We're getting deeper into the reason-to-watch stage of the season by now. The Dodgers can't stop winning. The Cubs can't stop winning. The Giants were always going to need a two-part miracle, with one of the other teams failing spectacularly, and the jerks aren't cooperating. Which means that if you're still watching this stuff, the last three weeks of the season are going to be about you justifying your baseball addiction.
This game had things for you.
It makes it easy to separate the game into three different sections: hope, appreciation, and nonsense.
And in the face of tremendous Panik, lo, there was hope. Joe Panik started his first game since August 1, and there were moments of trepidation mixed in with the relief. He sort of grimaced a lot. Swinging a bat, tying his shoe, sneezing, blinking ... none of it came comfortably to Panik. He's not 100 percent, and he admitted as much. Which makes it more than a little strange that he's playing at all. Where's the reward, and is it worth the risk?
I'll trust the Giants to manage the risk properly, and thoroughly enjoy the reward in the meantime. The reward is this: watching Panik play. When he roped his RBI double in the third inning, my heart leapt out of my chest and started singing a Luther Vandross song. The romance was back, the love of my eyes, the apple of my life, Joe Panik was hitting doubles again with his smooth, neo-Boggs swing, and baseball wasn't so binary anymore. There was a way to watch the game without mumbling 8½ games back 8½ games back under your breath.
Then Panik hit a dinger, and I finally mailed him that letter. They told me not to do it. But I put that sucker in the mail, and there isn't a judge who would fault me for that, other than the stupid activist judges that I always seem to get matched up with.
We spend a huge chunk of free team thinking we have baseball figured out, even as we're constantly failing the midterms and final exams. About 15 months ago, Panik was a whatever-fine emergency player, a Triple-A option who was preferable to Dan Uggla, but not a real option to start for a contending team. I wrote about different second basemen available at the deadline last season. I settled on Nick Franklin for some reason, but acknowledged that Emilio Bonifacio was more realistic. Panik's name was mentioned once in the 549 comments.
(Bonifacio)'s barely an upgrade over Panik.
No one expected this, and yet when it was ripped away from us last month, it was so easy to miss. Even with Kelby Tomlinson filling in capably, Panik was everything that made you think the Giants were going to contend -- an unlikely player having an unlikely season and looking like he should have been a top-10 prospect the entire time -- and when he was gone, the season kind of went with him, not coincidentally.
A game like this reminds you that he exists, and he's forever trying to kill the invisible demons that live in outfield gaps around the country. Even as the season is slipping away, I'm not pessimistic about the Giants next year. Why? Because of Joe Panik, dammit. Look at that guy.
Let's not pretend that Tim Hudson is at the very top of the master Good Giant list that the baseball gods keep. He's on the list, and his Giants career has been pleasant enough, but he never had that moment, that no-hitter, that Game 5 start to keep the team alive. He's been a Good Giant, sure, but about 20 or 25 names will pop into your head first when you start making the list, including the guy he just bumped from the rotation.
That written, it sure is fun to watch the good Hudson starts. When the ball is down, and when he's working quickly, baseball is so very pleasant. Quick, quiet innings aren't the only way to enjoy baseball, but they're one of the most obvious. And the particular brand thrown by Hudson are going away forever after next month. Again, that's not exactly the same as Will Clark going to the Rangers. But in a meaningless game in a season that suddenly became a lot duller than we were hoping, Hudson showed off why he would be missed. Hey, that's the stuff that made him a Giants All-Star. I remember that guy.
Also, he HIT A LONG, LONG DINGER.
Which gave us the gift of an amusing Bochy face.
It's the flash of comprehension and general bemusement. That's what I like about it.
You won't come to the ballpark in 40 years and get a Tim Hudson bobblehead. In about five months, every last trace of him will be gone from the Dugout Store. But isn't it kind of neat that in his magnificent, storied career, he stopped by to chat for a couple seasons?
And he had his moments. That game was one of them. You don't feel so silly for watching that game, now do you?
Two batters into the game, Angel Hernandez screwed up. That's not the earliest he's ever screwed up in a game -- there was that one time he took off his shoes instead of his hat during the National Anthem -- but it's still mighty impressive. He forgot what the count was and almost jobbed Panik out of walk.
That's the stuff that makes you tune in after the season is mostly decided. The stupid stuff.
People call these things imperfections, but they're not, oh, that's the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds. You're not perfect, sport.
Yeah, you're not perfect, sport. Sometimes you're kind of dumb. But that's the point. Then Hudson hit his home run, and there was a weird near-collision between Panik and Paul Goldschmidt, and then there was a weird play that involved an over-the-shoulder catch, a wild throw, a missed assignment somewhere, a fortuitous bounce, Buster Posey not having it ... really, it was nonsense.
And it made me realize that I'm watching these games because in three weeks, there aren't going to be anymore of them. The hope, the appreciation, and the nonsense -- they'll all be gone. After all the nasty things I've said about 2015, I think I'm going to miss it.
Crawford left tonight's game in the 4th inning with a tight calf and tightness on his left side. #SFGiants— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) September 9, 2015
Wait, no, go screw yourself, 2015. You're horrible. And stop making Panik grimace during the good things.