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Giants' comeback falls short, Mike Leake's debut spoiled

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The Giants were feckless for most of the afternoon, and a controversial decision might have cost them the game in the ninth.

The Giants missed tying the game by that much.
The Giants missed tying the game by that much.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It's so easy to pick on third-base coaches. You have the benefit of hindsight. You have the benefit of replay. You have the benefit of different angles. Third-base coaches are like umpires: You notice them only when they screw up.

Roberto Kelly has had a rough season. It's been years since we watched a first-time third-base coach out there, but I'd imagine it's usually like this. My first day as a dishwasher, I went to put a chef's knife back. When I opened the drawer, I didn't know the drawer was less than a foot deep. I pulled the whole damned drawer out, and knives went everywhere. I still have a scar on my hand. That's what Kelly's season has been like so far. But I never yanked the knife drawer out again. There's hope. People can learn.

Also, I was the world's worst dishwasher, just the worst. If I improved, it wasn't enough to make me anything more than the world's worst dishwasher*. So maybe we're stuck with Kelly doing bad things.

However, I come here today to defend a third-base coach. Kelly is going to get roasted for holding Norichika Aoki in the ninth inning. Buster Posey singled, and Kelly held Aoki up. The throw sailed over the catcher, so you know he would have been safe. About 48 seconds later, the game ended on a double play.

It's so easy to pick on third-base coaches.

We need to look at the risk vs. the reward, then. What was Kelly thinking? Here's where Josh Hamilton was when he picked up the ball:

aoki

And a GIF of the play in real time.

aoki

If Aoki goes, he scores. That's the killer. We know that it was a lousy throw, and we know that Aoki would have scored standing up.

But Kelly doesn't know that Hamilton's throw is going to be that awful. He has to assume the throw will be around the plate. Here's what he knows:

  • Holding Aoki still means the tying run is on third with one out

  • By the time he got to the ball, Hamilton was about as close to the infield as he was to the LF fence ... and the LF fence in Texas isn't that deep

  • Hamilton has a good arm

  • Aoki is recovering from a leg injury

  • The next batter up is extremely hard to double up

I don't know if Kelly was thinking about each and every one of those bullet points, but I know he was thinking about the part where the Giants would still have a runner on third, fewer than two outs situation.

The pitcher wasn't coming up. There weren't two outs. Hamilton wasn't fielding the ball at an angle, and he wasn't especially deep. All of it makes me think that Kelly was making sense when he held Aoki. It stinks because Hamilton derped a throw over the catcher, but the decision is sound. If Aoki were gunned down, oh, the howls would have been much fiercer. How can you send the tying run in that situation with fewer than two outs?

The results stunk, but the process made sense. Now you be nice to Roberto Kelly. Until he screws up again. Which ... yeah. It's probably going to be soon.

*Also, also, I was fired because they wouldn't give me the weekend off to ride a bus for 13 hours so I could listen to Kirt Manwaring and Dusty Baker talk before a Giants game. I regret nothing. Except the bus ride.

★★★

Hey, Mike Leake! Pretty okay, pal. Pretty okay. Just like we were promised.

It's probably not entirely accurate to say Leake is a Peavy clone -- when Peavy was Leake's age, he was throwing much harder -- but his current template for success is pretty similar. Big movement. Trying to freeze hitters with front- and back-door shenanigans. A decent breaking ball. It can work. Maybe it'll work much better when they aren't playing on the surface of the sun.

One thing I noticed, though, was that Buster Posey was having a nice framing day. He was quietly bringing the pitches with movement back in the strike zone, and the umpire (who had about the 48th consecutive weirdo strike zone in a row) wasn't catching it.

Which means this is a good place to drop some facts:

Average strikes stolen per game
Buster Posey: 1.81 (T-2nd in MLB)
Devin Mesoraco: -0.36 (49th in MLB)

Buster Posey is better at baseball than most people, and he's better at framing strikes than Leake's old battery mate. How much will that help him? Couple runs here, couple runs there. Not a huge deal. But it does make a difference.

I'm starting to get excited about this combination of Leake, Posey, the Giants' infield defense, and AT&T Park, to be honest.

★★★

I'm tired of beating an injured Crazy Horse, but it's sure staaaaaarting to look like Angel Pagan might be the worst defensive centerfielder in baseball. It's not his fault. It's his stupid, uncooperative body. But it's getting progressively more absurd with each game.

In the first inning, Prince Fielder popped a ball into center field. Pagan came in, not at full-speed because I don't think he has a full-speed these days, and Brandon Crawford went out. Crawford went out because he knows that Pagan doesn't have the range to catch it, but he missed it. The play ended up costing Leake 13 pitches on a 100-degree day.

To be fair, we don't know what Pagan does if Crawford isn't there. Maybe he makes a sliding catch.

But that's a play that Gregor Blanco makes, calling off his shortstop the entire time. It's a play that Justin Maxwell makes if he's playing center, with Hunter Pence in the field instead of DH'ing.

It's a play that just about every centerfielder makes. It's not just our eyeballs telling us this, either. Statistically, Pagan is the worst defensive centerfielder in baseball by a very healthy margin, regardless of which stat you use.

I guess I don't see the best-case scenario of him starting in center every day. He's not going to get healthier by playing 10 out of every 11 games. It's not like his bat is so valuable, it has to be in the lineup. I don't get it. This is just the downside of Bruce Bochy's loyalty to his veterans. We get the upside without even realizing it -- comfortable players, a calm clubhouse -- so we should just probably shut up and take the downside, even if it's almost impossible to watch.

It's almost impossible to watch. It almost makes me wish that Adam Dunn was the fourth outfielder, so at least we could blame it all on an impractical roster.