philadelphian and Jerseyite male desires if the series goes seven games. The whistling, which is actually a historical by-product of the days when Ron Duguay of the 1970s New York Rangers used to come to town with a considerably larger mane than Lincecums Patty Smyth look; he is part of Philadelphia lore now, and thats how it will have to stay.

But in the quiet corner where few deign to tread, Javier Lopez sits quietly, knowing the game is heading for his little corner of the universe almost every time. Theyll all be when the Giants have a one-run lead to protect, or a one-run deficit to hold, because thats what the Giants do.

But theyll all matter. At least until Huff comes through the clubhouse with a lingerie statement to make. Americas Misfits, or Victorias Secret models -- whatever.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Internet immediately goes to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal


Internet immediately goes to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal

In what can be considered your standard bolt out of the blue, California head football coach Sonny Dykes has reportedly been fired.

In what can be considered your standard spur-of-the-Internet-moment-connect-the-dots inspiration, the Internet went immediately to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal rumors.

The logic, of course, is impeccable. Dykes never really snapped the Cal program around, taking a bad program and making it, well, mediocre, and he has spent much of the past two years aggressively seeking out other jobs, so one can assume there was at least some trouble in paradise, even if you want to make the case that Cal football and paradise are somehow connected.

And Kelly just got canned by the 49ers as part of Jed York’s latest I-will-not-be-made-to-look-ridiculous twitch, so he could sign a properly modest contract at Berkeley and still get his full $6 million with the offset from the three years left on his Jed deal.

So it makes perfect sense . . . which is why it should be judged with considerable skepticism.

For one, Kelly can almost surely do better in the college job diaspora. Cal is a big name with modest ambitions due in part to constant budget constraints, and there are better jobs out there even if he sits for a year.

For two, Cal and Kelly are an odd fit, given the persistent tensions between academia and athletica at Berkeley.

For three, the job comes with massive roadblocks, including Stanford, USC, Washington and (potentially) a resuscitation of the Oregon he left behind. Success will not come easy, if it does at all.

For four, Cal just finished four years of gimmick offense and overburdened defense, and Kelly would provide a more successful version of the same.

And for five, this is too easy, too simple, too convenient. Something about this scenario must be wrong somewhere. When people hit the Internet with photoshopped Kelly-in-Cal-costumes within minutes of the Dykes announcement, you know this is too obvious to actually come to fruition.

Why? Because we don’t live that well, that’s why.

The beauty of a triumphant Kelly at Cal glowering down at the charred ruin in Santa Clara seems more appealing than it actually is, because try as they might, Cal fans will never be backing the more popular horse here, and Kelly won’t win that battle unless he takes Cal to the Rose Bowl while the 49ers are still grappling over draft positions.

In that way, reality sucks. The idea that Jed York could be mocked in collegial absentia by his two biggest coaching hires is delicious but almost surely illusory.

But until we get more on why Dykes got canned 43 days after the team’s last game – recruiting, academic issues, legal issues, photocopier problems from him sending his resume out so often – all we have is the Chip Kelly rumor-ette to keep us intrigued.

Okay, to keep us amused.

Okay, to keep us from falling over in a coma. Cal should matter more than it does, but it’s been 13 years since the Holiday Bowl zenith of the Jeff Tedford Era, and 25 since Bruce Snyder took the Ursines to the Citrus Bowl. The evidence since 1990 is of a team with bigger dreams than means that is slightly below .500 (160-164). Sonny Dykes leaving means one more coach who didn’t make an impact unless his departure leads to either reassessment of the program’s standards, internal or external sanctions . . .

. . . or what the hell, Chip Kelly. Let’s face it – in these dismal days for wacked-out rumormongering, this is pretty intoxicating stuff.

Warriors are most geographically vague team in history of American sports


Warriors are most geographically vague team in history of American sports

The Philadelphia/San Francisco/Golden State Warriors have always had a casual attitude about their home court, even by the once-flexible standards of the National Basketball Association.

