Ratto: Giants Savor Champagne, Braves Taste Defeat


Ratto: Giants Savor Champagne, Braves Taste Defeat


ATLANTA -- In the end, the Giants remembered their manners. They celebrated at the mound after Brian Wilson choke-slammed the rally he had brought to life, and then they stopped and applauded Bobby Cox one last time.

Cox, the Atlanta manager since forever, stood a few steps in front of the Braves dugout after his team went down, 3-2, in the final game of the NL Division Series, waved his hat over his head in a circle the way managers used to, and the Giants stopped what they were doing and saluted him.

And Cox remembered his manners too. He didnt milk the applause. He pointed at the victors and nodded, and then turned and descended the dugout stairs for the final time, and the Giants returned to the matter at hand.

Assembling themselves for Philadelphia, and a battle that will be far more difficult, and probably nowhere near as bizarre.

The Giants beat the Braves thrice in four one-run games, with a different hero each time. Tim Lincecum in One, Aubrey Huff (assist Brooks Conrad) in Three, and Cody Ross in Four. Ross homered to break up Derek Lowes no-hitter on a first-pitch cutter, and slapped the game-winning single to left in the seventh off Jonny Venters.

In doing so, he became a kind of folk hero in these parts (San Francisco, not Atlanta), the desperation pickup designed to foil the Padres who became the square peg for so many square holes. With the improbable combination of shaved head and beard that always makes a guy look like he left the house with his head upside down, Ross won hearts and minds in a town that normally goes for younger, more fashionable types.

Their loss, too, because Ross is exactly the kind of guy who makes playoff teams have deep playoff runs. He took the eighth place in the order and made it a useful part of an often non-useful offense. He put the ball in play most of the time; he struck out only twice the entire series, fewer than any starters except Pablo Sandoval, who played only two of the four games.

And Monday he provided the dent needed to show his mates that Lowe could be hit. That mattered because this was a starting pitchers series in the extreme; the eight starters combined to allow only 10 earned runs in 51 23 innings, an ERA of 1.75, and only one, Tommy Hanson in Game 2, didnt make it to the sixth.

Ross, though, also justified his place on the roster both in this series and whatever else awaits the Giants. They open Saturday against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, and it is unlikely to see any changes in the roster unless some as-yet-unknown injury arises between now and Saturday morning.

The rotation is set up -- Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and, based on Mondays work product if nothing else, Madison Bumgarner in Game 4. Assuming the Phillies do nothing different after sweeping the Reds, Charlie Manuel will deal out Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and ... well, maybe Halladay again.

But there are five days to pound that one home. For now, the Giants have worked their way back to an NLCS for the first time since Barry Bonds was walking four out of every three times at bat. They have been put through a proper amount of hell by a badly undermanned Atlanta team, and by rights probably should have had to win Monday to get to play Game 5 Wednesday.

That is, unless you want to insist that they should have won Game 2. Thats parallel universe stuff, and youre welcome to all of it you can eat.

But no matter how messy the kitchen looks, the meal ended up being satisfying. Not too rich, certainly not too heavy, and probably not enough to meet the nutritional and caloric needs for the upcoming series, but just enough to win the series they should have won.

The hard way, and white-knuckling it down to the end, with Wilson walking Rick Ankiel, the Braves hero in Game 2, and Eric Hinske, the almost hero of Game 3, before bringing Omar Infante and Melky Cabrera to heel. It was a 25-pitch save, the kind that used to make Wilsonians yank their hair out in clumps, but it was entirely apropos for the evening.

But torture? That ones been exhausted, as weve already said. You want torture, wait until Saturday. You want to feel like your boys earned their way in, wait until Saturday.

In other words, the funs just started, masochists. Be not fooled by their genteel sendoff for Bobby Cox, a man like few others. Therell be blood on the walls from here on out.

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.