You're going to read a lot of 1997 references from me over the next couple days. If the Giants are good, that is. That was the last series like this, the last September Giants/Dodgers series in San Francisco that felt like the playoffs. It also happened to be a series where the Giants were something of a surprise, the Dodgers were something of a favorite, and any loss would have felt like the steel-toed boot of preseason expectations kicking you in the shins.
In the first game in the September series at Candlestick, Darryl Hamilton worked out a walk against Chan Ho Park in the first inning, which brought up Barry Bonds.
It was cathartic. Our hearts and minds all did a little twirlie-poo along with Bonds. Maybe, just maybe. Exhale a little bit.
In the first inning of this series, the Giants strung together a bunch of hits. They doubled and doubled again and singled and singled and doubled. The crowd went bananas. Maybe, just maybe. Exhale a little bit.
In that first game in '97, Kirk Rueter got in some trouble in the sixth inning, up 2-1. There were two on, and after getting Mike Piazza to fly out, Rueter struck Eric Karros out. It was the first and last strikeout of Rueter's career, and when he went to the dugout, he let out a war whoop that would have turned the AT&T Park seagulls into a storm of molten feathers. It was as demonstrative as I've ever seen him.
In the game on Friday night, Madison Bumgarner got in some trouble in the fifth inning, up 4-0. The stakes weren't exactly the same, but a bases loaded situation with Adrian Gonzalez as the tying run counts as a tense, terrifying moment, especially coming after a 12-minute, 10-pitch walk to Justin Turner. When Gonzalez harmlessly flew out to center, Bumgarner convulsed with a fist pump that was more like performance art. It was as demonstrative as I've ever seen him.
I'm not saying you should keep an eye on Guillermo Quiroz in extra innings tomorrow. I'm just drawing parallels to the only thing I possibly can. Even though the Giants won -- lemme check -- 9-0 on Friday night and the parallels are imperfect, this game had a raucous, maybe-just-maybe feeling that seemed familiar. Hopefully the rest of the season agrees.
Maybe, just maybe. Exhale a little bit.
Also, the Giants are a game out of first place.
About the fifth or sixth inning, I started thinking that Madison Bumgarner was succeeding without his best stuff. The command wasn't as fine as it has been. Jotted a note, I did. "Bumgarner. Best stuff?" He finished the game with seven innings pitched, three hits and two walks allowed, and nine strikeouts.
See, I was worried because I'm a whiny baby. A spoiled, whiny baby who needs someone to slap with a wet mackerel when he starts questioning Madison Bumgarner. He had some lengthy battles with Turner and Yasiel Puig, but he was mostly the same slutter-winging pitcher we were used to, death on the thumbs of right-handers and brutal against all left-handers. That was his eighth consecutive quality start, and a nice rebound from his weird zero-strikeout game in Detroit.
Bumgarner's ERA since the start of August: 1.68. That comes with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 65 to five in 52 innings. He turned 25 last month. I have a good feeling about him.
They didn't show it on the broadcast, but when Yasiel Puig threw through the cutoff man on Hunter Pence's single in the first, both Justin Turner and A.J. Ellis had their hands up. "NO! DON'T THROW." Their hands were still up as Puig was horizontal, two feet off the ground, chucking the ball home so Pence could advance.
My birthday is in a month. If someone could commission an oil painting of that scene -- Puig has to be horizontal in mid-throw -- I'd appreciate the heck out of it.
I'm a patient man. Sure, it's masked by layers and layers of impatience, but that's a façade. There's nothing I love to do more than preach patience.
Gregor Blanco is the worst baseball player ever.
Hey, baby. Careful with those words. Blanco will be just fine. Just be patient.
Then Blanco was just fine.
Brandon Crawford needs to sit down. He's killing the team.
Hey, come on now. Careful what you wish for. He'll be just fine, man. Just be patient.
Then Crawford was just fine.
Hey ... yeah, he really was. But it was totally out of character, at least compared to the last two seasons. I'm not sure why I didn't apply the same patience to him. Probably his lackluster minor league career, but still. He probably wasn't the worst player in baseball, and he was due for a little bit of a hot stretch, if only because regression works both ways.
Sorry, Joaquin. You deserved a little better, at least.
It took Travis Ishikawa 159 games at AT&T Park to hit one in the water. Do you know how long I've been waiting to yell ISHIKAWATER? That long.
The National League is hitting a collective .249 this year. Here are the averages of the top five guys in the Giants batting order:
Angel Pagan, .304
Joe Panik, .313
Buster Posey, .310
Hunter Pence, .295
Pablo Sandoval, .285
Batting average as a standalone stat is pooh-poohed by the vast Internet hive mind, as it probably should be. Batting average is like a fragment of sentence. "My boss is one of the best at" and nothing else. You think that's going to end up being a positive description. Everything hints at that being a positive description. But every so often, the sentence ends with "My boss is one of the best at licking my sandwich and putting it back in the break-room fridge when he thinks no one is looking." (That would be a .280/.304/.300 hitter with bad defense, in case you were wondering.)
Still, I can't shake the idea that cramming all those guys at the top of the order is making the baseball more fun to watch. There are more hits getting strung together, more rallies that bring up another hot high-average hitter. If you're wondering how I can get excited about a .280ish hitter like Sandoval, note that he's 22nd in the league, even though he plays in an offensive hellscape.
It also doesn't hurt that Panik, Posey, and Pence have all raised their averages by about 74 points in the last month. That makes the baseball fun, too.
The Giants have three of the top 25 qualified hitters in baseball, and the other two at the top of their order would be there if they qualified. Call me old-fashioned, call me a guy who looked at the backs of too many baseball cards growing up. Call me someone who is easily impressed. But i like these folks with the fancy batting averages
And then, in the year 2014, Travis Ishikawa, on the Giants, hit a home run against Kevin Correia, on the Dodgers, in the middle of a 9-0 Giants win.
I love baseball.