Hum Clang Clang

You will find me in the same barbershop chair every four weeks, a ritual going on nine months now and likely to continue far into the future.  Small, tangible routines like these are moments that ground me in the familiar and create a lived-in experience that cannot be recreated online.  Logging so much time on screens and commuting week after week creates a distance from reality that has begun to wear on me, so that small moments in the real world become infinitely more valuable: relaxing dinners out with my wife, comforts of a good book, playtime with the dogs.

My monthly trip to the shop is sandwiched between two unique commuting experiences. As a kid growing up in The City, we often traveled downtown on Muni from West Portal to Embarcadero, visiting my dad’s office in the Financial District. Riding the train and appearing downtown in such a short time span was a magical experience. (One that keeps me from understanding the near-constant ire of transplants at Muni…but I digress.) However, as you are underground for the entire journey, a downtown-bound Muni trips lack any scenery save for the stations, each designed specifically for its stop. Enter, the cable car. Though tourists get absolutely fleeced by MTA, San Franciscans packing monthly-use Clipper Cards can ride any of the cable car lines for the same cost as a modern bus or train. Outsiders might think that the ancient, inefficient wooden cars would wear on natives after one or two rides, but I cannot conceive of a more romantic form of transportation.

The California Street line carries its fair share of San Francisco explorers back to the hotels on Nob Hill, but most of the passengers riding from the Financial District through Nob Hill are commuters. A constant hum vibrates throughout the car, the sound and feeling of the cable lines beneath the street churning endlessly. Two Muni operators, one at the front and one at the rear, operate cranks that grip the underground cable and communicate passenger stops through a bell strung along the roof. Is it the simplicity of the vehicle or the history stored within the wooden seats and worn handles that give these beasts of burden their charm? Maybe the constant hum clang clang of the cable car lends itself to meditation as I pass first Old St. Mary’s and Chinatown, then the Tonga Room, Grace Cathedral, countless victorian apartments, and small bars; I am easily caught up in the fresh air, the changing sky, the smells of the bay leaking over the hill. Perhaps the combination of all these things bombards the senses so strongly that the only appropriate reaction–awe–pours forth and washes my brain in the deeply nostalgic notion, “This is home, this is home, this is home.” When I call out “Polk, please,” and disembark (by jumping into traffic like Indiana Jones, because where else can you do this?), it is impossible for me to conjure up any emotion except happiness.

Establishing a relationship with a barber differs in many ways from my misguided and naive visits to Supercuts as a teenager and young adult.  I have to explain nothing about the hair itself.  My barber specializes in “traditional haircuts,” meaning from the first time I sat down, he knew what would happen to the mess before him.  As a San Francisco native, he understands the negative energies that are emerging right now, from the faux-traditional barbershops to the techie class war brewing from Mission to mid-Market to SOMA and beyond. The latest disturbance? The Real World SF.  This shop lives and breathes the tradition of several generations of family barbers.  The appreciation a client feels as this tradition is bestowed on him through service and craftsmanship means more than any $10 buzz-cut from the chain next to the supermarket.

Now shorn into a more manageable condition, my hair and I set out on foot, up Pine Street and through Lower Pacific Heights. The pulse of The City near the close of the workday thumps as lively as ever, even as I travel further from downtown. Beautiful houses, packed closely together, begin to wake up for the night ahead–cars pulling into garages, lamps lighting up the stained glass windows. In the twilight, the peacefulness and excitement of the evening’s possibilities collide. Even at its most frantic, San Francisco takes its time, savors the moment, and breathes.

By the time I reach St. Dominic’s Church, the flying buttresses cast dark lines against the fading sky, a gothic guardian waiting loyally for the next sacrament.  Onward, I pass El Burrito Express (briefly considering a “super carnitas”) before continuing my trek down past Geary and into the Western Addition. The Divisadero corridor speaks in tongues: buzzed hipsters, barbershop patrons, determined eaters. Everyone seems to get along on these nights as we clamor around the sidewalks in our snapbacks, bicycles, hoodies, messenger bags, canvas grocery totes, sneakers, heels, and takeout containers.

