EXTRA (LATE) BAGGS: Shaking out the notebook from Cincy

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EXTRA (LATE) BAGGS: Shaking out the notebook from Cincy

SOMEWHERE AT 32,000 FEET After the Giants bowled a turkeyto upend the Cincinnati Reds Thursday night, I lacked the time (OK, and energy) to write up the more traditional catch-all postgame notes column.

Then came Friday and the logistic Twister game of bookingflights, booking hotel rooms, cancelling flights, cancelling hotel rooms andre-booking cancelled hotel rooms.

But I finally had some time on the flight back to SanFrancisco today to go through my notebook, turn it upside-down and let the nickelsand dimes sprinkle out. A few gems in here, too.

Better late than never, I guess. If that running theme is good enough for the Cardinals and Giants, it'll work for me, too.

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You could cite a hundred pitches or plays or wedding-feastmiracles that made a difference in the Giants three-game resurrection inCincinnati.

But one of them remains a source of amazement for the Giantscoaching staff: How in creation did Angel Pagan catch that sinking line drivefrom Dioner Navarro to end the eighth inning in Game 5? Wasnt he playing atno-doubles depth?

I call it half no doubles, Pagan explained later, througha gleaming smile. Navarro is not a home run hitter so I just moved in a littlebit. I wasnt shallow. When it was hit, I knew the situation in the game and Ihad to keep it in front of me. There is no way I can let that ball get past me(with the tying runs on base).

But when it was still in the air, I said, 'Hey, Im gonnagive myself a chance to make a play.' It was perfect. It was awesome.

Perfect and awesome. Two useful adjectives.

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Pagan also offered a great eyewitness description from thirdbase when Buster Posey hit his grand slam off Mat Latos. Pagan didnt turn back towardthe base to admire the 434-foot shot. He was tagging up, he admitted.

I was getting ready to tag on that ball and it was a mileout! Pagan said. Hey, you cannot take any chances when you get to this pointin the season. And you know what? In our park, you never think its gone.

I liked Matt Cains account of Poseys slam, too.

I was sitting in the dugout just trying to get out of thesun, Cain said. All I saw is he made a good swing. His reaction told me therest.

Blinded by the light.

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The Giants were too classy to crow over their dismantling ofMat Latos, whose I hate SF autographed baseballs probably spiked in valueafter Poseys slam completed a six-run fifth inning in Game 5.

But from what I understand, there is no pitcher that Poseyenjoys beating more than Latos.

Well from what I can tell, every time out hes competing,hes going after it with everything hes got, Posey said. As another guy wholoves to compete, thats a fun matchup.

No crowing to be found there. Pagan cawed a bit, though.

Its just we were better, he said. Latos was pitchinggreat. He had an electric fastball. But we were better than him. He got introuble once and we didnt wait.

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Credit due to Giants advance scout Keith Champion, who trackedthe Reds in the weeks leading up to the NL Division Series. The Giants didntoverwhelm the Reds lineup like they did to Texas in the 2010 World Series, butthey never seemed out of position in the field.

Pat Burrell, by the way, followed the Washington Nationals towardthe end of the year and he was one of two scouts advancing the Nats-Cards NLDS. When the year began, he wasnt sure if hed like a second career in scouting. Turns out he lovesit, and he hopes to remain part of the organization again next year.

Hes always had an eye for talent.

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I asked Brian Wilson if he took note that the Game 5 umpirewas Tom Hallion, whose Taibo-punch strikeout call should be familiar toGiants fans. It was Hallion who rang up Ryan Howard when Wilson nestled hislittle cut-slider at the bottom of the strike zone to clinch the 2010 NLCS atPhiladelphia.

Wilson did remember. He also came close to reprising hispostgame statement from that wild night: I want to rage. RIGHT NOW.

This time, it was: I could puke right now and I have araging headache and I wouldnt change a thing.

Wilson is supposed to begin playing catch in a few days, bythe way. Hell be cleared to start throwing six months after his Tommy John surgery, which is six days from now. He plans to pick up a ball the moment the trainers allow it.

