Urban: Bay Ball, All-Star style


Urban: Bay Ball, All-Star style

July 12, 2011


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Mychael Urban

PHOENIX -- With Matt Cain unavailable to pitch because he worked Sunday, Tim Lincecum unofficially on the shelf in the name of second-half strength, and Ryan Vogelsong tapped as one of the pitchers saved in the event of extra innings, Brian Wilson and Pablo Sandoval were the only Giants who figured to appear in Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field, and that's exactly how it worked out.It worked out well, too.

Sandoval, a late addition to the National League squad, took over for starting third baseman Scott Rolen and spanked an opposite-field, RBI double into the left-field corner off American League reliever Brandon League in the bottom of the seventh inning to stretch the NL's lead to 5-1. Standing at second base as the crowd roared its approval, Sandoval looked skyward, shook his head and smiled wide while clapping his hands together several times.It was a great image and exactly what the Midsummer Classic should be all about. Forget home-field advantage for the World Series. Forget the no-shows. Give the fans a young man who clearly loves what he's doing and does it well, the mission has been accomplished.Wilson's appearance, complete with bright orange glove and gaudy cleats emblazoned with his own image to match, came with an appropriate dose of drama. Called upon with runners at second and third with one out in the top of the ninth, the opportunity to close out an NL victory that he so craved, he induced a popup to shallow right field before getting Paul Konerko to ground out to shortstop and pick up the save.No torture here. Gio gets in, out: Lefty Gio Gonzalez, the lone member of the A's named to the AL squad, wasn't quite sure if he'd get to make an appearance, but he got his chance in the bottom of the eighth inning, and if you blinked you missed it.Working quickly, no doubt the result of a torrent of adrenaline coursing through his body, Gonzalez fell behind in the count to Jay Bruce before getting back to full count and freezing the Reds slugger with some serious paint on the black to end the inning.Trying to play it cool in front of his mostly older peers, Gonzalez kept his head down while walking to the AL dugout, but upon seeing a collection of superstars waiting at the top step to congratulate him, he broke into the boyish grin with which Oakland fans are so familiar.Gonzo gets gone: Hands-down the American League's mythical first-half MVP, Adrian Gonzalez was the cover-story subject of USA Today's sports section Tuesday, highlighting his seamless transition from relative anonymity in San Diego to playing in the white-hot spotlight that shines on all things Boston Red Sox. Gonzalez hasn't just handled the additional pressure and attention; he's welcomed it and thrived.Or so he said in the story. Then, a night after putting on a show in the Home Run Derby despite finishing second to Robinson Cano, he made sure that anyone who didn't see the story understands exactly what he's all about, taking Cliff Lee deep to open the All-Star scoring. It seems like Gonzalez has been around forever, but he's not even 30, storming into the prime of his career, and given that he'll spend much of it at Fenway Park, it's not a stretch to assume we're watching a no-doubt Hall of Famer at work.Awwwwwwkward: Nobody will admit to it, but it had to be a little strange for the Giants in the NL dugout when Prince Fielder went deep. It gave the senior circuit the lead, and of course the Giants would like to have home-field advantage should they return to the World Series this fall. So congratulations were definitely in order. A high-five or a pound at the least.But if you made a list of the Giants' least-favorite foes, Fielder -- thanks to his bowling pin act and a generally surly vibe -- would likely be near the top of the list.Medicine for the nerves: Wilson referred to Phillies righty Doc Halladay, who started for the NL, as a "cyborg," and that's as apt a description of the man as any. That's why he was the perfect pick to start the game.Even the best players in the world get nervous before the All-Star Game, and pitchers can get particularly sketchy in the early going, setting a sloppy tone. Not Halladay, who appears at most times to indeed be without a central nervous system. His stoic, calming presence on the mound puts everyone at ease, and with two perfect innings Tuesday, he gave everyone time to settle in and get ready for some quality baseball. It's no coincidence that the game got more interesting as the innings wore on.Giving it up: Among the distinctions between baseball's showcase and the all-star games of other sports is that baseball's participants actually try to play a little defense. In fact, many of them are known for their defensive skills, and it's nice to see them commit to putting them on display. Rolen, for instance, turned in a heck of a spinning play at third base early in the game.It's a fine line, though. The last thing anyone wants to see is someone getting hurt trying to go above and beyond, and that was a real concern when Toronto slugger Jose Bautista crashed into the wall down the right-field line while making a tremendous sliding catch. Guys have snapped ankles on similar plays. Fortunately, Bautista bounced right up, and everyone associated with the Blue Jays franchise surely exhaled with relief and thought, "Dude, leave the foul balls be. We like you hitting homers more than making web gems."Ah, but Bautista wasn't done scaring his bosses. He was sent home from second on a two-out single in the fourth and cut down at the plate. The throw from Hunter Pence beat him by a mile, but Bautista knew better than to get all Pete Rose on NL catcher Brian McCann, and everyone went their separate ways in one piece. Panic in the press box: The Red Sox weren't so fortunate on the health front, as Josh Beckett was scratched from his scheduled appearance after his knee acted up while he warmed up in the bullpen. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but it did provide for anyone covering the game evidence that baseball in Boston is more than a game. It's life and death.There's no such thing as a small story, and Beckett being scratched was a big one. One look around the press box and you knew exactly who was there from New England: the folks wearing marks of major worry.Welcome to me: While the absence of some of the game's biggest names -- Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, etc. -- generated considerable discussion in the days leading up to the game, none of that mattered as soon as Halladay threw his first pitch, at which point the focus shifted to where it belonged. And as usual, some names that casual fans might not have known emerged as worthy of discussion.One such name: Michael Pineda. A 22-year-old righty for the Mariners who has 113 strikeouts in 113 innings -- he struck out two in his perfect inning of work -- issued notice to anyone unaware that the Seattle starting rotation goes deeper than King Felix Hernandez. Pineda, a rookie, is the real deal.Colorful closer: Heath Bell of the Padres, who fully expects to be traded before the July 31 deadline, on Monday vowed to do something special if he were given an opportunity to appear in the game. He didn't disappoint, sprinting in from the bullpen and launching his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame into a slide just before getting to the mound. It drew a huge laugh from the crowd and served as a brilliant reminder of something too few big leaguers seem to forget when they reach the pinnacle: The game is supposed to be fun.

