Tuesday, September 27, 2005


One Down, Three to Go

A season full of pain, misery, and Felipe Alou’s baffling team mismanagement seemed primed to come to a close in the ninth inning of last night’s game, as the Padres, leading 2-1, sent their potential Hall of Fame closer to the mound to essentially give the Pads the NL West. Things couldn’t have looked any more grim, but lo, the Fates did conspire to lend their mercy for a shade longer to our beleaguered Boys in Black.

First up: Pedro Feliz. Now, the book on Hoffman has always been to hack away at the first fastball around the plate you can get your bat on, because everything else over the course of the at-bat is likely to be either an unhittable changeup below the zone or an 88 mph fastball that looks like 98 after you’ve seen some of those offspeed pitches. “First pitch fastball?” says Feliz. “Hack away at it? Can do!” To the surprise of nobody except maybe three people who have been living in a Plato-esque cave over the entirety of Feliz’s career, Pedro swings at a bad first pitch and hits a weak pop-up. Thanks for showing up, Pedro.

Second: Mike Matheny, the Giants’ catcher who has ridden a surprisingly solid first-half at the plate head-on into a more typically miserable second half. He’s 0 for 3 in the game and has looked totally helpless at the plate all week. So he lines the first pitch into center field for a base hit. Go figure. Same kind of bad hitter as Feliz, same kind of flawed approach at the plate, but instead in this instance Matheny gets a good pitch and rifles it for a single. With the top of the order approaching and Mr. Winn-Tastic lurking, there’s still hope.

Third: Edgardo Alfonso. It’s hard to imagine the Giants still having a chance for a division title with one unproductive 3B in their lineup, much less two, but that’s the reality for the Giants this year with Edgie and Feliz. Jason Ellison has come in to run for Mike Matheny, signaling the giddy promise of a token Yamid Haad appearance if the Giants tie it. Alfonso, pinch-hitting for Taschner, flies out to left. Haad hangs his head.

Fourth: Randy Winn, perhaps the absolute perfect man to be stepping up to the plate representing the Giants’ last hope. Since his controversial acquisition from Seattle in July, Winn has been hitting like Joe Dimaggio. Several Giants scribes dubbed Sabean the second coming of Chuck LaMar when he traded a solid backup catcher and a former pitching phenom to get Winn, a seemingly ordinary outfielder with little game-changing capability. Well, Sabean right now is leaning back, sipping a big, juicy glass of told-you-so, holding his ample gut and enjoying the last laugh, as Winn has destroyed NL pitching and has been far and away the Giants’ best hitter. So sure enough, in the most important at-bat of the season, he takes an 0-1 changeup (a rare hanger from Hoffman) and belts it off of Brian Giles’ glove in deep center for a game-tying triple. In any other park in the majors it’s a home run, and it looked like it was even over the wall here when Giles brought it back in. It’s his fourth hit of the game to go along with a walk. Um, yeah, pretty good pickup. He may not hit .350 next season, but I think it’s safe to say that Winn’s going to be $5 million richer next season when the team exercises his option.

Fifth: Hoffman looks visibly rattled, as he walks Omar Vizquel on five pitches. With Vizquel at first, Dave Fleming starts pondering a possible double-steal with Winn taking off from third in the event that the Padres throw through to second. Thankfully, the whole idea is rendered moot…

Sixth: J.T. Snow, who had knocked in the only run of the game against Peavy, grounds a single through the hole between first and second and the Giants are up for good. There have seriously only been a handful of games as exciting as this one this year, and I can’t remember a feeling of such utter jubilation over the Giants since Pedro Feliz bashed that grand slam against the Dodgers a year ago. Maybe its just a mirage, and the Pads will win the next three, but hell, the hope is alive if this game is any indication, then perhaps the pendulum of destiny has swung the Giants’ way. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact a win like this can have on a team, and, conversely, the impact a crushing defeat like this can have for the Padres.

With all kinds of momentum, the Giants throw Brett Tomko out against Adam Eaton tonight. Tomko has been nails this month while Eaton has been shaky. Maybe Tomko can channel his performance from a year ago in that Steve Finley game, when he dealt for eight innings under excruciating pressure before…well, you know.

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