Past Due: Giants Poised to Break Series Drought

299503.jpg

Past Due: Giants Poised to Break Series Drought

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010

(AP) -- Mike Fontenot spent more than three years with perhaps baseball's most cursed team, those lovable losers known as the Chicago Cubs.It taught Fontenot all about long-suffering fans desperate for a championship.Little did he know that when he got traded to San Francisco in August, Fontenot was joining a team with its own set of title-starved supporters."They've had the goat, the whole Bartman thing and everything else going on over there," the veteran infielder said of the Cubs. "I didn't realize that they hadn't won here. I remember when they went to the World Series and watching the games in 2002. I guess I hadn't realized it's been more than 50 years."San Francisco might not get the attention for heartbreak that places like Boston and Philadelphia received until recently, but the city by the bay trails only Cleveland and Chicago when it comes to the length of a World Series title drought.Only two National League franchises have won more championships than the Giants' five, but all of those came before the team moved to California in 1958."It would mean a lot," former Giants slugger Barry Bonds said.Bonds almost delivered in 2002, when he hit eight postseason home runs and helped San Francisco to a 5-0 lead against the Angels in the potential Game 6 clincher. The Angels rallied to win the game, then the World Series, extending the Giants' anguish."It hurts," said Giants special instructor Shawon Dunston, who homered to give them a 2-0 lead in Game 6 that year. "We had it and they beat us fair and square. It sticks. What hurt is I didn't win a World Series as a player."He is far from alone when it comes to title-less Giants in San Francisco. The franchise was unable to win it with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal in the 1960s, Will Clark and Matt Williams in the '80s, and for 15 years with Bonds in the lineup.Now, with a handful of homegrown stars and a bunch of castoffs and misfits, the Giants head into Arlington with a commanding 2-0 lead in the World Series against the Texas Rangers."You have guys like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda who are in the clubhouse all the time, which still puts you in awe. You feel like you're in the presence of greatness and you are," outfielder Aaron Rowand said. "They talk about it all the time."They had unbelievable teams when they were playing here," Rowand added. "But it takes a little luck to win too. They didn't get as lucky as hopefully we will."Rowand is among a handful of Giants with a World Series ring, having helped the Chicago White Sox end their 88-year drought against Houston in 2005.The Giants have come close a few times without breaking through. The most memorable came in 1962, when they made it to the seventh game of the World Series against the New York Yankees. In one of the most dramatic endings in postseason history, McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third and two outs in the Giants' 1-0 loss.Had the ball been a foot in either direction, it could have been the winning hit."Very heartbreaking," said Cepeda, who was on deck when the game ended. "Even though we had a great team, it wasn't a close unit. Something was missing from that ballclub."The Giants won the division in 1971 but lost to Pittsburgh in the NL Championship Series. They didn't make it back to the postseason until 1987, a stretch in which their biggest moment might have been Joe Morgan's homer on the final day of the '82 season to beat the rival Dodgers and give Atlanta the division title.Then came weak-hitting Jose Oquendo's home run in Game 7 of the 1987 NLCS that helped St. Louis overcome a 3-2 series deficit. There was the earthquake that interrupted the Bay Bridge series in 1989 halfway through Oakland's sweep of San Francisco, three first-round losses to wild-card teams during the Bonds era and, of course, the 2002 World Series collapse.The Giants were up 5-0 in the seventh inning when manager Dusty Baker removed Russ Ortiz. Scott Spiezio greeted Felix Rodriguez with a three-run homer and the Angels scored three more in the eighth to win the game. They ultimately took the series in seven."You go back to Will Clark's era, of course Bonds, they've had some outstanding teams," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It goes to show you how hard it is to do this. They're very much aware it's been a while. It's never happened in this city, but you've got to keep your focus on winning the game and not get caught in it."Cepeda has played for or watched almost every Giants team in San Francisco and says that this team might have the ingredient some of its more talented predecessors lacked."Of all the teams that played in the World Series, '62 was the most talented. It had more talent than the 2002 team," he said. "This year, with less talent, I have never seen a team that comes with so many close games as this ballclub. The last three weeks of the season, every game was close. That's why I think they can win this year. So many teams have big names, but this team has no superstar and won the close games. That's a good sign."Pat Burrell, who grew up in the Bay Area, won a title with Philadelphia two years ago and was in attendance as a fan in 2002 when the Giants won Game 4 to even the series.Now he gets to be on the field to help this year's version do what others have been unable to for the team he grew up supporting."Just knowing the city and the history here, it would mean a lot to me, my parents, my family and millions of others in this area," Burrell said. "We enjoy that part of it."

Key lefty Will Smith sidelined by elbow inflammation

usatsi_9418814.jpg

Key lefty Will Smith sidelined by elbow inflammation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For years, the Giants would give Sergio Romo time off during spring training to make sure his tender elbow would be ready for opening day. Romo is now a Dodger, but one of the men tasked with replacing those eighth-inning outs has been shut down. 

Will Smith won't throw for about a week because of inflammation in his left elbow. Manager Bruce Bochy said an MRI came back clean, but Smith won't pitch in a game for two to three weeks. The Giants are confident, however, that Smith will be ready for opening day. Because of the long spring, the staff has mapped out a schedule where Smith can return and make six spring appearances before the regular season. 

Any setbacks would strike a big blow to the bullpen. Smith, 27, is supposed to be a key part of the revamped group. The Giants acquired him at the deadline last season hoping he turns into the next Jeremy Affeldt, a lefty capable of facing left- and right-handed hitters.

After a slow start in San Francisco last August, Smith ended the regular season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances. The Giants entered camp with Smith set to share the eighth-inning role with right-handers Derek Law and Hunter Strickland.