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Heres Wilson, from April 15: I dont think (the bullpenis) going to falter. I think were going to take the West no matter what,whether Im here or not.

Two more gems from that interview that are worthrebroadcasting:

On missing a year: No big deal. If I plan on playing forever, then this is asmall percentage of my career.

And

On his contract status: The Giants have me for another year. Youre welcome.

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Apparently, Wilson was just as hyper and hilarious in theninth inning of Game 5.

We got the first out in the ninth and, you know, we hadntseen Wilson in the dugout all game, Giants third base coach Tim Flannery said.All the sudden here he comes and hes screaming. 'Thats one out. One out!'Then he starts yelling at the ball boy, 'Hey were going to get you, ball boy!Youre going down!'

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It got a little quieter in the dugout, though, as Sergio Romo battledJay Bruce for 12 pitches when one mistake couldve ended the Giants season. AsBruce kept fouling off two-strike pitches, Flannery kept shifting his weight.

Explained the Flan Man: You stand in one spot and yourelike, 'Nope. Foul ball. Thats not it.' So you take a little step, anotherfoul, and 'Nope, that wasnt it, either.' Youre talking about some serioussuperstition right there.

Everyone hit the right spot in the end -- Romo, mostimportantly.

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Theyll be talking for a long time about how Bruce Bochyoutmanaged Dusty Baker, and the irony that Baker once again couldn't skipperhis team to a clinching victory this time while competing against the Giantsinstead of with them.

But in the entire series, I thought Baker only made tworeally egregious mistake. One of them was staying with Mike Leake far too longin Game 4. Bochy seemed to run his team with a greater sense of urgency theentire series, but then again, he had to. He was the manager facing eliminationthree times. In that spot with Leake, though, Baker was too passive.

Then there was Bakers odd decision from the sixth inning ofGame 5, when he put two runners in motion with no outs, a 3-2 count to RyanHanigan and the Reds down 6-3. Hanigan took a called third strike (that lookedto be outside, actually) and Posey made a terrific throw while maneuveringaround the batter to nab the not-so-speedy Jay Bruce at third base.

They were the only two outs a Giants starting pitcherrecorded in the sixth inning all series.

Why did Baker start the runners when he still trailed bythree? Well, he said he wanted to stay out of the double play with Hanigan, andhe trusted that the batter wouldnt strike out. Its true, Hanigan seldomwhiffs and he walks almost as often as he strikes out. But when you makedecisions to hedge the worst-case scenario, you send a bit of a message. Youreoperating on fear. And in the postseason, as Bochy has shown countless times,you cannot manage with any fear.

All that aside, there arent many people in the game whohave Bakers class and cool. For some of the longtime coaches, like Ron Wotus,it was as difficult to watch Dustys season end in disappointment as it was forBochy two years ago, when he beat the Braves to end Bobby Coxs career. Im notsure Bochy admires anyone in baseball more than Bobby Cox.

Im not sure where my career is going here in Cincinnati,Baker said after Game 5. Were going to talk about that in the next coupledays. But Im not through managing yet. I have more to do.

You get tired of the disappointments, but then you get overit. It hurts, big time. Im a strong man, and usually I get over hurts and itmakes me stronger when I come back.

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Ive been back home for an hour and I already feel stronger.I did not look forward to the idea of carrying alcohol-soaked clothes around withme for four more days. The washing machine is running in the background now,and Ill get going to the ballpark in a few minutes for todays workout.

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A couple of days before he signed a four-year deal, Mark Melancon fired off a midnight text to Nick Hundley. 

“Call me,” Melancon wrote.

When Hundley called, he found out his college teammate had chosen the Giants, ending a free agency process the two spoke about often. Two months later, it was Hundley’s turn to reach out. 

“I asked him if he wanted to play together again,” Hundley said. “He said, ‘You better not be messing with me.’”

