There was a lot of "That's Baseball!" out there on the field tonight. Sadly, the Giants were on the business end of that saying for the most part and they, as usual, lost in Atlanta.
If you thought the series was going to turn out differently, then perhaps you have chosen to ignore history on account of "That's Baseball!" -- anything can happen. Well, my friend, it's not that simple. Not in this case. "That's Baseball!" simply doesn't apply to the Giants when they're in Atlanta.
Since 2000, the Giants are 17-32 in Atlanta. They typically win one game and lose the rest. There have been some exceptions to this "rule", of course: the 2002 NLDS; 2007, when Giants games were as entertaining as six consecutive episodes of "The Gastineau Girls"; 2010; and, July 2011, when the Giants were Hansel-hot before turning Derelicte. So, really, it's not the Giants fault you're feeling miserable after a possible series win turned into yet another series defeat. You're the one who got your hopes up!
Now that the Giants have lost because of a caught stealing and a Conrad-esque fielding performance the Braves and Giants are now all squared up in terms of baseball karma. Yup. Totally square. So it's okay to review most of this game dispassionately, because there's not a lot to be mad about. The Giants went to Atlanta, where they never win during the regular season, and lost. Tim Lincecum actually pitched a far better game than probably I or the Giants expected. I mean, he looked like he had walked through a car wash by the time he threw his first pitch of the night. The southern humidity was supposed to get to him and get him out of the game early.
That almost happened! Still, I think it's to Tim's credit that the humidity did not get to him tonight. At least, I don't think any of us could counter that with any definitive proof, because Lincecum didn't look any less Lincecumy than he has for most of the season. That looked like practically every other start he's had this season, which is to say that he has looked like a Barry Zito cover band. In the first three innings he walked the leadoff guy. In addition, he gave up a lot of hard hit balls, some of which even found the gloves of his defenders. He also missed the strike zone entirely maybe seven or eight times. Buster Posey jumped out of his crouch to catch a Lincecum fastball so often tonight that Bruce Bochy might consider this the equivalent of a "night off" at first base for ol' Buster.
You know Tim's only doing a cover of Barry Zito's career, though, because it's not a matter of him nibbling. He just has no clue where the ball is going. And yet!
Tim Lincecum had a good start tonight. He pitched okay. He kept the Giants in the game. He pitched good enough for his team to win, but the Giants, hobbled by injury, drastic changes in approach with runners in scoring position, and Andres Torres did what they always do when they travel to Atlanta during the regular season: lose two games for every one that they win.
So, thank goodness I don't have to sit here and break down Tim Lincecum's start pitch-by-pitch. For those of you wise enough to avoid the national telecast, you missed out on yet another exploration of Tim Lincecum's "declining" velocity. That was the story of the night for the people who get paid great sums of money to cover the sport and broadcast it to a worldwide audience, and they completely missed the truth of it all: Tim Lincecum has zero command of his pitches. It's really that simple.
For a time, that looked like that was going to be what decided the game. But again, the Giants actually got a great start out of him. They got more than they could've hoped for out of Gaudin yesterday, and Bumgarner was magnificent on Friday. Following Cain's start in the final game at Pittsburgh and... gasp... this turn through the rotation might not be a complete disaster, especially if you buy into (read: cling to because it's the better option) the notion that Barry Zito pitches better at AT&T than on the road. Is tonight reason enough to be optimistic about the rotation in the days ahead? Maybe! Who knows? I certainly don't. There's a whole lot more "That's Baseball!" ahead, after all.
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As you know, Grant has curated a section of this site called "Andres Torres is the best human being in the history of the world". Lately, we're seeing ample evidence that he is a human being, capable of mistakes... imperfect. So, I'll go easy on the guy, especially since he could hurl cinderblocks at me without hesitation. What I really want to know is what's going on with him? Does he have the fielding yips? Lapses in concentration, perhaps?
And I don't mean to dig at his medical situation. I can't imagine that playing defense behind Tim Lincecum is much better than playing defense behind a little league pitcher. Lots of balls going flying all over the place. Lots of standing around and waiting for something to happen. And maybe the stadium lights *are* bothering him. Maybe his glove sucks. Maybe his cleats need some TLC from Murph. Maybe he's just an old baseball player with too many moving parts where anything can go wrong. Is it a parallax issue? I'm going to go with that because it sounds more dramatic and interesting. If Andres Torres is merely just a bad baseball player now, then I'll be extremely disappointed and pretty danged sad. Love that guy, but I'm pretty confident that he cost the Giants two runs because of his glove tonight. He also looked weird at the plate...
Torres, Belt, and Arias all changed their approaches with runners on base.
In his second plate appearance versus the Braves' Julio Teheran (who looked fantastic tonight), Torres watched a curveball for a first pitch strike, then proceeded to swing at and foul off only strikes until he walked. In his next plate appearance with runners at first and second and one out, Teheran went mostly offspeed -- specifically, the slider -- and Torres was chasing and lunging. He struck out.
This followed Brandon Belt's strikeout on a borderline called third strike. Belt went 2-for-4 with two singles and two Ks. Belt wasn't the only one who changed his approach in a big spot, but he's the one who gets a lot of criticism. I love Belt, but sometimes I wonder why a guy who has let the Giants completely change his approach so that he attacks virtually every first pitch suddenly becomes a looky-loo with two strikes. Of course, he does swing and miss a lot for third strikes, too, but it's a lot more surprising when it's a fastball. And a fastball *away*. You and I might be reasonable people, but we know that Belt only hurts himself when he does the one thing the Giants organization hates the most (even more than the Dodgers): strikes out.
Arias, too, changed his approach. The Giants always attack first pitch fastballs. And after Teheran loaded the bases he let a fastball a bit inside (called a ball here in the 4th, but a strike in the 6th vs. Belt) go by and then swung at the next pitch, a slider away, which he hit off the end of his bat and led to Upton's fantastic rolling catch in left field to end the threat. And, really, that catch certainly felt like it sealed the Giants' fate tonight. Jordan Schaefer's niffy-spiffy bunt on an impossible-to-bunt-on pitch that got the runner in from third was definitely a strong supporting piece of evidence, too.
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Even though he didn't have a great night at the plate, I can't end this without mentioning Gregor Blanco. The mountain who plays his former team fired up. Love watching him get excited for every play. That great catch he made in the first was fantastic. I think Blanco's baseball brain doesn't get enough credit. I foresee him being a coach down the line. I think he's got the smarts and the energy for it. So, yeah, Gregor Blanco. I think I'll imagine him filling out a lineup card in 15 years as the manager of the Honolulu Athletics (still in the American League and the designated hitter has been eliminated from history) than think about this one again.
Forget it, Giants fans. It's Atlantatown.