Monday, November 8, 2010

It's the Time of the Season for [T]Raining (and a new font)

First truly rainy ride on Sunday.  Just 75 minutes in steady, sometimes hard and warm rain with Howie.  It was windy too, so that on descents we felt like we were both sliding around and being blown around.  Large raindrops stung my face on a 40+ mph descent of Joaquin Miller.  After that I was completely soaked and done with the ride.  We saw zero cyclists, which gave us feelings of moral and physical superiority.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Way OT: 2010 World Series

Giants win their first World Series in San Francisco.

In August 1993, the Giants were ahead of second place Atlanta Braves by eight games in early August.  I was rooting hard.  In my office, I listened to their afternoon games and talk shows on the radio.  As August wore on, the team wore out.  By early September their lead was gone.  They managed to catch up to the Braves, but not quite.  Needing to win their final game, the Giants gave the ball to their rookie phenom Solomon Torres.  Torres, imploded spectacularly, as the Giants lost the game by over 10 runs.  This was the year before MLB adopted wild card playoff scheme and, although the Giants won 103 games, they did not make the playoffs.

I took their failure very hard.  As their lead dwindled in August, I would wake up in the middle of the night, fretting and worrying about their pitching, hitting, and fielding failures.  I became an emotional wreck.  When it all ended, I swore I would never become so emotionally invested in a team in any sport.  Whatever rewards such an investment may have offered, the failure, whose risk was the same as that of success, hurt so much more.  So, I 2/3-heartedly rooted for the '94 49ers and excellent Cal Bears football teams of Jeff Tedford's early years.

The 2010 Giants' season waxed and waned.  They played mediocre baseball for the first two months of the season, then called up Buster Posey, a rookie catcher.  Posey played unremarkably with the big team as a September call-up in 2009.  There was much hand-wringing over whether Posey should catch or play first base.  He would become worn out quickly behind the plate, but was completely inexperienced as a first baseman.  Aubrey Huff, a career outfielder, was manning first at the time.  Posey-at-first experiment lasted only a few games.  Management decided to let him catch and traded away Bengie Molina, a veteran popular with the pitching staff, the team's undisputed strength.  This was the tipping point: if the Posey experiment failed, affecting the pitchers the team would have no chance.

No one expected what would follow.  The team caught fire, with Posey hitting over 330 for the first three months, throwing out base runners much more successfully than Molina, and deftly handling the pitchers.  Posey was remarkably poised, carrying the team offensively and defensively some games.  The rest of the lineup caught fire too, as the team embarked on a lengthy winning streak.  Finally, San Diego Padres, the team that owned the Giants all season, began to falter, launching a long losing streak of its own.  The season came down to the final series between these two teams in San Francisco.  The Giants clinched Western Division on the last day.

I followed with interest.  In the first round, the Giants played the Braves, a team decimated by injuries, but nonetheless dangerous, one with its own rookie of the year candidate in Jason Heyward and an excellent pitching staff anchored by playoff tested veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson.  Aided greatly by the Braves' numerous defensive gaffes, the Giants eased their way into the second round in four games.  There, a much more formidable foe awaited in the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phillies, 2008 World Series champions were also a two-time defending National League champions.  Before the start of 2010 they traded for the all-world pitcher Roy Halladay, who had no-hit Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the playoffs.  Yet, with Halladay on the mound for the first game of League Championship Series, the Giants' Cody Ross, an afterthought mid-season acquisition, homered twice.  I began to believe that this team may be something special.  Special they were, overcoming the Phillies in six games, the final game decided by the Giants' third baseman Juan Uribe game-winning home run to the opposite field, more remarkable for a dead-pull hitter.  The Giants' relievers made the finish exciting, as the Phillies had runners at first and second with Ryan Howard, a prodigious hitter at the plate.  We all exhaled in relief, as Howard took a called third strike with full count.  The Giants were in the World Series.

There, Texas Rangers, the best hitting team in the majors awaited.  The Rangers had eliminated two best American League teams in Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees.  The Rangers were consensus favorites.  I was glad the Giants made it and quietly hoping they'd stop San Francisco's stretch of World Series futility, but expected little.

