Sunday, April 10, 2011

Opening Daze

It was certainly one of the craziest games I've ever attended. Being in the CF bleachers I got both sunburned and chilled to the bone--the late-game breezes were quite cold and cut right through my jacket. We had a wonderful view of Brian Wilson's sprint across the field with the flag and the ball Aaron Rowand hit to win it seemed to come straight for us. We couldn't see the warning track from row 26 and so I had to wait for the replay to sort it all out. By then we were dancing, high-fiving, and hugging complete strangers. After 4-1/2 hours of torturous baseball, only the crazies and dedicated fans were still around. Brian Wilson's agonizing 9th seemed routine at the time. He had several chances to get the final strike or the final out and got burned with a couple of rather pedestrian-looking ground balls. Even with the bases loaded the home team's win expectancy was 77.7%. Ryan Theriot's single was the biggest hit of the day in terms of Win Probability Added (.628), plunging the Giants win expectancy to a mere 14.9%. Fortunately the lads rallied in the bottom half, with eventual hero Aaron Rowand stroking a ball up the middle to get things going and setting the stage for Pablo Sandoval's clutch RBI. Walking out of the park after a blown save by Wilson would have been a real downer, and I remember thinking at the time that an extra-inning loss would be far more palatable. In the 11th, Andres Torres led off with a double and advanced on a wild pitch to third. I was certain of victory, and a quick look at FanGraphs confirms that the WE for that situation was 92.8%! Tony LaRussa brought LF Allen Craig in to guard the line, leaving only two OFs and stacking the left side of the infield with three guys. It was certainly the situation for it, but I can't recall ever seeing that in person before. With one out, Aaron Rowand obliged with a sharp smash to 3B and Torres inexplicably broke for the plate and was put out. I remember feeling my lowest at that point. Blown chances like that really piss off the baseball gods and usually the bad karma results in a crushing loss. Or so I thought. A fine inning of relief by Dan Runzler set up another chance in the 12th, and two errors by the Cardinals (one by Albert Pujols) opened the door and Mighty Aaron Rowand delivered his second big hit to send us home happy. Kudos to Javier Lopez for two innings of scoreless relief, and a nod to The Panda for a superb day with three hits and a walk. It would have been a great game under any circumstances, but that kind of up-and-down drama on the Home Opener by the defending champs made it an instant classic.

Naturally the team had to follow up one gut-wrenching, heart-stopping adventure with another. Saturday night's game lacked the free-wheeling weirdness of Friday's, but it was equally as dramatic. Matt Cain was locked in a brilliant pitcher's duel with rising star Jaime Garcia, and the booming late home run by Colby Rasmus (another young stud) seemed to seal the deal. I remember composing the post in my head ("Matt Cain made the mistake of giving up two runs in his seven innings rather than only one and was thus handed another defeat . . ."). Hah! What silliness! The whole thing was mere prelude to a glorious bottom of the 9th. Buster Posey hadn't had a hit since San Diego, and when he stroked a single off snakebit closer Ryan Franklin, you had to believe something good was going to happen. The big bomb by newcomer Miguel Tejada that ticked off Rasmus' glove was hit to almost the same spot as Rowand's winner the day before. I remember thinking "oh my god it's not a homer" and cringing with anguish, but it all worked out. Special mention to Nate "Olympic Great" Schierholtz for a superb day. His triple in the 8th was beautiful. I remember thinking the same thing as Tejada's ball ("oh my god it's not a homer") and my joy at watching that loveliest of hits--the three-bagger--was tempered by my disappointment that it would not tie the game. You have to like the big performances by Sandoval, Schierholtz, and Rowand this weekend. Everyone is going to get their chances on this team, and with Andres Torres going down people are going to have to step up. Depth is one of the team's strengths. I was also happy to see some excellent relief by Ramon Ramirez who has filled in ably for the injured Santiago Casilla. Dan Runzler managed another scoreless inning as well, let's hope he keeps it up.

The Giants have been under the spotlight this first week, their first ever as defending champs. They've had a lot of distractions with all the ceremonial folderol. Not that I minded the folderol, the organization seems to have done an excellent job with all the pomp and fuss, and it was a lot of fun to boot. The team has partied with class and style, I'll give them that. The bit last night with Al Attles, Jim Otto, Steve Young, and Reggie Jackson was clever and surprising, and the Neukom & Baer ring-bearing trips to the broadcast booths were very cool. It's a great time to be a Giants fan, but it's also time to get back to the business of winning ballgames. Here's another look at last night's come-from-behind thriller:


p.s. Special thanks and a shout-out to my friends Deann and Al for sharing their Opening Day ticket bonanza with us! You have no idea what a wonderful gift that was. GO GIANTS!!

p.p.s Charts by FanGraphs.

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