Urban: Padres might be in Giants' heads


Urban: Padres might be in Giants' heads

July 5, 2011


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Mychael Urban

Not long after Heath Bell did a brilliant impression of fellow All-Star closer Brian Wilson, giving the opposition all kinds of hope in the ninth inning before turning nasty with a three-pitch punchout and a dramatic, protracted battle that ended with a bat of Brandon Crawford breaking loudly, Andres Torres provided a fairly easy-to-decode hint of something to which the Giants would surely never admit.The Padres are in their dome again.Or is it still?

Hey, don't think winning the National League West and the NL pennant and the World Series erased all memories of how hard the Padres made the Giants work last season. Or how thoroughly dominant the Padres were over the Giants until very late in the season.Or how freaking impossible it seems to score off that parade of filthy relievers.The latter point was underscored Tuesday in front of the 39th consecutive sellout of the season, and if Wednesday mirrors it, that streak could very well end with Barry Zito trying to stave off a four-game sweep Thursday.Usually it's Luke Gregerson in the seventh, Mike Adams in the eighth and Bell, of course, in the ninth. Lately, as was the case Tuesday, it's been Chad Qualls in the seventh, subbing in for Gregerson, whose Slider From Hell had been on the disabled list since early June until he was activated Tuesday.Qualls, Gregerson, whatever. Nasty is nasty, and Qualls is nasty enough to have been the Diamondbacks' closer not too long ago. Adams is nastier still, with a two-seam fastball that hits the mid-90's on the radar gun and avoids the barrel of bats with cartoonish movement. Then Bell brings the high-90's heat and some wicked secondary stuff. When Gregerson reclaims his seventh-inning role, the Padres will be able to further shorten games to five-inning affairs. They'll need it, too, because their starters are a spotty lot, a far cry from last year's sturdy bunch. "Five and dive" seems like a solid strategy for San Diego at this point, though, because as good and deep and versatile as is the Giants' bullpen, the Padres 'pen has more clearly defined roles and is, quite simply, a bitch of a matchup for San Francisco's offense -- especially in these days of every run seeming like it needed congressional approval.No way the Giants don't feel that, and it was Torres, whose rag-to-riches story of 2010 was on par with 2011's Ryan Vogelsong heart-warmer, who inadvertently made it seem obvious.Torres was ticked that Qualls, after tagging out Torres on a dust-bowl banger at the plate that followed a wild pitch from Qualls and a perfect feed from catcher Nick Hundley, punctuated the play with some shouting and an emphatic spike of the baseball before walking off the field.Torres felt he'd been shown up, noting that as someone who's had to work so hard to get where he now is, he'd never disrespect another player and expects that professional courtesy extended back.Qualls, by the way, has been through some rough times, too. He lost his closer's role in Arizona and posted an 8.29 ERA last season before being shipped to the Rays, where he wasn't much better. So he knows of struggle, and you had to believe him when he said he meant not an ounce of malice toward Torres.In essence, he said, "Hey, it was a huge play at the time. I was pumped. Lost my marbles there a little. No diss intended, dawg."Much ado about nothing, really, but interesting nonetheless. A sports psychologist could probably have a field day with allegations of disrespect perhaps masking feelings of inferiority.Why would the Giants feel inferior to the Padres when they're the reigning world champs? Maybe they don't.But based on San Diego's 12-6 record head-to-head last year, a 3-1 mark thus far in 2011 and that lights-out bullpen to handle anything the Giants' warm-water pistol of an offense can fire at them, would you blame them if they did?

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

SAN FRANCISCO — In the bottom of the eighth inning Monday, with the Giants finally running away with one, Johnny Cueto started blowing into a giant wad of bubble gum. He held two hands out, ready to catch remnants of an explosion as Brandon Crawford and Kelby Tomlinson looked on and smiled. 

A few minutes later, players started migrating to the dugout rail as they have done in each of the three starts Ryder Jones has made. They are ready to cheer on a rookie’s first big league hit, even if the wait has been an excruciating one for the third baseman. 

Bruce Bochy likes to say that your personality is better when you’re winning, and his players certainly showed that Monday in snapshots here and there. They woke up to a report that there were fractured in the clubhouse, caused in large part by the new closer. They denied it, they met as a group, and then, finally, they won. 

