Ratto: Lincecum's Incandescent, Invincible Game 1


Ratto: Lincecum's Incandescent, Invincible Game 1


SAN FRANCISCO -- Because the future must be served first, this, from San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy:

Tim Lincecum is still available on short rest for Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series if needed.

"Yeah, it was 119 (pitches,)" he said as he recapped the Giants 1-0 win over Atlanta in Game 1, "but it wasnt like he looked overextended out there. I dont think this changes my mind about that (scenario) at all."

And now, the past. The amazing, overwhelming past.

"Truthfully, I cant remember him ever being better," Bochy said. "I mean, I dont remember one that stands out right now."

That's because there really isnt one. Lincecum came as close as a human being can come to being Roy Halladay without actually being traded to Philadelphia and changing ones name. He dope-slapped the Braves in Halladay-esque fashion, limiting them to two harmless doubles and 14 even more harmless strikeouts, and in doing so eradicated all useful memories of the August From Hell.

"Guys kept telling me everyone goes through this, and everyones gonna have their struggles," Lincecum said of the lost 30 days and whether they seem like they even happened to him. "But I dont even think about that or going through those mental struggles."

He didnt have to, either. He beat the Braves early with breaking balls, and then conditioned them so well that he beat them with almost a constant diet of fastballs late. And while the Braves are a very modest hitting team by postseason standards, this would have been an overwhelming performance under any circumstances.

"I think maybe I went out to talk to him two or three times, maybe," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Just, I didnt really need to. I just went out to see if we were on the same . . . the same page."

Put it this way, re: pages. Lincecum was the author. Posey was a fine editor.

Indeed, the only time Lincecum caused the Giants even a moments worry was the opening batter, third baseman Omar Infante. He coaxed a 3-1 count from Lincecum and then drove a ball into the left-center field gap for a double, but died when Jason Heyward flied modestly to Cody Ross in left and Lincecum struck out Derrek Lee and Brian McCann, the first on a 3-2 slider, the second on a 3-2 change.

He went to three balls only three more, walking Heyward in the fourth (the only inning he didnt have at least one strikeout), striking out Lee in the seventh and Heyward in the ninth.

The only other moment of suspense when the Giants were taking the field came in the ninth when Brian Wilson, who had thrown in the eighth just as a precaution, dawdled purposefully on his way to the bullpen in the ninth. He knew, as professionals do, that he needed to be ready just in case, but that this was deservedly Lincecums game, and to hurry along would be, well, impolite if nothing else.

As it turned out, Wilson didnt have to heat up much, as Lincecum closed in style, with a hard grounder from Infante to Juan Uribe at short, then the Heyward strikeout and Lee looking at strike 75.

And Posey was the perfect supporting actor, by singling, being thrown out at second while being called safe on a stolen base attempt ("Its a good thing we dont have instant replay," he joked), and then scoring on a hard smash past third that Infante deflected by Ross.

"I cant imagine what (being Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz felt like), he said when asked to reference Halladays catcher. "That was fun. When you throw a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts, its going to get pretty loud, I guess."

It did. And it didnt matter. Lincecum at his best turned in the best performance of his career and the second-best performance of an overwhelmingly pitcher driven postseason.

The six winning pitchers so far (Halladay, Lincecum, Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) have combined for the following pitching line:

44.1 19 7 6 8 48

Thats 44 13 innings, 19 hits, seven runs, six earned, eight walks and 48 strikeouts. Thats dead-ball era stuff, across the board.

There will be incorrect quibbles about why Pablo Sandoval was walked to pitch to Ross, or why Sandoval was allowed to bat for himself against Jonny Venters in the sixth, or even why Wilson didnt finish. Those are exceedingly silly nits to pick, though, because this was Lincecums evening, with a hint of Posey and a soupcon of Ross. No managerial decision was going to change this story line, no matter how desperately the second-guess brigade tried. Lincecum was the story Thursday, period.

And Monday, too, if it comes to that. He looks very available for Game 4 indeed. Available as all hell.

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.