Urban: NLCS Live Playoff Blog, Game 2


Urban: NLCS Live Playoff Blog, Game 2

UPDATED: 8:22 P.M.
Mychael Urban

PHILADELPHIA -- Jimmy Rollins three-run double pretty much iced things, but the Giants gave themselves a chance to save some face with a mini-rally in the eighth.

A couple late runs off Roy Oswalt before hopping on the plane for the flight back to Frisco would have been a nice little boost.

Didnt happen. Pablo Sandoval walked with one out, Freddy Sanchez singled with two out, and Aubrey Huff lined out.

On the bright side, Sandoval put together a pretty good at-bat against a tough but tiring pitcher; the single was No. 2 on the night for the previously struggling Sanchez; and Huff hit his line drive to center as hard as any Giant not named Cody Ross hit the ball all game.

On the dark side, Oswalt wasnt too tired to strike out Andres Torres for the fourth time of the night (and yes, Mr. Rowand, you better start getting loose for Game 3 now); Sanchezs singles and Ross homer were the only hits the Giants could manage in eight innings against Oswalt, and Huffs postseason batting average fell to .217 with zero extra-base hits and one RBI.

On the bright side, the Giants got the road split every clich-spitting baseball man likes to say is so crucial. On the dark side, the Giants had a chance to take 2-0 lead home and responded to the opportunity with all the tenacity of a kitten.

Bright side, dark side, whatever. The Giants blew another shot at making the Phillies sweat in the ninth, but its turn-the-page time for them, and theyll probably like what they see.

Its a five-game series now, and they have home-field advantage.

UPDATED: 7:40 P.M.
Cody Ross flew out to deep center field, and when the ball settled into the glove of Shane Victorino, the crowd of more than 46,000 exhaled and sent up the type of cheer usually reserved for a Phillies home run.

Ross is already a villain of legendary status here.

Philly fans know their baseball, so they were aware of what Ross did for the Giants in the NLDS against the Braves. They were not aware that it wasnt a fluke, but a man on a ridiculous hot streak that would carry over and turn him into one of those unlikely heroes that October so often brings to the fore.

Alas, he is just a man, and one man does not an offense make. The rest of the Giants have simply looked hopeless against Oswalt, who just rubbed a little salt in the wounds hes been inflicting with a single to chase Jonathan Sanchez.
Poor Sanchez. Hes on the hook for a loss right now despite having pitched awfully well. Throw out the ugly first inning and its a heck of a start.

Ugly has become the theme for the Giants tonight, though. The Phillies just got their third run when Andres Torres throw home was inexplicably cut off at the mound. Had it gone through, Oswalt likely would have been a sitting duck at the plate.

But it didnt, and after a pitching change, sneaky Uncle Charlie Manuel just ordered a double steal that his boys pulled off to perfection.

The Giants look rattled. The Phillies look energized.

Six more outs -- Oswalt looks more than capable of getting them himself -- and this series shifts to San Francisco, with absolutely nothing settled.

UPDATED: 6:45 P.M.

