Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 9, Braves 4 (11)


Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 9, Braves 4 (11)

ATLANTA It felt exactly like one of those wild, one-strike-away games from the 2010 NL Division Series.It certainly was all torture and rapture for Brandon Crawford in the 11th inning of an instant classic Wednesday night.Crawford, who entered the game as a defensive replacement, bent at the waist for several moments after fouling a ball off his knee. The Giants were out of position players, so he had to grit his teeth and step back in the box.Wouldnt you know it? Crawford sent the next pitch screaming into the right field seats for a tiebreaking, three-run home run his first since April 11, or 249 at-bats ago and the Giants poured on more for a 9-4, 11-inning victory at Turner Field.It was the craziest moment in a game that wont be forgotten anytime soon.Plenty of wildness preceded Crawfords limp around the bases.The Giants survived a death scare in the bottom of the ninth inning, nearly losing in walk-off style a half-dozen times. But somehow, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez coaxed the game into extra innings.They created a two-run lead in the 10th, only to watch Santiago Casilla let it slip away when Freddie Freeman hit a two-out, two-strike double and Brian McCann followed with a concussive home run. It was Casillas fifth blown save in his last eight opportunities.This was wild in more ways than one. The Giants set themselves up for a potential three-game sweep in Fulton County something they havent accomplished since June, 1988.Theyve already clinched just their second series victory in 16 years at Turner Field; the Giants entered with a 1-14-3 series record in the land of the Chop, winning their only other series in 2008.The Giants are 6-1 in extra innings this year; the Braves had been 4-0 in extras before losing.Starting pitching reportAlthough he was a fading memory by the end of the game, Ryan Vogelsong was a terrier-bulldog hybrid on the mound yet again. He pitched with his heels dug in over six innings, slipping only when Juan Francisco led off the third inning with a home run.The rest was pure Vogelsong. He pulled a gritty escape in the fourth after Jason Heyward chopped an infield single and stole second base. Vogelsong appeared to have Brian McCann struck out on a 2-2 pitch, but the umpire ruled that the Braves catcher checked his swing. Refusing to give in, Vogelsong ended up issuing a walk.He decided to toy with slumping second baseman Dan Uggla instead, shattering his bat on a first-pitch foul and eventually guiding a changeup under his swing to strike him out. Francisco hit a deep fly out to the warning track to end the threat.A leadoff walk to Heyward and another stolen base provided the Braves with a perfect opportunity in the sixth. But Vogelsong retired the heart of Atlantas order, finishing his night with a painted third strike to Uggla.Vogelsong has thrown at least six innings in all 17 of his starts; he also nudged down his ERA to 2.31, which ranks third in the NL.Bullpen reportJeremy Affeldt threw 2 13 scoreless innings before yielding to Romo with one out in the ninth. Then the wildness began.An old nemesis awaited Romo. Uggla was 3 for 4 with two homers off him, so the right-hander understandably pitched carefully. He came back from a 3-0 count to run it full before missing with a pitch that plunked Uggla on the left leg.Romo looked totally out of sorts while missing badly on the first two pitches to Chipper Jones, then the Braves came within a foam tomahawks length of winning the game when Jones sent a foul drive into the right field corner.Jones ended up reaching when he tapped one to the right side and second baseman Theriot either screened by the baserunner or the spectre of Conrad fumbled the ball for an error.Romo and catcher Eli Whiteside, who was catching his first major league inning of 2012, appeared to get crossed up on a very high pitch that allowed both runners to advance. But Romo came back to get Paul Janish to strike out on three tentative swings at sweeping sliders including one that Whiteside blocked in the dirt, saving the game.The next batter was pinch hitter Eric Hinske, who hit a home run off Romo that nearly cost the Giants a Game 3 victory in the 2010 NLDS. Giants manager Bruce Bochy wasted no time summoning Javier Lopez, who issued an intentional walk when the Braves burned Hinske in favor of Tyler Pastornicky.With the bases loaded, Lopez battled Michael Bourn for a nine-pitch at-bat that included four two-strike fouls before finally striking him out on a two-seamer, saving the game.We told you it was wild.Casilla appeared to be on his way to a quiet 10th inning and a save, but Freeman and McCann flipped the script. McCanns opposite-field shot sent the crowd into a frenzy.It was the sixth home run allowed by Casilla this season; the rest of the Giants bullpen has allowed just 12 homers all season.Brad Penny allowed a solo homer to Jones in the ninth, tying him with George Brett for third place on the all-time RBI list among third basemen. But Penny was operating with a six-run lead at the time.At the plateAtlanta left-hander Mike Minor entered with a 5.97 ERA that ranked 99th among 100 major league starters who qualified for the ERA title. (Tim Lincecum was 98th.)But Minor mystified the Giants, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before Buster Posey led off with a well struck double down the right field line.That was a prelude to poor situational hitting, though. Pablo Sandoval struck out looking, Brandon Belt looked at two strikes before swinging through another, and after an intentional walk to Joaquin Arias loaded the bases, Vogelsong popped up.Melky Cabreras home run tied it in the sixth, but the Giants blew another chance in the seventh after Sandoval lined a leadoff double to left field. Angel Pagan failed to advance the runner with a pop up to short, and after Belt did well to draw a walk, the bottom of the order came up empty again. Arias grounded into a fielders choice and pinch hitter Nate Schierholtz tapped out to first base to strand runners at the corners.Giants pinch hitters entered the game with a .176 average this season showing why GM Brian Sabean must upgrade the bench for the stretch drive.Posey led off the ninth with a single off flamethrowing closer Craig Kimbrel and Bochy pinch-ran Gregor Blanco for him, but Blanco was nearly thrown out twice on pickoff throws and then Sandoval grounded into a double play.The Giants finally brought a runner home in the 10th after Arias hit a one-out triple.Jones, the Braves venerated third baseman, made a barehand grab of Justin Christians tapper down the line but his Skee-ball toss to the plate comically soared over the catchers head as the Giants scored the tiebreaking run. Cabrera, the former Brave who was booed loudly after his home run in the sixth, added an RBI single for his 42nd multi-hit game of the season.It turned out to be an important second run.The Giants set up Crawfords homer in the 11th when Whiteside was hit by a pitch and Belt drew a walk against Anthony Varvaro. Chad Durbin threw a first-pitch cutter that Crawford fouled high off his leg, but inexplicably, Durbin didnt come back with another inside pitch. Crawford hammered the next one into the right field stands.Following an error and an intentional walk, Blanco launched a three-run home run to allow the Giants to exhale at least a bit for the first time all night.In fieldJones is in the twilight of his career, but hes still able to handle anything within fall-down range. After entering the game as a pinch hitter in the seventh, he took a hit away from Justin Christian with a diving stop to begin the eighth.Cabrera got an earful from the crowd after dropping Heywards fly ball in the eighth following a long run, but his tough two-base error didnt end up costing the Giants a run.Jones error cost the Braves dearly in the 10th, though Arias might have scored anyway.AttendanceThe Braves announced 29,410 paid, most of whom sat through a rain delay of one hour, 16 minutes prior to the first pitch. The clever scoreboard folks entertained themselves with an oblivious cam that timed how long it took bored fans to realize they were on the huge outfield screen.Up nextThe Giants conclude their series at Turner Field with a Thursday game in sunshine. (Now theres a hopeful thought.) Madison Bumgarner (11-5, 3.15) takes the mound against right-hander Tim Hudson (7-4. 3.80). Bumgarner will try to become the first Giants pitcher to claim a victory in a sweep in Atlanta since Don Caveman Robinson on June 29, 1988.

