Ratto: Giants Baseball At Its Zenith


Ratto: Giants Baseball At Its Zenith


PHILADELPHIA -- When the comprehensive tale is told of how the San Francisco Giants achieved the World Series nobody thought they had any reason to deserve, it will unravel about midway through Saturdays game. It wont be told well at all, in fact.

And the reason why is because while you can list the events of Saturdays 3-2 Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies so that someone can copy-paste them into a Wikipedia file, you cant type on a puddle of adrenaline. You cant make an elegant phrase out of Bruce Bochys full-on naked managing. You cant explain with charts and graphs how much air can be sucked out of an open-air stadium with one very bitchy knee-high slider from one man with a third-rail fetish.

It cant be done, and yet it must, because only those who were there can truly walk the rest of us through, and they must try lest the story fade into standard-issue video clips and clichd champagne sprays.

It may help, though to understand that the Giants are certifiably mad, as in full-on bughouse crazy. And they are comfortable with that.

Ive never actually seen a game played at this extreme an edge, general manager Brian Sabean said in the middle of a long soliloquy about Brian Wilson, the closer who walked the game as close to oblivion as it could stand.

Just everything. Jonathan (Sanchez) doesnt have it and we havent had that happen in I dont know how long, the thing with (Chase) Utley (on the third-inning benches-clearing debate), Jeremy Affeldt saving our asses, Madison (Bumgarner) and Timmy (Lincecum), the (Juan) Uribe homer, and Wilson. Just everything. Ive never seen a game quite like it. Ive never seen a game come close to it, and weve done this a lot.

Oh yes they have, but Saturday was the masterpiece, the one if the Giants never play another game will be remembered as the game of their era.

We met today, the coaches and the staff, and we just decided we didnt want to come back tomorrow, Bochy said. The pressure would just be too great. So we were going all hands on deck tonight. We told Timmy he would pitch the eighth if we had a lead. We told Madison to be ready just in case. We were going for all of it right here.

And so they did. Bochy told two starting pitchers to be ready to work in relief in case a third starter flamed out, and Sanchez did.

I dont know, I just didnt have it, he said. I warmed up real good, but I got out there and I just didnt have it. And the thing with Utley, Im not trying to hit him (which he did, in the upper back), but when he throws the ball at me like that, Im a professional player too. I didnt like that.

So Bochy made the first of several what can be called nothing less than Billy Martin-level choices. He decided the Phillies would not see a right-handed pitcher until he was good and ready to give them one, so he went to the little-used Affeldt for two innings of spotless relief.

Of course.

Then he went to Bumgarner, the 21-year-old man-child who slipped in and out of trouble twice, loading the bases in the fifth and stranding a leadoff double in the sixth without being harmed.

Of course.

Then he Lopezed the top of the Phillies order for the fourth and final time, because Javier Lopezs work on Utley, Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard must be elevated to a verb.

Of course.

Then Uribe hit a ball that could only be a home run in Citizens Bank Park, a low line drive that barely snuck into the second row of seats in the right field corner and gave the Giants the 3-2 lead. Giant fans dismissed the park as a cheap little walk-in closet of a place, but they will love it forever now because they must.

Of course.

Then Lincecum came in for the eighth, because we told him if we had the lead in the eighth we were going to go to him and have him get us to Willie, Bochy said. Lincecum wasnt sharp, giving up one-out singles to Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez, but he did complete the bridge to Wilson, who threw a 1-1 fastball to Carlos Ruiz who hit it on a line (shades of Willie McCovey, 1962, perhaps) to Aubrey Huff at first base for an inning-ending double play.

Of course.

Then Wilson, well, Wilsoned the ninth, because he is a fully conjugated verb of his own. After dismissing pinch-hitter Ross Gload with two pitches, he spent 14 pitches walking Jimmy Rollins, inducing a ground out from Polanco and walking Utley to bring up the Phillies most powerful source, Howard.

Fastball, up, but Howard swings through it. Fastball up, ball one. Fastball up and in, ball two. Slider away catches Howard looking at strike two. Fastball up, ball three.

Of course.

Fastball up, Howard fouls it off, and then knee-high slider with a middle finger as its tail fin, slightly away and locking up Howard for the entire winter.

My approach was to throw the ball as hard as I could with conviction, Wilson said. I could have spotted it a little better at times, I guess, but Id rather throw my hardest fastball with as much conviction as I have.

And yet, to win the pennant, he went to what players used to call the bastard pitch, a slider tailing away and down that none but the truly great can attack with as much conviction as Wilson delivers.

So it ended. The team with the great starting pitching used half its rotation in relief, the first time anyone can remember that happening in a postseason game. The bullpen that had been largely spotty for players not named Lopez or Wilson, delivered seven scoreless inning for the first time since the 1911 World Series. The player with the bad left wrist helped push a homer that would never have been one except in the one place they happened to be playing.

This was the zenith of Giants baseball in our times, a game in which every player and coach extended himself beyond reasonable capabilities to take a trophy it didnt have the numbers to explain.

But it did have a daylight burglars guts and a car thiefs brass and a con mans belief in the story that everyone would have to believe, no matter how unbelievable it might be.

And now, Wednesday, against the Texas Rangers, another team that has no right to be in the World Series except this: They got there because they were better than everyone else when it was time to be. Thats the only standard that needs to be met.

But when they arrive in San Francisco Monday for their first workout and see the Giants in ski masks and black overcoats, they shouldnt be surprised. You cant explain them. You can only experience them.

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.