Paraag Marathe: My job is to stay in my lane, help the coach and GM

Paraag Marathe: My job is to stay in my lane, help the coach and GM

SANTA CLARA – As team executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe traveled the country during the 49ers’ search to fill their head coach and general manager positions, there was plenty of criticism that followed them at every stop.

York, the CEO, has been held accountable by the local media and on social media, as he publicly welcomed, in recent seasons when the 49ers fell from the NFC Championship game to 8-8, 5-11 and 2-14 under three different head coaches.

A year ago, Marathe officially was replaced as team president and became the 49ers’ chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations. His duties with the football team have not changed.

In fact, York and Marathe roles with the organization took on a much-greater significance after the decision was made to fire coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke.

The 49ers interviewed six head-coach candidates and 10 individuals who were considered for the general manager position.

Along the way, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels bowed out, likely because his top choice to be his general manager partner, Nick Caserio, opted to remain as the Patriots’ chief of personnel. Then-Kansas City executive Chris Ballard declined an interview and another serious candidate, Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst, removed his name from consideration to remain with the Packers on a new contract.

After more than a month, the 49ers finalized the hirings of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, who officially accepted the job the day after the Atlanta Falcons’ crushing defeat in Super Bowl 51.

“Nothing speaks better to the process than the quality of the two men that we hired,” Marathe told CSNBayArea.com. “I can’t tell you, just in the last two weeks even, how inspiring it’s been to be at work, just seeing these guys work together and how they’ve already transformed the building.”

Marathe joined the “49ers Insider Podcast” for a wide-ranging interview that touched on his personal life, as well as his responsibilities during his 16 years with the 49ers. The entire 43-minute podcast can be heard here.

Marathe has remained behind the scenes working for the 49ers mostly on contract and salary-cap matters. There has been mystery about his role while working with head coaches Steve Mariucci, Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Kelly and, now, Shanahan.

At one point during the search, Pro Football Talk, citing “thinking inside league circles,” described Marathe as being viewed as an “impediment” to the 49ers' ability to attract top candidates for their openings.

“It’s unfortunate that’s out there, if that’s out there,” Marathe said. “I won't say it’s something that doesn’t bother me at all. Of course, it stings. But I do know, I try to keep my head down and do a good job and support the people who are here. All I try to do is earn their respect and their trust on what I do. I feel like I’ve been able to do that. I think the individuals that you would talk to, if you talked to them, they’d probably tell you the same thing.

“I’m not trying to be anything other than what I am, which is a support to the coach and the GM.”

This offseason, former 49ers coach candidate Adam Gase told CSNBayArea.com one of the reasons he really wanted the head-coaching position in 2015 was because of his relationship with York and Marathe.

Arizona executive Terry McDonough, a finalist for the 49ers’ GM job, went out of his way to compliment Marathe shortly after he learned Lynch was hired.

“When I was done with that first interview, I said, ‘This is a guy I would want to partner with, along with Jed and whoever the new head coach might be,’” McDonough said of Marathe.

A source close to McDaniels reached out to CSNBayArea.com to dispel any notion that McDaniels’ decision to remain with the Patriots was any reflection on those running the 49ers’ search. McDaniels stated he was impressed with York, Marathe and Brian Hampton, the team’s director of football administration and analytics.

The roles of Marathe and the organization’s use of analytics have been a topic of intrigue for years. Marathe said his role is merely to support the individuals on the football side to provide the team with any kind of advantage.

“My job is to keep my head down, stay my lane, do my job and help the head coach and GM as much as I can," he said.

Marathe added, "Coach Harbaugh, as you know, was looking for every advantage. One thing why he has so much success, he’s always looking for every advantage he can get. He used to use that NASCAR example, if you can figure out how to go 1 mph faster.

"So anything that helped him, we would go through. We’d talk after other games in the league about, ‘Hey, that team, they had one minute left. How many plays do you think they could’ve gotten off in that time? I thought six. Well, I thought seven.’ We’d go through it and talk through it. So, yeah, they were receptive, and it was good.”

Marathe said Lynch and Shanahan have already asked for his opinions on the feasibility of some of the upcoming decisions the organization must make during the offseason.

“I come at it from a different perspective, which is from the salary cap and contract side of things and also just having seen a lot over the years, in terms of how deals get made or how trades happen,” Marathe said.

Without specifying a position of inquiry, such as quarterback, Marathe said he has already provided Lynch and Shanahan with reference material for what it has taken to acquire players in past NFL trades.

“Here are all the other examples of when this position was traded for, and what people gave up to trade,” Marathe said. “That would establish the range for us if we are curious about a player at that position. And then we have a discussion from there.”

As the 49ers prepare for free agency, Marathe said the personnel department and coaching staff will rank the players by position. Then, Marathe will come up with comparable players and provide a range of what he anticipates a player will command on the open market. That leads to more discussion about which players are seen as better fits when considering football and finances.

“It’s my job to keep our cap as flexible as possible,” Marathe said. “But from a football standpoint, making decisions on players, that’s those two guys . . . I’m not good at that. That’s what they’re really good at, and that’s who I take my direction from.”

The 49ers have approximately $80 million in salary cap space entering the offseason. But that does not necessarily mean the 49ers will be willing to pay above market value to attract any players.

“I think there are times when you want to be a little bit more aggressive, versus maybe not be as aggressive,” Marathe said.

“The beauty of how the salary cap works, you can roll over the room to future years. There won’t ever be a salary cap dollar that’s unspent. We’ll always spend it. It just may not be this month. It could be next month or it could be next year. We’ll spend ever dollar. It doesn’t change the values. The values are still driven by what the market dictates.”