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bruce Bochy announced a slight tweak to the spring schedule on Thursday: Matt Cain won't follow Madison Bumgarner on the mound in the opener; he'll likely start the second game, with Ty Blach backing him up.

The Giants have made no secret of the fact that Cain is the perfect-world pick to be the fifth starter this season. Is there a world where Blach could still be in the big leagues?

"Sure, I could see that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy called Blach a potentially good "swing guy." If he can't crack the rotation this season, Blach may see time as a long reliever or even a short-stint lefty. With Will Smith (elbow) on a tight timeline to get ready for opening day, the lefty help could be needed.

"He's confident, he's a strike-thrower, he has really good command and he's a good athlete," Bochy said, noting the traits that allow Blach to be versatile.

The 26-year-old had already proven to be flexible. A week after he threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers, Blach came out of the bullpen at Wrigley Field and threw 1 1/3 hitless innings. Two days later he threw two more scorleless innings out of the bullpen. 

Blach said he was at first a little worried about the transition, but he talked to Cain, Jake Peavy, Chris Heston and Chris Stratton about the best ways to adjust to a switch to the bullpen. He ultimately didn't have any problems warming up quickly as a reliever.

"It was pretty similar, you just try to go out there the same way and execute pitches," Blach said.

Blach made the quick transition look easy, and that might have opened up a second path to a roster spot. 

Elsewhere on the final day before the games start ...

STOCK WATCH: Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and there are going to be a lot of eyes on him. Beede is probably the No. 7 starter at this point, and when you're in that spot, you're just about guaranteed a decent chunk of starts. Injuries will open doors.

"He's looked real sharp this spring," Bochy said. "He's coming off a great year. He's got great stuff, great makeup. He’s a smart pitcher along with having good command of all of his pitches. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s one of those guys on a fast pace.”

ICYMI: Speaking of guys on a fast pace, here’s my feature on Christian Arroyo

SPRING OPENER: Buster Posey won’t catch Bumgarner on Friday, but Brandon Crawford will be behind him. Crawford is going to get plenty of time early on to prepare for the WBC. Posey makes his spring debut Saturday.

LIGHTER SIDE: Just about every day, a rookie has to get up in front of the team and do something embarrassing. Thursday’s entertainment: Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean third baseman, dancing to “Gangnam Style.”

QUOTABLE: I think Mike Morse was the best podcast guest so far. We talked about his wedding negotiations with Bobby Evans, his friendship with Hunter Pence, the photo he took with a trophy right after the World Series, why it’s SF-or-bust, and much more. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The last question for Morse: Will he use “Take on Me” this year?

“If this is going to be the last time I play baseball, I’m going to have that song every at-bat,” he said. 