The Giants signed just two free agents who are guaranteed of being on the opening day roster. In an odd twist, the new closer and new backup catcher have known each other for over a decade. Hundley was a second-round pick in 2005 out of the University of Arizona. A year later, his college teammate Melancon was a ninth-round pick. The two have stayed close throughout the pro ball journey. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and their wives and children hang out together. 

“We always talked about playing together,” Hundley said, adding that the odds were long in a 30-team sport.

The friends have crossed off a good chunk of them. Melancon has played for the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Pirates and Nationals. Hundley has played for the Padres, Orioles and Rockies. Finally, the two have hooked on to the same team, and the Giants are excited to have them both. Hundley will be the veteran catcher the team has missed in recent years, and the Giants are hopeful that he’s a pinch-hit threat, too. Melancon, of course, was brought in to fix the glaring problem in the ninth. Hundley is confident he’ll do it.

“I’ve caught him since 2005,” he said smiling, “And he’s always been nasty.”

NEW FACE: It’s hard to take much away from drills, but Orlando Calixte certainly impressed. As the Giants worked out on the field for the first time in three days, I asked GM Bobby Evans what Calixte showed the team’s scouts. “Just his athleticism, his tools, they stand out,” Evans said. They certainly do. Calixte is smooth out there, and he showed quickness at short that might differentiate him from the pack of infield options. 

Calixte has also played second, third and the outfield in the minors, and while the Giants intend on keeping five outfielders, that versatility could come into play. The Giants plucked Calixte from Kansas City’s system and put him on the 40-man roster when it became apparent that other offers were out there. They thought he could provide more versatility than Ehire Adrianza, and it helps that he has an option remaining. Calixte has to beat out a bunch of guys to win a roster spot, but given his glove and his status on the 40-man, it would be a surprise if we don’t see him at some point this season. 

ICYMI: Bruce Bochy said he’ll call Johnny Cueto to talk about his preparation for the World Baseball Classic. 

POSITION BATTLE: Matt Cain, the clear frontrunner for the No. 5 spot, faced hitters on the main field. Bochy liked what he saw. “He’s gotten more time away from that surgery and he’s throwing the ball well,” Bochy said. “Buster said the same thing. It’s coming out good.”

NOTEWORTHY: The Giants are serious about making Trevor Brown a more versatile option. He fielded grounders at short today and also spent plenty of time at second. 

QUOTABLE: “Just a good day. We (the coaches) were talking about how it’s changed a little bit. We’re not even in March yet and guys are letting it go.” — Bochy on the first day of live BP sessions. The pitchers were certainly well ahead of the hitters today. 

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija whirled and fired a strike to Eduardo Nuñez shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Monday. With that, the Giants took another step back toward actual baseball.

Monday was the first day of live batting practice sessions, but the most important one took place thousands of miles east of Scottsdale Stadium. Johnny Cueto faced teenage prospects at the club’s facility in Santo Domingo, and Bruce Bochy said he would call Cueto to check in on his progress. 

The Giants are not concerned that Cueto — who is tending to his ill father — is missing so much of spring training. They know him well enough by now to know that Cueto paces himself and takes care of his body. They are, however, starting to get a little concerned about Cueto missing so much camp and then going straight to the World Baseball Classic. 

“The spring started early so he’s got plenty of time to get ready for (opening day),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The question will be will he be ready for the WBC. That’s the question we have to answer.”

Bochy said he would like to see Cueto in the 50-60 pitch range before he goes off to compete for the Dominican Republic. The Dominican team opens play March 9 at Marlins Park. 

“We’re going to talk about a lot of things,” Bochy said. “We’ll see where he’s at, see where he’s at mentally, and see how his father is doing.”

Bochy noted that Nolan Ryan used to show up to camp on March 1 and throw 80 mph, working his way up from there. The Giants view Cueto the same way, but at some point there will be a breaking point where the WBC participation becomes a real concern. At the very least, Bochy said, Cueto might be asked to join the DR team later in the tournament.