SAN FRANCISCO Brandon Crawford is fighting to competeagainst major league pitching, as the Giants anticipated, and some days areeasier to handle than others.
The gifted shortstop recalled a time last week when he gotparticularly upset after a pitcher jammed him and he hit a dribbler back to themound.
I was pretty frustrated when I came back to the dugout,said Crawford, who was intercepted by second baseman Ryan Theriot.
He says, Oh man, I thought you got that one, saidCrawford, smiling at the memory. How can you be in a bad mood after that?
Theriot is making obvious contributions in the two-plusweeks since he came off the disabled list. Theres his .345 average in 15games. Theres his eight RBIs, mostly on two-out hits. Theres his ability torip an inside pitch into left field or shoot one to the right side to move arunner.
Theres even four surprising stolen bases, and a fifthattempt, too, in which he got a tremendous jump but was tagged out after he overslid the bag.
Theres the peace of mind hes given to Giants manager BruceBochy, who had been spackling second base together with Emmanuel Burriss andJoaquin Arias. (With Theriot emerging as the second baseman and everyday No.2hitter, at least now Bochy can narrow his focus to finding some kind of productionat first base.)
With Theriots role on the team expanding, so too is hispersonality. The Baton Rouge native wears Western shirts that couldve beenstolen from the wardrobe department at Hee-Haw. He has a pair of white muckboots instead of shower shoes. His irreverent sensibilities fit well on a teamthat is younger from the position-player side and didnt have an outspokenpresence.
(And truth be told, Theriot is not even the biggestentertainer in his family. His young son, Houston, is a born showman whoroutinely cracks up players in the clubhouse.)
Baseball is a game of certain failure. For young playerslike Crawford and Brandon Belt, who are prone to overanalyzing every bad at-bat ormissed opportunity, Theriot is there with a quick line to relieve the pressure.
Hes a good guy to play with because hes never really in abad mood, Crawford said. He keeps you in a good mood no matter what.
Its been just 15 games since Theriot took over as thesecond baseman. Nobody is expecting the 32-year-old veteran, who arrived on aminor league contract, to hit .345 the rest of the way. He isnt coming off his best season,either even if it ended with a World Series ring with the St. LouisCardinals.
But perhaps his game is a better fit in this lineup, and at this ballpark.
Last year for me was my worst running-wise, said Theriot,who was thrown out in six of 10 attempts. The way the lineup was set up,youve got the best hitter whos ever played the game behind you. Youre notgoing to take any chances with Albert Pujols coming up, and I didnt.
Im not going to run into outs. Im not going to go just togo. Youll get thrown out and thats part of it. But its about picking goodtimes, and if youre not going to hit home runs as a team, youd better get inscoring position.
Especially at home, where the Giants home run drought isreaching levels seldom seen in the last half-century.
Unbelievably, the Giants havent hit a home run in 506at-bats at home. Their streak of 16 consecutive home games without a homer isthe longest by a major league club in 22 years. (The 1990 Houston Astros, stillplaying at the Astrodome, also failed to homer in 16 consecutive home games.)
If the Giants dont hit one out Tuesday night in the series opener against the Astros, their streak will match the longest by an NL teamsince the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946.
Yet the Giants are 10-6 over their stretch of homerlessgames at home because theyve embraced who they are. Players on last yearsroster like Cody Ross and Aaron Rowand would mutter about the ballpark uponreturning to the dugout or try to solve their problems by swinging harder. But thiscurrent, athletic roster is letting the park suit their game. Despite beingshut out twice by the Texas Rangers over the weekend, their first shutouts ofthe season, theyve done what Bochy and GM Brian Sabean envisioned in thespring: Hitting doubles and triples and moving runners on the basepaths.
Everyone expected Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera to be a partof that. Theriot is proving hes still capable, too.
Hes my guy, said Pagan, who played alongside Theriot withthe Chicago Cubs. Ive gotta mess with him sometimes. But Im never worriedabout him. He knows how to prepare himself. Both of us started slow but you seethe momentum he has right now. Its better to finish strong, right?
Theriots key on the bases has been to get tremendous jumps. Pagan notedthe way that Theriot read the Padres Jason Marquis last week at Petco Park,knowing the pitcher's tendency is not to throw over to first base. Giants third basecoach Tim Flannery likes that Theriot is a peeker and doesnt just run withhis head down. Considering the Giants are more often in run-and-hit thanstraight steal mode, its important that their baserunners know where the ballis at all times.
The ball is the only thing that can get you out, Flannerysaid.
Does Theriot have a constant green light? Well, hed like tothink so.
Oh, we hold him, said Bochy. But hes smart about it. Ifthey give it to him, hell take it.
Reading pitchers, playing to the scoreboard, picking certaincounts when he might get a breaking ball a lot goes into Theriots philosophyon when to run.
And yes, the comedian can talk like a philosopher at times.
Theres a lot of different ways to win ballgames, he said.But really, the only way is to score more runs than the other team. Now, wellhave to hit a few home runs but when we dont, it just means weve gotta doother things better than everybody else.