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Christian Arroyo’s fingers flew across the face of his iPhone in a scene that would not be out of place in any dorm room across the country. For a moment, he was simply a young man facing an online opponent on an app, but Arroyo is far from your average 21-year-old.

Arroyo was sitting in front of a locker where a No. 22 Giants jersey hangs as a sign of what the organization thinks of the infielder. A former MVP, Jimmy Rollins, dressed a few feet away. On a flatscreen TV hanging from the ceiling, a feed showed Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford practice bunting. That group is one Arroyo hopes to soon join.

“When you get drafted by a team, your goal is to be a guy that stays around for a while,” he said. “I love it here, and to be one of those guys down the road would be awesome. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to that point, and I understand it is a business and some things work out and some things don’t, but I would definitely love to be one of those guys.”

The Giants believe strongly that he will be. It’s why they ultimately felt they had coverage when Matt Duffy — once the fourth member of that group — was traded away in the seconds before the 2016 deadline. It’s why Arroyo is wearing Will Clark’s old number. It’s why Bruce Bochy broke into a wide smile when asked about Arroyo’s month in camp last spring, when he had 10 hits — including two homers — in 18 at-bats.

“Wow — I mean, he had an impressive spring, to the point where guys are going, ‘Maybe he can help us (now),’” Bochy said. “But he needed to go to (Double-A) Richmond and play. He’s not on our radar to make the club (this spring), but what he did last spring opened a lot of eyes.”

The Giants would like Arroyo to get a full season at Triple-A and general manager Bobby Evans said they don’t feel pressure to have their top hitting prospect in the opening day lineup in 2018. Eduardo Nuñez is in the final year of his contract, but Conor Gillaspie is under team control through next season. Still, Arroyo could be a fit as soon as this summer. 

“We’ll let his development dictate the pace of his rise to the big league level,” Evans said. 

The front office will continue to move Arroyo around the diamond in Triple-A, but his future is at third base and that’s where he’ll get most of his time this season. To make the transition, Arroyo — who was drafted as a shortstop — has at times turned to a player who was once blocking him. When bench coach Ron Wotus started working him in at third last spring, Arroyo started following the lead of the incumbent. 

“I was with Duffy on the back field and we were doing our infield work,” he said. “I started turning double plays and he said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to slow it down over here. When you’re here, you have time. If you get a double-play ball just deliver a good throw to Joe. It’s not really the speed, it’s the area that you throw it, and let Joe turn two.’

“He’s a Gold Glove second baseman,” Arroyo continued. “He’s going to turn it every time. Once I started to realize that and started to slow everything down over there, my feet were under me and my angles on the throws were right.”

Arroyo continued to work on slowing the game down during his season in Richmond, where he played 48 games at third base, 48 at shortstop, and 19 at second. He is learning the nuances of positioning, and another spring in big league camp — where Wotus regularly helps veterans grow by leaps and bounds — will only help.

At the plate, the focus is on consistently having the right approach. Arroyo showed it last spring, when he fell behind 0-2 during a televised night game and then calmly worked a full count. When he got a cutter he could handle, Arroyo pulled a two-run homer over the bullpen. Several Giants compared the approach that night to Buster Posey’s, and during the season it was continually reinforced.

“When (team executives) would come into (Richmond) and you talk to them, they tell you very specifically the exact plan for the big league level,” Arroyo said. “'Hey, get on base, keep it moving, and make stuff happen.' I understand that when I’m making stuff happen I’m not hitting home runs, I’m hitting doubles and taking walks and taking the extra base. 

“Eventually, hopefully, when I grow into my body and get a little bit stronger down the road, doubles turn into home runs and I can make things happen that way. But for now I understand what kind of player I am at this age and I’m just going to try to stay consistent at what I do and let the other things fall into place.” 

That's the attitude the Giants want Arroyo to continue to take. It’s easy for a young player to get caught up in prospect rankings or homers and RBI, but the numbers that mean the most to the Giants are the ones on Arroyo’s driver’s license. Arroyo hit .274 with a .316 on-base percentage and .373 slugging last season, but he did so in a league where the average player was more than three years older.

“When you’re playing Double-A at the age of 21 and you have 36 doubles and good defense, it stands out,” Evans said. “We challenged him by moving him around, that’s a lot to take, and he had a good year. He has a good head on his shoulders and a good approach at the plate, and he’s only going to get stronger as he grows into a man’s body. Now he’s looking at Triple-A at the age of 22 — and he’ll still be the youngest player.”

Arroyo won’t mind that. The jump to Double-A last season was a challenge, and he was happy the Giants gave it to him. He’s ready for another jump, another season of trying to stay consistent against older and more experienced players. As Arroyo sat in the clubhouse Tuesday waiting for the on-field workout to start, one veteran infielder after another walked through the door. Nuñez, Gillaspie, Rollins, Aaron Hill and others will get most of the time at third base this spring. There are limited at-bats for the prospects, but Bochy doesn’t need to see much more from Arroyo — who is 14-for-26 in two springs — to know what’s on the way. 

“He showed he can handle the bat, third base, or wherever we put him,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of time with him.”