Its still early, and anyone whos followed the 2010 Giants knows they have all manner of late-innings trick up their sleeves.But Roy Oswalt is making them look like Paris Hilton with a Rubiks Cube in her hands, and the Giants are making themselves look pretty dumb, too.That popup that fell between Mike Fontenot, Buster Posey and Jonathan Sanchez? As our fine friends from Fox just told us 3,244 times, as though none of us have the slightest notion as to how this mysterious new game is played, its Fontenots ball all the way.What Fox didnt tell you is that in addition to blowing it by not letting Fontenot know it was his play, Sanchez blew it by being within 20 feet of Fontenot.Its pretty fundamental stuff, and a ton of coaches have a rule that they teach on their first day of practice.Pitchers, I know you fancy yourselves athletes and all, but when a balls hit in the air over the infield, get -- and stay -- the hell out of the way!Sanchez broke that rule, and his presence is what caused Fontenot to hesitate.It didnt end up hurting Sanchez in the short term because hes settled into a nice groove, but it kind of summed up the general feel of the game to this point. The Giants just arent that sharp. I mean, come on -- Cody Ross hasnt even gone deep yet.Oh wait. Just as I was about to close this file, Ross came up again.Never mind. Ross just sharpened the blade. He's homered again and it's 1-1.
UPDATED: 6:16 P.M.Hate to kick a guy when hes down, but the Giants need to get Andres Torres out of the lineup. Pronto.His speedy recovery from an appendectomy in September was a nice part of whats been a great underdog story all year, but it also obscured the fact that Torres was in a serious tailspin before the surgery.The slide continued down the stretch, for the most part, and so far in the postseason hes looking every bit like the 32-year-old journeyman who never got regular run before this year.Hes lunging, hes jumping, hes twisting and grinding. Thats good if youre in a hot-pink leotard and sweating to the oldies; not so good when youre trying to hit against Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe and Roy Halladay and, right now, Roy Oswalt.That big bat he swings? Its a quirky little twist to his story when Torres is pumping balls into McCovey Cove. Not so cute when his last-drop-of-ketchup-slow swing makes the bat seem like a utility pole made of cement.Dude needs a break. Big time.UPDATED: 5:51 P.M.Ugly first inning for the Giants.Going down 1-2-3 is never good, especially when it reminds the world of how ineffective Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez have been throughout the playoffs, and the bottom of the inning was just plain bad in a number of ways.It started so nicely, too, with a three-pitch punch piece that reminded everyone of how nasty Jonathan Sanchez can be when hes throwing strikes.When hes not throwing strikes, though, its not pretty. First, a walk to Chase Utley, whom Charlie Manuel smartly moved down a slot in the Philly lineup to avoid getting Javier Lopezd again tonight.Then, an easy stolen base by Utley, who took advantage of Sanchezs less-than-scary pickoff move by getting a huge jump that didnt leave Buster Posey a chance.Add to that a strange-looking error by third baseman Mike Fontenot, who fielded Placido Polancos bouncer and threw wide of first base. Replays suggested first baseman Aubrey Huff perhaps should have made the play.Then, the full Sanchez: a walk to Ryan Howard, a strikeout of Jayson Werth (generous call by plate ump Dan Iassogna on a high breaking ball), and a walk to ice-cold Jimmy Rollins to give Philly a 1-0 lead.The inning ended with a strikeout of Raul Ibanez, and 1-0 isnt a huge deal. But 40 pitches in the first inning is, and so is Sanchezs flashback to the days when he looked like the gifted wild child -- walk three, strike out the side -- that you hated to face in high school.UPDATED: 5:20Heres what I discovered walking around in the parking lot at Citizens Bank Park tonight before Game 2: There are more Giants fans here than I thought.It seems most of them were going incognito last night, worried that full-fledged flying of the Giants flag would put them in harms way. I hear the fans here are like Raiders fans, explained James Tolleson, who made the trip from El Sobrante. You go to a Raiders-Niners game wearing Niners gear and you might take a beer can off the head.So Tolleson hid his Giants T-shirt under a standard grey hoodie last night. Tonight, though, hes emboldened by his squad being up 1-0 in the series, so hes rocking the t-shirt over the hoodie, and this morning he bought a Giants hat at a store downtown.The girl at the cash register called me a frontrunner, he said with a laugh. And as I walked out, they all booed me.Tolleson said hes picking up a different vibe from Phillies fans tonight. Not so much this-is-gonna-be-a-blowout swag in their step. Im getting that, too.Game 1 forced Philly to take the Giants seriously, and Im not sure that was happening before the series started. Imagine the vibe if Jonathan Sanchez mugs the Phils tonight.Tolleson might just stay another night and try to find him some orange-and-black striped socks.

As Arroyo is shut down, Sandoval's numbers nosedive


As Arroyo is shut down, Sandoval's numbers nosedive

SAN FRANCISCO — There is a Houston Astros prospect named Dean Deetz, and in a way, Pablo Sandoval can thank him for his second shot with the Giants. 

