PITTSBURGH Javier Lopez turned on his heels, hopped onceand watched the ball soar over the center field stands to the banks of theAllegheny River. He smiled through gritted teeth and punched his glove, the waysomeone might when hitting black after collecting a dozen times on red.
It finally ended. And what a run it was.
Hard as it might be to believe, the home run Lopez served upto the Pirates Pedro Alvarez on Friday was the first hes allowed in a Giants uniform.
No need to reread. Lopez had faced 378 batters as a Giant and 18 more in the 2010 postseason without allowing a home run.
Yeah, I was aware, Lopez said. I try to keep the balldown but when I dont, things like that happen. It was my big slider. That onewas up, middle, and Pedros really got a good approach now. Hes balanced onthose breaking balls.
It wasnt a cheapie, either. He got it.
A reporter told him that it went 457 feet.
Well, I didnt really care that much, but I appreciate it,he said, with a wise smile.
Did he remember the particulars of the last home run, whichcame 136 appearances and 91 13 innings ago, when he was wearing a PittsburghPirates uniform, oddly enough?
Carlos Gonzalez, in Coors, he said, accurately recalling July 28, 2010. Samepitch, slider. He hit it off the face of the third deck.
You can tell me how far that one went, too.
Barry Zito was something less than impressive while battlingthrough five innings with a flat curveball in Friday's 6-5 victory, but he did exactly what the Giantshoped hed do in what amounted to a fifth-starter role: He gave them a chance towin.
He did that remarkably well in the first half. Zito ends itwith a 7-6 record. The Giants were 9-8 in his starts. That is more thanacceptable, considering the kerosene he was throwing in his final two outingsof the spring.
Im just fighting every day, Zito said. Im not going toback down. I think theres a lot of things to build on and a lot of things toimprove on. Ive got a pretty good rest now to work on some things and be readyagainst Atlanta.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy pointed out that Zito came uphuge from his very first start, when the club got kicked in the teeth in aseason-opening three-game sweep at Arizona. Zito picked them up by throwing hisremarkable shutout at Coors Field.
He was in a similar spot Friday at Pittsburgh, after theGiants were exhausted and maybe a little exposed while getting swept in threegames at Nationals Park. This one wasnt a shutout, but Zito found a way tominimize the damage after putting the team in a 3-0 hole.
Zito has a 4.01 ERA entering the break. In 2010, he was evenbetter at this stage. He was 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA at the break, and after acouple more strong starts, he stood at 8-6 with a 3.38 ERA at the end of July.
Then he went 1-8 with a 6.14 ERA in his last 12 games (11starts), and you know the rest. There was that ugly outing in the 161stgame of the season when he had a chance to lock down the division but walked inPadres with the bases loaded. And there were the three rounds of playoffbaseball when Zito, a former Cy Young winner with an outstanding postseasonrecord, had to deal with the ignominy of being off the roster.
So hes motivated to see this season through. Lord knows theGiants are counting on him, especially with Tim Lincecum still struggling to findhimself.
In 2010, the second half was just very difficult for me, especiallythe last six weeks, Zito said. I just wasnt in any rhythm or timing in mydelivery. Im cognizant of that and Im geared up to go out one start at a timeand keep battling.
On another note, Ryan Vogelsong is suddenly your NL ERAleader. Atlantas Brandon Beachy is hurt and fell out of qualifying. The CubsRyan Dempster also fell short of the requisite number of innings. So Vogelsongand his 2.26 ERA lead the Senior Circuit.
Makes his All-Star snub all the more noticeable.
Speaking of league leaders, the Pirates, Andrew McCutchenentered the day with an NL-best .35593 average. Melky Cabrera was next, at.35582.
They both put on a show. McCutchen was 3-for-5 with atriple, two RBIs and a run scored. Cabrera was 2-for-4 with a two-run home runthat tied the game in the fourth inning.
And at the end of the day: McCutchen was at a nice, round .36000.And Melky was at .35757
Were a long way from actually tracking the batting crown.But these guys have been so good this season. To watch them both at their craft(and both facing lefties, too, which they are absolutely mauling this season),was quite a treat.
Cabrera is almost certain to post the highest average by aGiant at the All-Star break since Barry Bonds in 2004, when he was hitting.365.
The rest of the list:
Willie Mays, 1958 (.358)
Rich Aurilia, 2001 (.356)
Melky Cabrera, 2012 (.357)
Jeff Kent , 2000 (.355)
Willie Mays, 1960 (.353)
Barry Bonds, 1993 (.348)
Just yesterday I was walking past the White House. So when my flight landed in Pittsburgh today, imagine my surprise when I found out why police wereblocking my taxi and other traffic on an onramp to I-376.
The presidential motorcade was about to pass through.President Obama was campaigning in Beaver County and en route to give a speechat Carnegie-Mellon University. I watched as several emergency vehicles led aprocession down an empty freeway that included police, several armored blackSUVs and a bus, presumably holding the press corps.
It dawned on me that the White House press corps really hasit good. Imagine they never get stuck in traffic!