Instant Replay: Giants 5, Braves 2

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Instant Replay: Giants 5, Braves 2

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SAN FRANCISCO Barry Zito fell short of his second shutout of the season and the Giants capitalized on some sloppy Atlanta defense to beat the Braves 5-2 in the first of four games between the 2010 National League Division Series opponents at AT&T Park.Starting pitching report Whenever Barry Zito starts his outing with a walk, a smattering of boos can be heard at AT&T Park because its a familiarly hopeless feeling. Zito did just that Thursday, but benefitted from some solid defense behind him before getting into a rhythm and cruising until back-to-back singles leading off the ninth forced him from the game.After Michael Bourn trotted to first thanks to four straight balls from Zito to open the game, the Braves looked poised to pounce for a first-inning run against Zito, who is 8-3 this season when holding the opposition scoreless in the opening frame. Hes 1-5 on the campaign when allowing a first-inning run. Zito bobbled Reed Johnsons comebacker to make a double-play impossible, but recovered to get the out at first, then watched as Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt combined on a great play behind him. Zito proceeded to walk Chipper Jones, who is making his final regular-season visit to AT&T Park, but struck out Freddie Freeman to escape unscathed.The second inning started even worse for Zito, as Dan Uggla and Brian McCann put together back-to-back singles. After both runners advanced on a groundout, Zito stabbed Tommy Hansons comebacker and caught Uggla off the third-base bag, where Sandoval received Zitos throw and applied the tag. Zito got Bourn to fly out to left to keep the Braves off the board again.Following the back-to-back singles in the second, Zito went on a roll. He retired 11 of his next 12 batters through the top of the fifth inning and 20 of his next 22 through the top of the eighth.Having thrown 108 pitches through eight innings, Zito came back out for the ninth to go for his second shutout of the season and sixth of his career. He fell short, however, allowing back-to-back singles to open the inning before giving way to Jeremy Affeldt.Zito allowed five hits in his eight-plus innings of work, which included five strikeouts, three walks, and 113 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. It was the third outing of the season in which Zito worked at least eight innings. He allowed no runs while on the mound in those three starts, though two of his runners came around to score on Thursday.Bullpen report
Bruce Bochy brought Jeremy Affeldt in to relieve Zito and promptly gave up a frozen rope double to Freddie Freeman as the Braves cut the Giants lead to 5-2. After Affeldt walked Dan Uggla to bring the tying run to the plate in Brian McCann, Bochy went with another lefty in Javier Lopez, who promptly struck out McCann looking.The closer-by-committee is in full effect, as Bochy turned to Sergio Romo for the final out. Original left-handed pinch-hitter David Ross was called back and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez went with Jason Heyward instead. Heyward grounded the second pitch of the at-bat to second base, but beat out the relay throw to avoid a game-ending double play. Romo stayed in to face another lefty in Juan Francisco, who grounded out to Pablo Sandoval at third to end the game.At the plate
Angel Pagan had seven hits in the sweep of the Dodgers, leading off every game with a hit. That streak lives after he singled to lead off the bottom of the first. He advanced to second on an off-target pickoff throw by Tommy Hanson, but was left stranded when Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence went down in order.Hector Sanchez broke a 10 at-bat hitless streak with a one-out double in the second inning, but like Pagan he was left stranded.Pagan set the table again in the third with a one-out walk, then stole second base. This time, however, he was not left stranded, thanks to a two-out single from Pablo Sandoval on a hanging breaking ball at his eyes. Sandoval drove the pitch the other way to left field and Pagan slid just ahead of Brian McCanns tag for the games first run.The Giants stranded two more baserunners in the fifth inning and were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position at that point, but broke the game wide open in the fifth.Pagan was the rally-starter once again, as he drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on Scutaros single. After an ugly at-bat from Sandoval resulting in a swinging strikeout, Pence placed a perfect bunt between first and second behind the pitchers mound to plate Pagan. First baseman Freddie Freeman made the inning turn from bad to worse for the Braves, as he booted Brandon Belts grounder and was charged with a run-scoring error. Sanchez, starting in place of the injured Buster Posey, followed with his second double of the game, down the first-base line past Freeman, to score Pence and Belt giving the Giants a 5-0 lead.The Giants were quiet with the bats the rest of the way, but that would be all that was necessary for Barry Zito, who expanded his team lead in sacrifices with his eighth on a bunt in the eighth inning.In field Pablo Sandoval helped Barry Zito work around a leadoff walk in the first inning with a sliding stop of Martin Prados sharp ground ball. After getting his glove on the ball, Sandoval threw low to first, where Brandon Belt scooped the one-hop throw. The play was eerily similar to one Sandoval and Belt teamed up for in the series finale in Los Angeles.Zito bailed himself out of a jam with a wise play on a comebacker from pitcher Tommy Hanson. With Dan Uggla at third and Brian McCann at first following back-to-back singles to open the frame, Zito stabbed Hansons ball and caught Uggla leaning by throwing back to Sandoval covering third.On the bases The threat of Angel Pagans speed led to an errant pick-off throw in the first. He was left stranded that inning, but came back after a one-out walk in the third to steal his 21st base of the season and came around to score the first run of the game.Brandon Belt followed up his fourth-inning single with his 10th steal of the season. Hes only been caught once so far.Attendance
The Giants announced their 146th consecutive sellout with a paid crowd of 41,645 fans. One of those fans was selected for the mid-inning bat-spin home run derby game and, before winning, went headfirst into a fence in a spell of dizziness.Up next The Giants continue their four-game series with the Braves in a Friday night game that will pit Ryan Vogelsong (10-7, 2.85 ERA) vs. Ben Sheets (4-3, 3.07 ERA). Vogelsongs only career start against Atlanta came earlier this season on July 18, when he allowed one run in six innings, but was left with a no decision in the Giants wild 9-4 extra-innings win.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."