Deetz drilled Christian Arroyo on July 1, halting the young third baseman’s bid to return to the Giants for the final two months. With Eduardo Nuñez traded to Boston and Arroyo recovering from minor hand surgery, the Giants turned to Sandoval, who has been a fixture in the middle of their lineup the last couple of weeks. Arroyo hoped to get some time at the hot corner in September, but on Thursday the Giants conceded that won’t happen. 

Arroyo will miss the rest of the regular season, team officials said. The hope is that he can get healthy in time for the Arizona Fall League and then potentially make up lost at-bats in a winter league.

Arroyo is either the organization’s best or second-best hitting prospect, depending on which list you look at. He hit .396 in Triple-A this season and then provided a momentary jolt after he forced his way into the big league lineup. Then the slump came, and overall Arroyo hit just .192 in 34 big league games. He was sent back to the minors and promptly was hit by a couple of pitches. 

It was a season with plenty of highs but a disappointing ending, but Arroyo is still just 22 and looks to be a big part of the future. Has he done enough to go into next spring with a firm grip on a job? 

“I’ll have to answer that later on and see where we’re at,” manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday. “It’s all going to be competitive, that’s the way I look at it. You look at where we’ll finish, and not in the postseason, and you have to stay open-minded on everything.”

This could be setting up for a pretty intriguing spring battle. Arroyo and 23-year-old Ryder Jones were the internal candidates set for a competition, but Sandoval likely will be the everyday third baseman down the stretch. He has shown flashes of his old pre-Boston self and the Giants have been generally pleased with his play. Still, the results aren’t really there. 

Sandoval is hitting .200 since returning, with a .220 on-base percentage and .325 slugging percentage. That's good for a .545 OPS, which is nearly 100 points below his OPS in Boston this season. The Red Sox, at some point, had seen enough.  

Bochy said he has taken positives away from Sandoval's energy and some of his bigger moments, particularly the upper-deck homer he hit off Max Scherzer over the weekend. That’s his only homer with the Giants so far, but it made an impression. 

“He’s got the bat speed,” Bochy said. “That’s one of the longest homers we’ve seen this year. That shows (the bat speed) is there.”

Jones has been a fixture as well, playing first base in place of Brandon Belt. He has looked much better the second time around, but his average is still below .200 and his OPS of .559 is just about equal to Sandoval's. The Giants have not seen enough from anyone to have a favorite to play third base next season, and Bochy said the same holds true at other positions. 

"We've got to stay open-minded about who is going to be where next year (and) playing time," he said. "It's up to us to adjust and get better."

Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL


Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL

I hadn’t considered the notion of Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles bombing quite so badly Thursday night, so I hadn’t considered the notion advanced by Pro Football Talk Friday morning that Jacksonville might be a great place for Colin Kaepernick.

That’s because I long ago stopped considering the idea that Kaepernick’s exile from football was, or is, about football. It isn’t. He is the example for future player/miscreants, and trotting his name out every time a quarterback in the new NFL vomits up a practice game on national television is simply perpetuating a lie.

Until someone gets so desperate that it isn’t any more.

That’s the problem with being so definitive about Kaepernick’s perpetual ban. It only takes one owner with a willingness to stick a middle finger up to the objections and say, “I own a football team, not some branch of the USO” to end this national spitfest once and for all. And yes, I say owner because this is an owner’s decision, solely and completely. In the hypothetical of Kaepernick the Jaguar, it will be made not by Doug Marrone, who is merely a coach, or by Tom Coughlin, who is only the general manager, but Shahid Khad, one of the brightest and quietly more powerful owners in the league.

But the odds still scream No Kaep For You, because it would mean that exhibition games matter for judgmental purposes (which they don’t), that Bortles is somehow worse than half the quarterbacks in the NFL (he is part of an amorphous blob of non-producers whose numbers are growing as the differences between college and pro football offenses expand), and that owners easily break away from the herd once the herd has decided on something (Khan is not a rebel in the Jerry Jones mold by any means).

In other words, I remain unconvinced that there is a place for Colin Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL. And he’s probably better off.