Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid


Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid

Ray Ratto

PHILADELPHIA -- Everyone is a hero in a room full of fit-only-for-throwing champagne, and so it was that the Giants danced their way into a Sunday hangover and a midweek flirtation with greatness.

But nobody in the fetid-smelling Citizens Bank Park clubhouse the Giants had painted with two coats of brut was fooled into thinking that they had been cleansed of their sins. They knew (a) that their shared image of rogues and misfits is a media construct and not the reality, (b) that nobody shared their faith in their abilities before that moment, not even themselves, and (c) that the Texas Rangers are going to be a bitch.

(C), though, takes care if itself, starting Wednesday when the World Series opens in The Thing On King. (A) and (B) are different stories entirely.

Yes, Aubrey Huff wears a thong as a prop, and Brian Wilson wears a beard only a varnish salesman could love, and Tim Lincecum likes to drop the occasional F-bomb so that the Internet gremlins can have a conniption when he does it on TV.

But thats the stuff for the tourists, and everyone inside and outside the team knows it. In fact, the Giants are a severely one-dimensional team whose dimension is so overwhelming that its shortcomings morph into character portraits.

In other words, they pitched the Philadelphia Phillies into such a state of submission that their hitting and fielding failures became semi-humorous quirks. And you know what? Whatever spackles the rec room wall, Phil.

They are 3 starters deep, deeper than most teams. They are either four or five relievers deep, too, which is much deeper than most teams. Thats what they do, and when general manager Brian Sabean objected to the notion that the lesser team had won the Saturday night, he was right to say, We won because we out-pitched the Phillies, and thats a fact. They did.

But they are also a team that goes a long time between driving in a man in scoring position, and they do kick the odd ball around the lot. They arent bad at those things, they just arent, well, exceptional at them.

And they still won. Full points to them, and well played, lads.

(B), though, is the more interesting notion, because nobody either in their right mind or even fairly well out of it saw this team capable of what it has done, let alone what it might in the next fortnight.

Of the 35 players and management personnel who might reasonably claim a chunk of a World Series share, four can say they never really heard much criticism of their work. Five, tops, depending on how you view Madison Bumgarners stay in the big leagues.

Huff hit the popularity ground running by hitting well and being a most agreeable spokesman and companion. Buster Posey was the new heat-throb (as opposed to heart-throb, which is such a lower form of approval). Pat Burrell came at midseason and never performed out of character or beneath his capabilities. And Javier Lopez was by acclimation the midseason acquisition of the year.

Everyone else did their turn in the public scorn barrel, because Giant fans and media in the Bay Area saw what they saw and didnt believe that what they saw was pennant-worthy.

So the roster took its beatings. Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito all took their turns being worked over. Freddy Sanchez didnt stay healthy, Juan Uribe wasnt consistent, Pablo Sandoval was a huge (pun intended) disappointment. Aaron Rowand was still condemned as a waste of money and Andres Torres was hyperactivity itself, thrashing between cant-get-him-out and cant-get-him-on-base.

And the bullpen caught its usual ebbs and flows of grief, even Wilson and his penchant for making the skulls of all those around him throb with worry over his next 27-pitch save.

Finally, there was Sabean, who doesnt like young players or things with numbers, and Bruce Bochy, who speaks too slow and isnt effervescent in interview situations and doesnt react quickly enough.

And they all turned out to be wrong in the end, at least wrong enough. Bochy turned out to be a spectacular riverboat gambler, Sabean timed the arrivals of Posey and Bumgarner deftly, and rebuilt a team on the fly. And all the players who seemed to lack some of the essentials up close actually formed a stunningly cohesive whole when one stopped microanalyzing them.

Even the players werent sure of themselves, to be honest. Bochy managed Game 6, and the entire postseason in fact, as though losing meant the death penalty. He managed Game 6 in particular with an extraordinary verve because as he said, We didnt want to come back here tomorrow.

That is not the unvarnished confidence of a man who knows he has the best team. That is a practical man who doesnt want to test fate in a Game 7 against a team that, when right, could put a beating even on this pitching.

There was nothing wrong with that strategy, because Bochy has been working this team more actively and with more hands in the pie than at any other time in his career. He has done this based on the logic that comes from not having a team that makes its own lineup, or sets its own bullpen. The Giants needed every manipulation Bochy performed, and if that is weakness, it is also realism.

Thus, when you fear saying, I never thought this could happen, you shouldnt. Nobody saw it coming, nobody. The team had to be remade on the fly, so the Giants didnt see it coming either.

In short, embrace the surprise, acknowledge the bizarro world, enjoy the fact that you, and they, are playing with the casinos money. Youre not being graded on your clairvoyance; if you were everyone would fail miserably.

Youre being graded solely on your ability to enjoy this team for its mutant beauty, its myriad shortcomings and its true strengths. Theyre not the team youre used to, so give in to what it is.

Oh, and enjoy the World Series with a frothy mug of antacid. Youll thank us later.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.