Game 1: Tim Lincecum vs. Cliff Lee.  Lee's postseason record going into the game was 7-0 with an invisible ERA.  After Lincecum two-hit the Braves in his first playoff start, he had two unremarkable starts and I thought the pitching edge would go to the Rangers.  I followed the game on my phone as I rode Cal Train with David Newman from San Francisco to San Jose for the Sharks game.  As expected, the Rangers scored the first two runs and Lincecum was not at his best.  "Oh, well," we said, then the Giants came back and tied the game before we got off the train.  As we ate bad hockey rink food before the game, following the game on TV, the Giants edged ahead and began to pull away gradually.  Lee left, having given up seven earned runs.  During the first intermission, hundreds of baseball/hockey fans remained glued to the televisions as the Rangers batted in the 9th inning.  They hockey game resumed, but we didn't go back to our seats.  The Rangers made it somewhat interesting, scoring three runs to pull within 11-7, but the Giants closed it out to rousing cheers in the Sharks Arena.

Game 2: Pitching matchup favored the Giants with Matt Cain facing C.J. Wilson.  The Giants had a good chance to go up two-zip, but if the Rangers somehow managed to take this game they would have the momentum going home for three games.  Can pitched beautifully, though I saw little of this game.  The Giants crept out to 2-0 lead, when Wilson developed a blister on his pitching hand.  The Rangers relievers gave up seven more runs, all with two outs in the eighth inning, walking four consecutive hitters in the process.

Game 3: The Rangers hit two home runs accounting for all their runs and hung on for a 4-2 win.  The Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, was obviously running out of poop for his second start in a row, as the Rangers jumped out to a 4-0 lead.  I was encouraged by the Giants' bullpen's ability to hold the Rangers scoreless after that and the Giants scoring two runs to make the game closer, but it was clear that game 4 would be pivotal.  A win would give the Giants a commanding 3-1 series lead, a loss would tie the series, shift all the momentum to the Rangers with another game in Texas, giving the Rangers a good chance to go up 3-2 in the series.

Game 4: Halloween.  Madison Bumgarner vs. Tommy Hunter.  The team with the better worst starting pitcher would win.  Bumgarner, the rookie, was nearly unhittable.  I peeked occasionally at my phone -- the game was scoreless through the first few innings.  I was too nervous to turn on the TV.  Then it was time to head out for trick-or-treating with six 9-year old girls.  I tried following the game on my phone.  Very frustrated that VERIZON (yes, Verizon) reception is horrible in our neighborhood.  Meanwhile, Bumgarner was four-hitting the Rangers for eight innings and receiving amazing defensive support.  The Giants hit two home runs on the way to a 4-0 lead.  Fortunately, many other parents were doing the same thing and their NON-VERIZON service was much better, so I knew the score.  Made it home for the mercifully very uneventful bottom of the ninth.  Sophie and I watched it together.  She got into it.  Giants up 3-1.  One more win, baby!

Game 5: I'm watching the whole thing, dammit.  Lincecum v. Lee again.  All the pressure is on Lee to keep his team in the series.  Hopefully, Lincecum got his World Series yips out of the way and would pitch better.  Did he ever!  He looked focused and mean on the mound.  I've watched him pitch quite a bit over the past couple of years and I've never seen such determination on his face.  Lee pitched well too, but he was giving up hits, and though the Giants weren't scoring, he seemed more vulnerable than Lincecum.  In the top of the 7th, Ross and Uribe singled, Huff bunted them over to 3d and 2d.  Burrell struck out.  Up came Edgar Renteria, the Giants' nearly perpetually injured shortstop, who had a couple of big hits in Game 1.  Lee didn't need to give Renteria anything to hit, as lightly hitting Aaron Rowand waited on deck, but it's not Lee-like to shy away from challenges.  And even though Lee wasn't trying to throw a hittable pitch on 2-0 count (who ever does?), he got too much of the plate, Renteria swung, and out went the ball for a three-run homer!  Giants' dugout exulted.  The Rangers got one run back in the bottom of the 7th, as Nelson Cruz jerked one out for a solo homer, but Lincecum settled down, striking out four of his last five batters.  I didn't see some of this, as Sophie asked for homework help and I wasn't going to choose TV over my kid, but we made it back to the living room for the bottom of the ninth.  The awfully bearded Brian Wilson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Cruz to end the game.  Bedlam ensued.  Big sigh of relief and joy.

The next morning all the newsstands were sold out of the Chronicle.  But the Chron posted newsboys and girls throughout downtown, however, and I picked up a couple of issues.  I've been in the Bay Area since 1980. I've been here for all the 49ers Super Bowl wins, but I've never seen the area this jacked up about a team.  Pundits said this rivalled the Niners' first Super Bowl win in 1981 and it may have, but I was a Rams' fan at the time and tried very hard to ignore the Niner inanity around me.  This time, notwithstanding promises to myself, I allowed myself to become emotionally involved and was riding the crest of excitement.  It was fun.  Still is.  Going to the parade tomorrow.  It's two blocks from my office, how can I miss it?