Baker equates 2012 Reds to 2002 Giants

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Baker equates 2012 Reds to 2002 Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- Long ago, basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell shared with Dusty Baker the secret to winning with consistency: The players have to genuinely love each other.

Baker returns to San Francisco -- the place he played for one season and managed for 10 -- with the sole focus of ending the Giants' 2012 campaign. Not a loving scenario, but a decade after leading the Orange and Black to the World Series, Baker is plenty familiar with what it looks like when a team has clubhouse magic.

"Every team is different," Baker said. "I like this team. I genuinely like this team. It reminds me of the (2002) team I had (in San Francisco), when you genuinely like the players and they genuinely like each other. They can take you a long way by liking each other."

RATTO: Dusty isn't San Francisco's story anymore

Also similar to the 2002 Giants team, the 2012 Reds boast an MVP bat in the middle of the lineup. But 2010's most valuable National League player Joey Votto is limping into the playoffs after a 1-for-9 October. His manager isn't showing concern.

"Joey's trying to get his stroke," Baker acknowledged. "But you don't know. Joey might be setting you guys up."

Votto has 81 career at-bats in AT&T Park and just two home runs. His .284 average in San Francisco is a ball and chain on his .316 career average. Unlike Votto, though, Reds' Game 1 starter Johnny Cueto has enjoyed success on the shores of McCovey Cove.

It's a small sample size with just two career starts, but Cueto's 1.38 ERA suggest he enjoys pitching in San Francisco quite well.

"This is a big ballpark," Cueto said through an interpreter. "It's a pitching ballpark. I like to pitch here."

Based on the three-hitter he threw their way in Cincinnati last July, Cueto just likes facing the Giants. But the team he silenced over a year ago was decidedly different than the lineup he'll face on Saturday, specifically for the lack of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in the heart of the order.

"I don't think anything (of the Giants' current lineup)," Cueto said with a smile. "All I have to do is do my job. I don't see the lineup. I don't know who is going to be in the lineup (Saturday). I have to do my job and they have to do their job."

Just minutes before, his manager explained how he needed to conserve energy so he could do his job. Baker, whose irregular heartbeat landed him in a hospital just in time for the mini-stroke he suffered two weeks ago, expects to be his active and involved self when the games begin.

"Assuredly so," Baker insisted, and you knew he meant it.

REWIND: Baker suffers mini-stroke
Baker, 63, is admittedly seeing the world with more appreciation after his latest flirtation with the Reaper, and the man who survived prostate cancer in 2000 is happy to be back in the Bay Area.

"This is my home," Baker said. "People know that I'm from here. My wife's from here. I still live here, part time. I don't know, I just like the people here. I like the attitude, it's my crowd of people."

Don't think Baker is entertaining thoughts of retiring back to his Sacramento home, though. While his contract is up when the Reds' season ends, he plans on managing an MLB team for a 20th time next year. After postseason butterflies woke him -- against his preference -- at 6 a.m. Friday morning, Baker doesn't feel like his skills, or passion, are slipping. Just the opposite, in fact.

"I feel like I'm getting better," Baker stated confidently.

It's a scary thought for the man who is 20th all-time in wins and second only to Jim Leyland among active managers. Bruce Bochy is third on that list, trailing Baker by 131 victories.

The 2012 NLDS will pit two of baseball's elite managers against each other, managers who have fostered healthy clubhouse environments and winning attitudes in their respective cities.

The games in the best-of-five series will ultimately rule which clubhouse cultured more love, but it will be clear before the first pitch how much appreciation Baker receives from his home town crowd.

"We'll see if they still love me on Sunday," Baker said with a smile. "If we're 2-0, we'll see."

Crawford strains right groin in eighth inning of Giants' 2-1 loss to Dodgers

Crawford strains right groin in eighth inning of Giants' 2-1 loss to Dodgers

SAN FRANCISCO — Brandon Crawford was always going to miss the final two games of this series to attend the funeral of his sister-in-law. The Giants are now hoping an MRI result shows that Crawford won’t miss any time beyond his three days on bereavement leave. 

Crawford pulled up with a right groin strain as he rounded first on a base hit in the eighth. After jogging a bit in the outfield, he was pulled from the game. 

“It tightened up,” Crawford said. “I haven’t really felt anything like that before. I’ve never really had anything like this before. It just felt tight. I didn’t feel a pop or anything, and from what I hear, that’s good news.”

Crawford’s liner off Kenley Jansen sent Buster Posey from first to third. Cody Bellinger's throw went into third and Crawford was busting it for second when his leg shut down. He said he could feel the pain in his groin as he tried to run it off. 

“(Trainer Dave Groeschner) told me it wasn’t a great idea to try and push it,” Crawford said. 

Ordinarily, the Giants would send Crawford for an MRI on Wednesday, but he is flying down to Los Angeles for two days of services. Crawford originally told manager Bruce Bochy that he could be back in time for Friday’s game, but the Giants — already playing without Denard Span and with a short bench — were planning to put Crawford on the bereavement list and call up an extra position player. 

Eduardo Nuñez moved over to short in the ninth and he’s Crawford’s primary backup. Christian Arroyo, called up Monday, can also play the position. The Giants have Kelby Tomlinson and Orlando Calixte on the 40-man and one of them is likely to join the team Wednesday. 

--- Arroyo and Bellinger are two of the NL West’s top prospects, and they got their first big league hits on the same night. Arroyo got a first-pitch fastball at the letters from Clayton Kershaw and roped it into left field. 