Thus, it should be only slightly amusing but not actually surprising that Warriors chief arenologist Rick Welts is now waffling a bit (courtesy Comrade Poole) on whether the team will change its name to San Francisco Warriors when it moves across the pond in 2019-20, or retain its current geographic association with Narnia.

I mean Golden State. I often confuse utterly fictional locales – when I can be bothered to give a toss either way.

But the Warriors, whether they play in Oakland, San Francisco, Pier 30, Pier 32, Westeros, Hobbiton, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, Curryvania, the Klingon Empire, the Death Star or Planet Nine, are relocating, and once they break the seal on the earth in 12 days, Welts and his fellow elves will almost surely play the team’s future name as a mildly tedious cliffhanger.

Hey, fun is where you find it.

The matter of the team’s relocation will be a sore subject among lifelong East Bay residents, who have put up with the Warriors for 45 years in various stages of development, including the current “We Almost Never Lose” stage. They regard the Warriors’ transplantation to San Francisco to be an unspeakable crime given the high level of fan allegiance afforded them in Oakland.

And yes, they regard Oakland and San Francisco as very real places, as opposed to Golden State, Freedonia, Vulgaria or the Nexus of All Realities.

It is not yet fully known what San Franciscans think of this development, but that’s the nature of the gamble here. They may embrace the Warriors as the new toy in town and then lose interest, and frankly, neither Welts nor anyone else knows the answer to that.

Either way, their die is cast, and Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are now future former Oakland fixtures. Yes, they are quite fond of the exciting new real estate values and their exciting new unobstructed view of the bay, but it has long been assumed that the move would also entail changing the name back to “San Francisco” for the snob appeal.

Now Welts, who has overseen both arena projects (including the one at Piers 30 and 32 which ended up with the piers beating the Warriors in a rout), tells Comrade Poole that the San Francisco Warriors might not end up as the San Francisco Warriors after all.

“Four years ago, I think the conventional wisdom in our building here in Oakland was that yes, we should attach a city name to the team, then it becomes a more global franchise,” Welts marketing-gobbledy-gooked. “There was a lot of head-scratching four years ago about where the Golden State Warriors even played, in other parts of the world. What’s happened with the team over the course of the ensuing years, until today, has made the Warriors if not the preeminent, at least among the three best-known NBA franchises around the world. And everybody who didn’t know where the Golden State Warriors were four years ago, if you’re a fan today, anywhere in the world, you know where the Golden State Warriors are.”

In Oakland.

Now, the mic drop.

“The team’s success has caused us to really rethink whether or not that’s something we should or want to do,” he added. “I guess it’s fair to say there’s been no final decision made. But if you were a betting man, I think you would probably want to wager that the name might remain the same.”

Of course. Why not stay fictional when specificity might move fewer hoodies?

Then again, this is a team that in its 70 years has played home games in Philadelphia (the Arena, the Civic Center, Lincoln High School and Convention Hall), Hershey and Bethlehem PA, Atlantic City, Trenton, Collingswood and Camden NJ, and Saratoga Springs NY . . .

(a moment’s rest here to catch our breaths)

. . . and then after moving west in 1962, the Cow Palace, San Francisco Civic Auditorium and USF’s Memorial Gym, the Oakland Auditorium, San Jose Civic Auditorium, San Jose Arena, Richmond Auditorium, then Sacramento, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Diego, Eugene, Seattle, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

In fact, and you can swindle the gullible at your neighborhood tavern with this one, the Warriors’ first game in San Francisco occurred almost three years before the team left Philadelphia. The Warriors played the visitors to the Minneapolis Lakers, who moved to Los Angeles a year later and had already played a regular season game at the Cow Palace earlier in the year, so this game, January 31, 1960, could have been considered a civic scouting trip for both teams as they sought new homes.

In other words, the Warriors are almost surely the most geographically vague team in the history of North American sports. Moreover, they are about to become the first team in sports history to go home for the third time under three different city names – Philadelphia, San Francisco and Krypton, or whatever the hell they want to call themselves this time.