So it begins. Twenty-four straight games against postseason contenders. Two off days. Traveling after night games. Two different road trips that are each split across two time zones. A dreaded ESPN Sunday game. The Giants had cobbled together a winning start to August, but this is where the true test starts.
That test opened with a starter who had absolutely no idea where the ball was going. Cut. Let's try it again from the start. Places everyone. Let's redo this.
We've seen Chris Heston, sinkerballer who gets grounders that find holes. We've seen the sinkerballer who leaves sinkers that are up in the zone, on a tee. We hadn't seen, however, the sinkerballer who throws a sinker like his hand, the ball, the rosin bag, and the catcher's mitt are all covered in petroleum jelly. In one of the most torturous first innings of the year, if not the last few years, Heston was incapable of throwing the baseball where he wanted it to go.
One of the big misconceptions I had about Heston when he was in the minors was that he was a nibbler with perfect command. His command can be excellent, sure, but he also has more than a few moments where his sinker acts like a knuckleball -- not literally, but in the sense that once it leaves his hand, what happens next is sort of up to the lord of physics. On this night, when the Giants needed someone to absorb bullpen innings the night before an emergency spot starter is scheduled to pitch, the lord of physics was kind of a butt.
The biggest hit of the night for the Cubs came off the bat of Kyle Schwarber, who looks like a Joe Blanton made out of Play-Doh that someone kept adding to and meticulously sculpting, and it wasn't on one of the 25 worst pitches of Heston's night. It was a sinker on the low, outer edge, and it might have deserved to be slapped the opposite field, maybe even for a double. But Schwarber is apparently a freak, and I want a very close friend of his to get married this weekend, so he can take a couple days off.
Two bad innings were enough to beat the Giants. They were frightful, nasty innings that could have been worse, but they were enough.
So it begins. Twenty-four straight games against postseason contenders. Two off days. Traveling after night games. Repetitive recaps in which the author feels helpless and alone. And it all started with one of the freakiest outings of Chris Heston's young career. No more of those, please.
The game started with a fly out to center. It felt like a metaphor, though. Pagan a) swung at ball four, b) hit the ball as far as he has all season, and c) went back to the bench after the opposing centerfielder made a twisting, leaping catch that Pagan wouldn't have made if he fell through a wormhole and popped out where the ball was heading.
I know it's become pick-on-Pagan season, and that's not entirely fair to someone who was a big part of the 2012 championship and has been a fun player to watch over the years, but it's so very hard to watch right now. He's statistically the worst starter in baseball, and it's not particularly close.
At least Gregor Blanco came in on a double-switch. For Norichika Aoki. Which left Pagan in center.
If you told me before the season that Pagan was going to lead the Giants in at-bats, I would have been elated. If you told me that Brandon Crawford was going to lead the team in home runs, I would have been terrified. If you told me that Chris Heston was going to make 22 starts, I would have lit a votive candle for Matt Cain. If you would have told me that Justin Maxwell was going to have more at-bats then Hunter Pence through July, I would have ...
I guess we have no idea what's going to happen in this wacky sport, is my point. I'll bookmark this one for when Pagan gets the walk-off homer in Game 3 of the NLCS.
All this negativity! Seems unhealthy. Quick bullet points on the good things that happened in the game:
- Bruce Bochy didn't hesitate to pull Chris Heston for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. You snicker, but a lot of managers would have kept Heston in to bunt and tried to squeeze another inning out of him. Instead, Bochy took a two-on/no-out shot that he absolutely had to take. Somewhere in the bullpen, Mark Gardner was yelling, "Wait, you can do that?"
- Sergio Romo struck out the side, and he looked dominant doing it. Of particular nastiness was a hard slider to Dexter Fowler, who almost schierholtzed a swing as the ball went into his midsection. There was a time when we didn't have to worry about Romo against lefties. Maybe that time will come again.
- Brandon Crawford opposite-field homers in the last three days: three
- Brandon Crawford opposite-field homers from 2012 through 2014: one
- Brandon Belt opposite-field homers in August: three
- Brandon Belt opposite-field homers from 2012 through 2014: two
- My first draft of this recap was a passionate 1,500-world editorial about why games like this should be called a "two-Brandong night." I decided to go in a different direction. How about those Brandongs, though?
See? Fun facts after a lousy loss. Those'll warm some cockles, alright.