“I figured he would come at me,” Arroyo said. “I said, ‘Hey man, see a heater and take a good swing at it.’ I just envisioned getting (a big league hit) but I didn’t think it would be off a guy the caliber of Kershaw. In the moment I was excited. That’s something you don’t forget.”

Arroyo’s family won’t forget it, either. His parents and two younger siblings were here and they went nuts as Arroyo rounded first. That’s always a cool moment. 

--- Ty Blach has three big league hits and all of them are off Kershaw. 

“Sometimes you just swing hard and get lucky, I guess,” he said. 

There’s only one active pitcher who has more hits against Kershaw than Blach. That’s Madison Bumgarner, who has taken him deep twice. A year ago, Bumgarner walked into the video room and asked Matt Duffy if he wanted advice on hitting Kershaw. On Tuesday, he gave Blach some advice. 

“Madison before the game came up and said he’s going to throw you up and in because he threw it low and away last (year),” Blach said. “I was looking for a pitch in that vicinity.”

Bumgarner knows Kershaw well. Blach got a fastball up and he knocked it over a drawn-in outfield for a double. 

--- We’re 10 paragraphs into this story without a score. The Giants lost 2-1, but it’s hard to dissect this one too much. When the Dodgers get 25 outs from Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, they’re going to win that game nine out of 10 times. 

Kershaw lowered his season ERA to 2.29. The Giants gave him a little bit of trouble early, but he turned it on in the middle innings. 

“He settled in and he was as tough as he normally is,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The thing you hope is to create some chances. We had a couple.”

The eventual winning run came across on a strange play in the fourth. With runners on the corners, Adrian Gonzalez hit a bouncer to first. Posey looked Justin Turner back to third and then threw to Crawford at second for one out. Crawford spun and fired a strike home to try and get Turner, who had taken off. The throw skipped in the dirt and Nick Hundley couldn’t handle it. Turner made it 2-1, and that was that. 

Bochy said he had no problem with how that play went down. All the decisions were right, it was just a tough double-play to pull off. 

“I’d like to say I should have made a better throw but I got rid of it as fast as I could and I put as much on it as I could,” Crawford said. 

The Giants were a couple inches behind Turner on Tuesday. On Monday, they were just ahead of him, with Posey picking him off second to end the game. It’s been that type of series between these two.

--- I saw a lot of grumbling on Twitter about Yasmani Grandal pulling balls back into the strike zone in the late innings. Be careful what you wish for, Giants fans. Posey might be the best pitch-framer in the game. Any change that would keep guys like Grandal from fooling umps would hurt the Giants more than most.

 

Instant Replay: Kershaw quiets Giants again, Dodgers win 2-1

Instant Replay: Kershaw quiets Giants again, Dodgers win 2-1

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — After taking the opener of this four-game series, manager Bruce Bochy said he felt the win was a huge one. 

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said Monday night. “We know it.”

Yes, as always with Clayton Kershaw, they did. 

The left-hander was once again dominant at AT&T Park, throwing seven sharp innings before turning the ball over to a bullpen that got four outs from Kenley Jansen. The closer wrapped up a 2-1 Dodgers win. As with Monday’s game, this one was a pitcher’s duel. 

Ty Blach threw 11 shutout innings against the Dodgers as a rookie and he opened up with three strong frames Tuesday. He also got the offense in gear, lashing a double over a drawn-in outfield in the third for his third career hit off Kershaw. Hunter Pence’s hustle turned a grounder to second into an infield hit, allowing Buster Posey to bat in the inning. Posey didn’t let his good friend’s effort go to waste, bouncing a single up the middle for the night’s first run. 

The Dodgers came right back to take the lead. Corey Seager opened the fourth with a walk and Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig singled. With runners on the corners and the game tied, Adrian Gonzalez hit a grounder right at Posey at first. He spun and fed Brandon Crawford for one out and Turner broke for home. Crawford’s throw came up a few inches short and Turner scored. 

Kershaw looked uncomfortable during an early at-bat, but he found his groove in the middle innings. He needed just seven pitches to get through the fifth and eight to set the side down in the sixth. After George Kontos left the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, Kershaw worked around a two-out single in the bottom of the inning. 

The Dodgers called on Jansen with two outs in the eighth and he immediately ran into trouble. Posey singled and Crawford followed with a liner into left that came with a price. Crawford pulled up as he rounded first and was removed with an apparent right groin injury. 

Starting pitching report: Blach’s return to the rotation: 5 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts. Because he hasn’t started since spring training, a rising pitch count knocked him out a bit early.

Bullpen report: Kontos screamed and pumped his fist after blowing Andrew Toles away to end the seventh. Cory Gearrin had put a pair of Dodgers on and an intentional walk of Cody Bellinger loaded them up.

At the plate: Christian Arroyo’s first big league hit was a first-inning single off the best pitcher in the world. Kershaw threw Arroyo a first-pitch fastball at the letters and he smoked it into left. Arroyo’s parents and young siblings arrived in San Francisco in time to watch the moment. 

In the field: Crawford did Crawford Things, including a running catch way out in left field to rob Gonzalez of a bloop single. 

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,329 human beings who tried the cell-phone-light rally with a runner on in the seventh. One pitch later, Pence grounded out. 

Up next: Johnny Cueto will try to get back on track. He had a 2.67 ERA in five starts against the Dodgers in his first season in the rivalry. Funky lefty Alex Wood goes for the other side.