Friday, February 18, 2005


Giants Pitching Preview 2005: Ace in the Hole

Let’s do a little game of film reliving here. Maybe you’ve seen the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or maybe you haven’t, but it’s a classic, an endlessly quotable movie. It centers around three guys, one good, one bad, one ugly, as you might have guessed. These guys are looking for hidden treasure that has been buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Confederate territory. There’s a scene when scoundrel, back-stabber, and all-around bozo Tuco, after a long and perilous journey in which he has been nearly hung three times, been beaten to a pulp, nearly been run over by a train, has socked his priest brother for telling him what a no good bastard he’s become, and has been thoroughly demeaned in every way imaginable by Clint Eastwood, realizes that he has stumbled upon the aforementioned gravesite holding the loot. As anyone would do after realizing they’ve struck it rich, Tuco goes wild with glee and goes dashing through the cemetery like a cheetah with its ass on fire. After a long and horrible ordeal, he’s finally made it.

That’s exactly how I feel as pitchers and catchers report this week as spring training officially begins. The real fun doesn’t really start until exhibition games begin in a couple weeks (though finding out which malcontents are refusing to report to camp has its perks), it's refreshing to know that baseball is just over the horizon. After a long winter of Red Sox love-ins, repetitive articles featuring nonsensical steroid speculation, and wallowing in Denny Neagle’s sleazy personal life, the baseball season is now back on the radar. So pardon me if I dance around wildly like Tuco. Of course, if you’re a Tiger or a Pirate fan, the Good, Bad, and Ugly analogy is more like Saving Private Ryan, where you go through this horrific trek across France to find some guy, only when you do hunt him down, the ungrateful S.O.B. refuses to leave his platoon, rendering the whole journey pointless. So Giants fans next time you whine about the team and Sabean’s strange love affair with Mike Matheny (a good pointer for myself, no less), at least remember that you have something to look forward to every year, like Tuco and his gold. For a lot of other teams they simply get screwed and are stuck turning their socks into bombs while trying to defend a bridge from Nazis.

So in celebration of this annual event, I’m going to go ahead and begin a fun little preview of the Giants’ starting pitching. You’re going to see a lot of these kinds of previews in the coming weeks, from a lot of sources, most of them more reputable than me. What separates my pitching forecast from the rest? Well, nothing really, other than a few random references to Weird Science and quotes from old spaghetti westerns, as seen above. But this is a Giants blog, and its not like I can fill up this column by pondering whatever happened to Ilan-Mitchell Smith or Anthony Michael Hall, or Kelly LeBrock, for that matter. But I can sure call Dodger fans “sons of a thousand fathers” can’t I?

We’ll go ahead and start with the Giants’ unquestioned ace, and go from there on a day-to-day basis, simply because it’ll give me stuff to talk about each day so I’m not stretching for stupid news to discuss, like the latest Red Sox player to dis on Alex Rodriguez or the countless number of games Doug Mientkiewicz saves with his magic glove (I can't believe they allow stuff like this to get printed).

Jason Schmidt 18-7 3.20 251 K’s 1.08 WHIP
We throw the word love around these days like it’s nothing. We say “I love Cheerios” or “I love Kevin Sorbo’s sterling performance as captain of Andromeda. Nobody has acted this well since Fred Dreyer in Hunter.” But, of course, we don’t really mean it in the way we love our parents or our wives or our children. Well, I love Jason Schmidt, just love this guy. Maybe not in the bizarre heterosexual man-crush way, but if I’m ever going to be in love with a man, this is it. Hmm, am I creeping you out yet? Good. Look, if you’re expecting biting baseball analysis and not strange psychosexual rantings, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Go to ESPN, they’ve got a bunch of eunuchs over there. Peter Gammons, are you kidding me? If there’s anyone who screams “got nothing down there,” it’s that guy.

Ugh, enough of that. Don’t go away, I was only kidding about the whole lack of analysis thing. Honest.

Anyway, I beg the question, is Schmidt the best Giants starting pitcher since Juan Marichal? You’d have a hard time finding anybody to make a better case. Ron Bryant? Montesfusco? Reuschel? VanLandingham??? Schmidt has had two consecutive brilliant seasons, and no Giants starter that I can find ever strung together this type of dominance since The Dominican Dandy put together a decade of excellence and Roseboro noggin-bashing. Schmidt last season probably would have won the Cy Young had it not been for a groin injury that hampered his mechanics for the last month and a half. Before that, he was the same old Schmidt, blowing away hitters and holding opponents to a piddling .202 batting average. He’s a testament to how something as simple as adding one pitch can change your career. With the Pirates, Schmidt was a bad pitcher with good stuff, but when he came to San Fran, Dave Righetti taught him a changeup and now he’s like the second coming of Curt Schilling. The beauty of the changeup is that he throws it around 87 mph (yes, it can lap Kirk Rueter’s fastball), so even if hitters expect it, they still have trouble hitting it. By all accounts, Schmidt is healthy and raring to go for this season, though it’d be nice if Felipe would lay off the whip early on in the year and give his arm a rest. If something happens to Schmidt, it’s probably best to describe the Giants’ 2005 season as, to quote Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs, “dead as Dillinger.”

One thing I love about Schmidt is his total change in demeanor from when he’s off the field to when he’s on the mound. When he’s being interviewed on television or on the radio, he seems like such an innocent, modest fellow, batting away praise with a simple “aw shucks” mentality. When the cameras catch him in the dugout he seems to be a lovable prankster, dishing out elephant ears to unsuspecting teammates and creating all sorts of unsightly bubble gum contraptions to place on the helmets of poor batboys. But when he gets on the mound, he’s all badass. I’m talking Tom Cruise in Collateral badass. Lee Van Cleef in every western known to man badass. A typical Tarantino character badass (er, excepting possibly Jimmy of Toluca Lake). He’ll be pitching his game, striking batters out, then suddenly WHOOSH, here comes a bullet up and in, within inches of the batter’s beard stubble. Then Schmidt turns around and looks off into center field with this little smirk on his face. One time last year he sent Ryan Klesko sprawling on his butt in this fashion, and a stunned Klesko got up, dusted himself off, gave Schmidt a little, ahem, stankeye, and whiffed unceremoniously before proceeding to glare at Schmidt as he lumbered Klesko-style back to the dugout. Schmidt just smirked. It was classic. He was in Klesko’s dome the rest of the game. He actually does this kind of thing quite a bit, at least once or twice a game, but he doesn’t have the rep of Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez in this regard because he has a boyish face instead of a menacing scowl. Maybe if he grows a Fu Manchu or something, or starts weaving intricate patterns into his facial hair a la Dustin Hermansen.

On second thought, he’s probably fine as is.

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