EXTRA BAGGS: Sandoval, Crawford describe juggling act, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Sandoval, Crawford describe juggling act, etc.

BOX SCORE
HOUSTON Pablo Sandoval sat hunched over at his locker, atowel draped over his neck, laughing giddily as he stared at his phone.

Have you seen the replay? a reporter asked BrandonCrawford.

...And Pablo Sandoval bats it like a volleyball player!... camethe muffled sounds of announcer Dave Flemmings voice, from the Pandas phone.

Crawford glanced over, then back at the reporters.

Yeah, he said, smiling. I saw it.

Everyone did. The only question was how many times theyreplayed it. (On a loop, in Sandoval's case.) In one of the zaniest, funniest, jaw-droppingest defensive plays of the season, theGiants spliced together a blooper reel with an amazing feat of athleticism inthe first inning Tuesday night.

First, Sandoval overran a foul pop off the bat of JasonCastro. He said he lost it in the lights.

I just guessed, he said. When I turned around, I was pastthe ball. I just tried to hit it high.

It clanked off his glove. He was able to rescue it an inchoff the ground, and flip it in the air.

To Crawford?

No, I just hit it high, he said. Not to him. I cantbelieve he was there and he made it.

Crawford had ventured into foul ground, too. He had cededspace to Sandoval and had slowed his momentum to a stop, appearing flat-footedas Sandoval juggled it and then flipped it. But the moment the ball was in theair for a second time, Crawford reacted like a cat thrown into an ice bath.

Just a pure reaction?

I guess thats the best way to put it, he said. I saw theball in the air and went after it.

Im supposed to be there. If its more over his head, Imcalling him off.

For Crawford, the strangest thing about watching the replay is thateverything seemed slower in real life. Thats how much Crawford has grown intohis shortstops skin this season. Its when the game sped up beyond his controlthat he made a dozen errors barely 40 games into the year.

Hes made one error in his last 54 games.

It looked better on the replay, he said. It just lookslike Im standing there and then just laying out. When it was happening, I dontknow I felt it looked harder than it was.

Leave it to his teammates to talk it up, then.

It might be the best play Ive ever seen, right-handerSergio Romo said. Smack it in the air two times and then homeboy comes sliding Baseball is amazing. You never know what youll see next.

What about Sandoval, the beach volleyball player? He andOlympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings share the same agent. Perhaps anexhibition is in order.

Hmmm, said Matt Cain. Probably not too much beachvolleyball in Pablos future.

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Crawford had an eventful day afield in the Giants 3-2victory at Minute Maid Park. In addition to his circus catch, he also made abasket grab look as cool and nonchalant as anyone in a Giants uniform sinceOmar Vizquel. And he collided with left fielder Gregor Blanco while trying tocut off Angel Pagans throw from the hill in the deepest reaches of centerfield.

I felt like a receiver today, and I even got hit up themiddle, said Crawford, who played a little wideout in high school. I got hitby a linebacker.

If Blanco is a linebacker, it was pointed out, your defenseis giving up some size.

OK, Crawford said. A safety, maybe.

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Sandoval and Crawfords play brought to mind an old gamethat players, especially relievers, used to play in their downtime during aseason. Theyd stand in a circle and play flip, which involved hitting theball with their gloves until someone dropped it. That person exited the circleand the game continued until one person remained.

I havent seen big leaguers do it regularly since the Angelsin 2001, when Troy Percival fancied himself as the greatest flip player of alltime. Then of course there is Giants vice president Dick Tidrow, who got hisnickname, Dirt, from old Yankees clubhouse man Pete Sheehy, because he dustedup his uniform so many times from diving after balls before the game evenstarted.

Youll still see it sometimes, said Crawford, who recalledplaying it during instructional league or when hed show up early to the parkin the minors.

But its not like they practice plays like that.

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One of the keys to the Giants two-run comeback in the ninthwas Brandon Belt collecting a leadoff single after left-hander Wesley Wrightwas brought in to face him.

Belt was tearing up lefties earlier in the year, but hesbeen doing most of his damage against right-handers over the past month. Giantsmanager Bruce Bochy didnt mind seeing the lefty enter the game, though.

I agree, Bochy said. I dont, and hes not a guy I hitfor when they bring in a lefty. He hangs in there. He gives you good at-bats.Really, he can look more comfortable. I really have no problem leaving him inthere.

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Even when youre playing a team on pace to lose 112 games, thelittle things can make a big difference. So Bochy made sure to credit SantiagoCasilla for doing a great job executing a pickoff play that resulted in an importantout in the eighth inning.

It was the fake-to-third, throw-to-first move. And yes, theAstros fell for it.

Casilla on the pickoff, he sold it well, Bochy said. We thoughthed be running and he did a good job with that move to third. That was a hugeout.

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The Giants made two errors and Matt Cain committed one ofthem, but otherwise they played one of their finer defensive games of theseason. Cains perfect game underscores it, but the Giants really have seemedto play their best defense of the season with their right-hander on the mound.

These guys have done a great job all year for me, he said.As a pitcher, that motivates you to pitch better. It really drives you becauseyou see them driving each other.

Maybe that's why Cain was willing to put himself in harm's way on that play atthe plate when the Astros snapped a tie on the wild pitch in the eighth. Itsnot what the Giants want to see out of someone who just signed a guaranteeddeal worth more than 112 million.

Those kinds of plays usually dont end well for a pitcher,he said.

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Buster Poseys right knee went numb for a moment after hetook a foul ball off the shinguard. Posey was checked by trainers but stayed inthe game. Bochy said Posey was OK after the sensation returned.

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Happy birthday, Kolt Kristopher Affeldt. He was born Tuesdayand weighed in at 8 pounds, 5 ounces. Momma doing fine. Poppa too. All exceptolder brother Walker, maybe, who now has to share his birthday parties fromthis day forward.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The kid who raced The Freeze on Thursday night blew a tire as he hit center field, hobbled for about 50 feet, and then went down for good. He still had a better night than the Giants. 

They blew all four tires in the fifth, giving up eight runs in a nightmare frame that turned a two-run lead into a 12-11 loss. The Giants finished 1-7 on the swing through Denver and Atlanta, and they have lost 18 of their last 23 games. 

But, let’s face it, you’re here already. So here are five more things to know from the night … 

—- Matt Cain was hanging in there until the fifth, and then … disaster. The inning started with Brandon Phillips’ solo shot that cut the lead to one. Then it went single, single before Cain was relieved by Bryan Morris. After that, it was single, single, single, sacrifice fly, homer, flyout, walk, single, pitching change, single. 

—- Morris had to wear it in the fifth because the bullpen is short, and boy, did he wear it. Morris gave up five runs on five hits and a walk. His ERA jumped two full points in two-thirds of an inning. 

—- Kyle Crick made his MLB debut in that horrendous bottom of the fifth. The Giants surely did not want to bring him in with runners on, but Bruce Bochy had no choice when Morris blew up. Crick’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater. After giving up a hit in that inning, he pitched a perfect sixth and perfect seventh. Crick topped out at 97 mph. Pretty, pretty good stuff there. He needs to get a long look the rest of this year. 

—- In the second, Buster Posey hit a ball that went 311 feet and had a hit probability of just six percent. Cain hit a ball 357 feet. Posey got a homer that bounced off the top of the wall; Cain just got a double. Baseball is such an odd game.  

—- On a positive note, Javi Lopez, who calls Brandon Belt “Sparky,” repeatedly referred to Posey as Gerald. He’s going to be good at this job. 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made.