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

SAN JOSE – For at least one night, the Sharks’ depth players – most of which have been missing in action for weeks – found the scoresheet against the Rangers in a 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The Sharks were playing their first of what will surely be at least a few games without center Logan Couture, and are still in the hunt for a Pacific Division title with four of their six remaining games against Edmonton and Calgary – teams they are trying to fend off to earn home ice in the first round. And, of course, they ended a wretched six-game losing streak in which they never had a lead in any of the defeats.

Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned earlier in the week that the coaching staff had challenged the depth players to do more, especially now that their second line center is out indefinitely. The response on Tuesday included two goals from Chris Tierney (including a late game-tying score), one goal and one assist from Jannik Hansen, a shorthanded goal by Melker Karlsson, two assists from Mikkel Boedker, and an assist from Tomas Hertl.

Consider the challenge met.

“We want to score. All the depth guys know, and talked about stepping up,” Tierney said. “It's good that we broke through tonight, especially with Logan out of the lineup. We're going to have to keep doing it throughout the playoffs."

DeBoer said the internal challenge “didn’t involve much more than just ‘Hey, we need some contributions from you.’ We can’t always look to the big guys to get the job done. We got that tonight. Those guys got on the board. It’s never a lack of effort with that group, but we’re the sum of our parts. We need those guys to get on the board for us on a regular basis and they did that tonight.”

It was also surely welcomed that one of their big guys – perhaps their biggest – got the overtime winner. Brent Burns had been mired in a 16-game drought without a goal, but his slap shot got through Henrik Lundqvist half-a-minute into an overtime power play.

While the depth guys will need to continue to produce, the Sharks are going to need more from Burns, too, as the postseason approaches. The defenseman had been kept off of the scoresheet in nine of 10 games from March 5 – 21, but now has one point in each of his last three games. That’s a good sign.

Getting a goal was particularly nice, as was ending the losing skid.

“Yeah on both accounts,” Burns said. “That was a big win, especially coming back, staying resilient, getting that big goal there at the end.”

Still, with all that went right, the game was far from perfect. The Sharks allowed a 3-1 second period lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit in just a span of five minutes and seven seconds, indicating they’re still a bit fragile. Derek Stepan made it 3-2 late in the second with a power play goal, Jesper Fast scored on a deflection early in the third, and J.T. Miller gave New York its first lead of the night less than five minutes into the final frame.

