Ray Ratto

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.

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Matt Joyce said the word, he did the apology, he’ll do the time, and then we’ll see if he’ll get the forgiveness he asks.
Joyce’s two-game suspension by Major League Baseball for using a gay slur at a fan during Friday’s Athletics-Angels game in Anaheim is well within industry norms (though it might have been more tactically impressive if the club itself had issued the suspension), and his apology did not deflect blame or contain the always-insincere caveat “if I offended anyone.” He did offend people and he knew it, so he didn’t couch it in the phraseology of “I don’t think what I said was improper, but I’ll do the perp walk just to get this over with.”
He even offered to do work with PFLAG, the support group that supports the LGBTQ community, thereby putting his time (which is more meaningful than money) where his mouth was.
In other words, he seems to have taken his transgression properly to heart, which is all you can really hope for, and now we’ll see if he is granted the absolution he seeks.
You see, we’re a funny old country in that we talk forgiveness all the time but grant it only sparingly, and only after a full mental vetting of important things like “Do we like this guy?” and “Is he playing for my favorite team?” and “Do I feel like letting him up at all?”
In other words, forgiveness is very conditional indeed.
Joyce said what he said, but his apology seemed to be given freely and unreservedly rather than crafted to meet a minimal standard of corporate knee-taking/arse-covering. If he follows through on his offer to do face-to-face work with PFLAG or an associated group and absorbs the lesson of not using other people as a weapon for his own frustration, then he ought to be acknowledged for doing so. That’s what forgiveness is.
But if the principle you adhere to is “once guilty, forever doomed,” then you’ve succeeded at giving in to the mode of the day, which is jumping to a conclusion and never jumping back because it’s just easier and more convenient to do so.
It’s up to him. But it’s also up to you.

Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports


Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports

There is no inherent reason why you should care about Miami FC or Kingston Stockade FC, two lower level professional soccer leagues in the lower right quadrant of the nation.

But when they joined together to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international governing body for any sport not run by Americans for Americans, to demand that all American teams submit to the concept of promotion and relegation, from MLS to, presumably, your kid’s under-8 team, they became interesting.

And the best part about soccer, except for Neymar being worth twice as much as all other humans in the history of the sport, is promotion and relegation.

In fact, it would be a great idea in all sports – although the idea of the Giants and A’s in the Pacific Coast League might scare the bejeezus out of Larry Baer and John Fisher.

Now we are not optimistic that the CAS will see this Kingston and Miami’s way. Americans like their sports top-heavy, where only a few megaclubs get most of the money and attention while the rest sort of muddle along, safe but unremarkable. And to be frank, promotion and relegation is most a fun media construct for making fun of bad teams – say, like the A’s and Giants.

But we can agree, I think, that having Jed York pay Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to keep his football team out of the Canadian Football League, or better still, the Mountain West Conference, would add to healthy dose of spice to what promises otherwise to be a pretty humdrum year.

And promotion/relegation would certainly reduce all that troublesome tanking in the NBA people endlessly whinge about.

So here’s to Kingston Stockade and Miami FC. Your cause is just. Persevere. After all, in this rancid period for American sporting culture, someone's got to stand for the quixotic yet indisputably correct thing.

And when it fails, and it probably will, just know you sleep with the angels -- if that’s what passes for fun at your house.