SAN FRANCISCO Brad Penny has a theory about pitching inAT&T Park, and it goes something like this:
Good luck, chumps.
OK, maybe hes not quite that flippant. But here is whatPenny actually said after tossing 2 13 scoreless innings in his first appearanceas a Giant since 2009:
Let a right-handed hitter hit it the opposite way outthere. See how far it goes.
The usual answer: not far enough to hurt you.
The ballpark suited Penny. On a less convenient note for theGiants, it also suited Cincinnati Reds right-hander Mat Latos, who took aone-hit shutout into the ninth inning before slamming pinkies in car doors witha 2-1 victory Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park.
The Reds have thrown consecutive complete games to takecommand of this series. Prior to that, the Giants threw four consecutiveshutouts for the first time in club history.
Very, very good starting pitching is the key ingredienthere. But it helps that the Giants home yard is like using a CETI-sizedsatellite dish for a mixing bowl.
Or, as Mr. Penny summarized it:
I love playing here. For me, you cant build a betterstadium for a pitcher. These guys from Cincinnati, they pitch in that littleballpark and they come here and theyre in heaven. This is a pitchers dream.
Penny didnt just glean these truths in his seven-batterspan on Saturday. He was a Giant for a couple months at the end of the 2009season, when the Boston Red Sox heaved him and his 5.69 ERA off the loadingdock onto Lansdowne Street. He went to San Francisco, where he was 4-1 with a2.59 ERA in six starts.
It wasnt enough to squeeze the Giants into the postseason.But it got Penny a 7.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now, after getting his fill of his affiliation with theSoftbank Hawks following just a month in Japan, Penny is back. Did he likeplaying for Bruce Bochy the first time? Well, sure, he said. But he made itclear that the real lure was the ballpark. And he couldnt be happier to be inthe major leagues again, even if hes coming out of the bullpen for the firsttime.
Its a relief, yeah, said Penny, not trying to be punny.I shouldve come here from the get-go. I had an opportunity to come in springtraining.
I dont listen to anyone 'till they tell me to go to Japan,and then I listened. I wasnt comfortable or happy over there. I wasnt goingto be any good for that team if Im not happy.
It was pointed out to Penny that the Giants were apitching-rich club the last time he was here. Other than those sparkly WorldSeries rings everyone seems to have, not much has changed.
Thats how its gonna be, he said. Youre not going toput a team together thats going to bash it out of the park. San Francisco willalways have good pitching. You can put the Yankees in this park and they wontscore runs.
The 2002 Giants, who are gathering for their 10-year reunionon Sunday, might disagree. They did a fair amount of bashing in their day. Ofcourse, that was a different era in baseball history.
Now its about chicks digging the hit-and-run, the stolenbase and the diving defensive play to keep the tying run from scoring. TheGiants have been very good in those areas with a more dynamic offense thisseason.
But when they need someone to pop one out of the park,especially at home, theyre usually going to disappoint the paying customers.Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera own the only two home runs on this six-gamehomestand.
The Giants have just 14 home runs in 41 home games thefewest in the major leagues. (By sadistic comparison, the aforementionedYankees have hit 68 longballs in 40 home games.)
Buster Posey and Ryan Theriot both hit deep outs Saturday that might have cleared the fences elsewhere.
The Giants must accept their lot in life. But there are times it is harder than others. They needed someone to pop one out of the park against Latos in theninth, after Brandon Belt knocked a pinch-hit triple. Instead, they got an RBI groundout from Gregor Blanco and a strikeout from Theriot, who had to marvel as Dale Scotts suddenly ample strike zone grew faster than Aliceafter a slice of eat me cake.
A year ago, the Orange and Black masses would be frantic over two low-scoringlosses. This year, its easier for the Giants to tip their caps to the likes of Mike Leakeand Latos.
Weve got a great offense, said third baseman PabloSandoval, who had a highlight-stocked defensive game despite making an error. Wefaced tough guys. Leake made all his pitches and today, Latos, he finds hisway. He beat us because he mixed all his pitches. He comes right at you.
Sandoval said the Giants couldnt have done anythingdifferent, except maybe call timeout more often to disrupt Latos timing.
Hes working so fast, Sandoval said. We didnt take him outof his timing. Hes coming at us pitch after pitch."
Penny came atthe Reds with one pitch, essentially. He didnt have good command in thebullpen, so he threw all sinking, two-seam fastballs. That worked well enough.He struck out Ryan Ludwick on a backdoor two-seamer to strand two runners, thenestimated he threw maybe two or three four-seamers and the rest sinkers toretire the next six batters.
I cant remember the last time I entered a game withsomeone on base, said Penny, who was making just his fifth relief appearancein 320 career games. It was definitely different. Its something Ill have toget used to, and getting ready real quick.
Its going to be easier to focus for one, two or threeinnings than starting. It should be, anyway. I guess well see.
Penny offered one more thought on the Giants lineup:
In Cincinnati, you put this same lineup on the field andtheyre scoring runs left and right.
That might be true some nights. But against Latos at GreatAmerican Ball Park, the Giants managed just four hits in seven shutout innings.
In the final analysis, sometimes the ingredients are more important than the satellitedish.