Ratto: Giants' Lopez Holds Key to Unlocking NLCS


Ratto: Giants' Lopez Holds Key to Unlocking NLCS


PHILADELPHIA -- Of all the inspirational moments to come out of Saturdays 4-3 Giants win over Philadelphia in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, these were the best three:

1. Tim Lincecum, on the wolf whistles he got from the fans at Citizens Bank Park: They must think I have a really nice butt.

2. P.R. head Jim Moorehead after Aubrey Huff walked through the clubhouse with a beer in his hand, ice strapped to his ankle and his red thong in full view and doing its job: We ARE Americas Misfits.

3. Cody Ross saying anything at all. The man speaks homer, so he doesnt have be eloquent.

And yet, on a night with multiple heroes, or ordinary players doing heros turns, the most important might have been Javier Lopez. Yeah, that Javier Lopez.

Ross hit two home runs off Phillies show pony Roy Halladay. Pat Burrell returned to the scene of his greatest triumphs and aired out an RBI double. Juan Uribe followed with a line single to center to provide the ever popular fourth run. Brian Wilson teased and then strangled the Phils for yet another inning-plus save. Lincecum grappled with both the Phillies, the frugal home plate umpire Derryl Cousins, and his own work to match Halladay stride for stride.

But as it is likely to be for the rest of this series, the game is ultimately going to go through Lopez, and what he does with the Phillies two best hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. It wont be noticed by many folks because, as Moorehead said, they are Americas Misfits, but it may end up being the secret truth that helps tell the bigger story.

I dont know about that, he said. Im just trying to make my pitches, attack the zone, hit my spots, make them work for what they get.

Clich bingo! He hit em all.

But while he doesnt want to tell a lot of about the secret rocket formula, he did get through enough of the Utley and Howard at-bats in the eighth to bring the game to Wilson, which after all is why he is paid. Utley grounded out modestly to second baseman Freddy Sanchez on an 0-2 slider, and Howard worked through a fastball and four sliders of varying velocity before swinging through another fastball.

That was all he did. That was all the Giants needed. He performed the vital task of taking Lincecums lead and presenting it to Wilson seamlessly, and Wilson closed from there in a tidy 33-pitch effort.

Well, he did face six hitters, after all.

But in Lopez nine pitches, he changed arm angles from side to sub, varied his speeds from 74 to 88 mph, got ahead of both Utley and Howard and eliminated them from doing what they are best equipped to do in this series -- hit uncatchable balls very far.

And he did so working with Cousins tightish strike zone, one that irritated both Lincecum and Halladay at times but which was consistently unfriendly to any and all pitchers.

Well, you actually have a pretty good vantage point from the bullpen (in almost dead center field), Lopez said, so I could get a sense of what was working for the other guys. Plus Ive faced them before, and I know what they can punish.

The closest he came was on the 1-1 slider that Howard smoked foul. I dropped down a little more on that one, he said. And I didnt do that again.

Much has, or will be made of how Lopez is fitting the job Damaso Marte did for the Yankees in last years World Series stifling Utley and Howard and Raul Ibanez. In a situation-loaded series like this, his work on those hitters in late-inning situations will define whether Bruce Bochy can get to Wilson without the agita of baserunners in one-run games.

Of course, it will be lost in the ancillary fun of Cody (Rodeo Boy) Ross, the most powerful eight-hitter ever created. And Burrells history, and Huffs accoutrements, and Wilsons costume shop beard.

And of course Lincecum, whose hair will again be the object of many Philadelphian and Jerseyite male desires if the series goes seven games. The whistling, which is actually a historical by-product of the days when Ron Duguay of the 1970s New York Rangers used to come to town with a considerably larger mane than Lincecums Patty Smyth look; he is part of Philadelphia lore now, and thats how it will have to stay.

But in the quiet corner where few deign to tread, Javier Lopez sits quietly, knowing the game is heading for his little corner of the universe almost every time. Theyll all be when the Giants have a one-run lead to protect, or a one-run deficit to hold, because thats what the Giants do.

But theyll all matter. At least until Huff comes through the clubhouse with a lingerie statement to make. Americas Misfits, or Victorias Secret models -- whatever.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

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.