Jeff Samardzija pitched as he has for two months, the top of the lineup came through over and over again, and Brandon Crawford paced a golden night with the gloves. A 9-2 win over the Rockies was just the second since June 11 and it snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rockies. Any win is meaningful at this point, but this one seemed to mean just a little bit more given the drama of the day. 

“Despite what people might think, we still have a pretty good group here and we get along just fine,” Crawford said. “We’re all rooting for each other.”

It’s one thing to support teammates off the field, and there’s been no indication that the Giants aren’t doing that. It’s quite another to be hand-in-hand between the lines, and for much of this season, Samardzija has been on an island. 

The right-hander has been Bochy’s best pitcher since Madison Bumgarner went down in the hills outside Denver. But he entered Monday with a 2-9 record and 4.74 ERA inflated by faulty defense. He hasn’t grumbled, but he has grown accustomed to the worst, and when Nolan Arenado bounced a ball deep to the hole in shortstop with two on and two outs in the third, Samardzija figured the game was probably tied. 

“I’m thinking maybe they charge it in the outfield and maybe make a play at home,” Samardzija said. “But with a guy like that at shortstop, things change so fast.”

Crawford scooped the ball on the edge of the grass. He would have liked nothing more than to make an otherworldly throw to first to nail his World Baseball Classic teammate, but he knew the best chance was at third. A couple of days ago, Crawford and Jones discussed how the rookie should cover third on such a play. Jones played it perfectly, retreating in time to catch Crawford’s inning-ending throw. 

“The best thing (about Crawford) is he doesn’t even talk about it,” Samardzija said.

No, Crawford put the spotlight on Jones.

“That’s a pretty heads-up play,” he said. “We talked about it and he was there. It was a funny coincidence.”

The play held the lead, and the Giants kept pushing. The top four hitters in the lineup finished with 10 hits, six RBI and six runs. Brandon Belt had an RBI triple in the five-spot. Crawford drove in a run behind him. Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson added insurance from the bottom. Bochy watched it all from the top step and saw a group collectively relax.

“Just quit fighting it so much,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in this offense. There’s no reason they can’t put consistent runs on the board. Tonight I just thought the at-bats were so much better and the focus was. Once it started rolling, guys felt better about themselves, and it just got contagious.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies


SAN FRANCISCO — On a day that started with controversy, Giants players called a meeting following batting practice. Perhaps they were talking about when and where to stretch. Perhaps a reminder was given to keep clubhouse complaints in the actual clubhouse. 

Or, perhaps, the players just decided that enough was enough. 

In a rare display, the Giants put a clean and complete game together. They beat the Rockies 9-2 at AT&T Park, getting just their second win since June 11 and snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Rockies. 

Jeff Samardzija continued his hot streak, the lineup was opportunistic and flashed some power, and the defense sparkled at times. Here are five things to know from the throwback night … 

—- Samardzija walked off to a standing ovation after throwing 112 pitches. He was charged with two earned in 6 1/3 innings. Ignore the record and ERA for a second — his FIP is 3.37 and his xFIP is 2.95. He really is having a very good and underrated season. 

—- Here’s another one for your Samardzija file: Over the past two months, he has 82 strikeouts and three walks. 

—- It was a good day in the race for another Brandon Crawford Gold Glove. Adeiny Hechavarria, one of the few in the National League who even approaches Crawford, was traded to the Rays. Crawford added to the reel by gunning a runner down on third and making a nifty spin-and-throw in the fourth to rob Ian Desmond of a hit. 

—- There are nights where Denard Span looks like a game-changer, and this was one of them. He had a single, walk and triple in his first three plate appearances, scoring twice as the Giants built a 5-0 lead. He was spry in center, too 

—- Nolan Arenado was 0 for 4. Apparently that’s legal now. (It was actually his ninth 0 for 4 or worse against the Giants, in 81 games.)

—- Bonus sixth fact since the Giants won a game: Sam Dyson, acquired basically for free, is the new setup man. That didn’t take long, and it probably won’t be changing anytime soon. Dyson gave up a single but struck out the other three batters he faced.