“There’s still room for improvement, definitely,” Joe Pavelski said.

Still, the Sharks fought back for Tierney’s late game-tying goal with less than two minutes in regulation, setting up Burns’ overtime heroics. 

The captain sensed some displeasure from the home fans due to the blown lead, something he surely understood, but indicated that the energy level on the Sharks’ bench was still high.

“Whether you think, like, ‘Here we go again’ or not – I’m sure someone in this building thought that tonight,” Pavelski said. “Guys just kind of stuck with it, and we believed we would tie it up tonight.”

Getting that extra point in overtime brought a sense of relief.

“When you lose six straight, it's obviously a relief when you win one,” Martin Jones said. “But win or lose, we played a lot better tonight.”


Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid

Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid


SAN JOSE – Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the Sharks found a way to tie their game with the Rangers late and win it in overtime, 5-4, to end their losing streak at six games.

After New York had turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, Chris Tierney knotted the score with just 2:15 left in regulation. Mikkel Boedker’s shot from high in the zone rattled around the slot, and Tierney was there to flip it home for this second of the night.

Brent Burns ended a 16-game goal drought with a power play goal at 3:10 in overtime, overpowering Henrik Lundqvist with a slap shot.

After Tierney had given San Jose a 3-1 lead earlier in the second period the Sharks kept up the pressure, recording seven of the next eight shots. But Patrick Marleau’s interference penalty on Jimmy Vesey gave New York a late power play and turned the game in their favor.

Derek Stepan – who was stopped on a partial breakaway midway through the first period – brought the Rangers back to within 3-2. Mats Zuccarello hummed a seam pass through Justin Braun to Stepan, who had an open net to deposit his 16th of the season in the final minutes of the second period.

In the third, Jesper Fast redirected a Brady Skjei floater at 1:24, tying the game at 3-3. A Burns tripping minor during four-on-four play offered a power play to the Rangers, and they capitalized on a J.T. Miller one-timer at 4:44, his second of the night.

The Sharks remain two points back of Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and are tied with Edmonton for second.

For the first time in eight games the Sharks struck first. A newly configured third line of Tomas Hertl, Boedker and Jannik Hansen scored on its first shift together, as Hansen chopped in a loose puck at 1:44. Boedker and Hertl both got assists, ending pointless streaks of 10 games and 12 games, respectively.

Hansen’s first goal as a Shark also gave the team its first lead in more than two weeks, as it never led throughout its six-game regulation losing streak.

The Rangers tied it at 13:30 of the first on a goal by Miller, who took the puck from Paul Martin along the wall and lifted a perfectly placed wrist shot over Martin Jones’ near shoulder.

Melker Karlsson, returning from an eight-game absence, put the Sharks ahead 2-1 late in the first period with a shorthanded score. He whizzed a wrist shot past countryman Lundqvist at 18:01 while on a two-on-one with Tierney.

Tierney increased the lead to 3-1 in the middle frame, taking a shot from the slot and following up his own rebound at 11:38. It was just his second goal in the last 22 games, and eighth of the year.

The Rangers won the only other game of the season series back on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. The Sharks finished the season with a 21-7-4 mark against Eastern Conference clubs.

The Sharks were without Logan Couture, who is out indefinitely with a facial injury.

Special teams:
Two of New York’s goals came on the power play, on three opportunities. The Sharks are 11-for-15 on the PK in the last six games.

San Jose had just one power play before overtime, failing to score. Karlsson’s marker was his second shorthanded score of the season, and the Sharks’ seventh as a team.

In goal:
After allowing a career high seven goals-against on Saturday in Nashville, Jones made 24 saves on 28 shots.

Lundqvist suffered the loss with 30 saves on 35 shots.

Micheal Haley served a one-game suspension for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday.

Tierney (upper body) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (flu) both returned after missing Saturday’s game with the Predators. Marcus Sorensen came out of the lineup for Kevin Labanc, who was recalled on Tuesday morning and skated on the top line.

New York’s Skjei had three assists.

Up next:
The Sharks have six games remaining in the regular season – two each against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

A three-game road trip against each of those division rivals begins on Thursday with the Oilers, as the clubs battle for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and continues on Friday against the Flames and Sunday versus the Canucks.