Approaching the Panhandle and the potent smell of Eucalyptus, home comes into sight. In the span of two hours, a transformation has taken place here, for The City as much as for me. The monthly meditation comes to a close as I turn the key, close the door, and exhale. A foghorn sounds in the distance. This night is just getting started.

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Changing of the Seasons

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” -Unknown (attributed to Twain, but…no)

That famous quote, all brevity and wit, admirably attempts to explain our city’s weather. We do embrace our fair share of fog and coastal winds, laughing often at the tourists from some Midwestern state who packed only shorts and tank tops for their “summer vacation,” now resorting to generic heavy jackets purchased from one of the many tchotchke shops lining Fisherman’s Wharf.

In truth, the climate in San Francisco rarely fluctuates more than 15 degrees in a day. While it may skew cold for those visitors from more extreme summers, it’s hard to imagine a more ideal environment for everyday life. The sky may be overcast one moment, clear the next, all coastal fog in the morning, and breezy by first pitch at AT&T Park–simply pack a sweater and you are set for the day.

Due to our state’s historically dry January, one of our few seasonal indicators–rain–has abandoned us.  Often coinciding with the appearance of snow in the mountains, San Francisco’s rainy season (November-March) falls during a fortuitous time: baseball off-season.  To make up for what most Americans experience in the changing of the weather, I turn to sports.

My immediate family focuses almost exclusively on two sports: football and baseball (with all due respect to the Warriors and Sharks, both of whom I faithfully support). The early-90s Niners were untouchable gods: yet to lose a Superbowl, looming perennially over the NFC, often the subject of grade school art projects around January that would line the hallways and instill in us a great sense of civic pride. My first grade teacher tracked the weekly NFL standings on a little magnetic board above a military-style footlocker (a trunk filled to the brim with prizes for those students attaining 100% in the weekly spelling test). The small, red and gold helmet adorned with the interlocking SF never seemed to move from its post at the top of the tiny column, labeled West. It was impossible to escape the regimented systems: Catholic school, 49ers football, rain.

As winter turns to spring, two events stand out in my mind: my birthday and opening day. If I am lucky (this year I am not), the two fall on the same day and I play hooky and enjoy garlic fries and Anchor Steam at noon. Growing up, baseball season seemed to take over the summer: batting practice in the park; exceedingly long contests of MVP Baseball on Xbox; cards, autographs, and bobbleheads; night games huddled amidst the swirling food wrappers, while blankets of rolling fog create the familiar San Francisco ceiling. The weather may be imperceptibly warmer, but the beloved cathedral–our AT&T Park–adds 10 degrees all on its own. Spring and Summer (Fall, too, from time to time) in the City means Giants baseball: freedom and giddiness, hot dogs and beer, none of the rules of school or work. Games dot the audio-visual landscape as you pass by bars or hop in a cab. When you get home from a long day and turn on the TV, Mike Krukow and and Duane Kuiper’s voices drift into the consciousness, a warm meal for the tired soul seeking the quiet rhythm of the greatest pastime. Our boys become household names on a first-name basis (Matt, Timmy, Buster), sometimes a nick-name basis (MadBum, Panda)…sure, last names, too (Pence, Romo, Pagan). We invite our ragtag bunch into our homes night after night, because they are our champions, our brothers, our friends. The City embraces these men, because they represent us so well. Living and dying through their long season, our struggles and joys become united in the way that only baseball enables. Just as we move about our day, regular San Franciscans, our Giants go to work everyday. The opportunity to come together for a game seems like a family dinner–sharing our day, participating in something together.

Whether due to a cultural shift or recent success, the Giants have a stranglehold on this wonderful place. Just as the passing of the seasons, we will welcome football’s return after a time, but a season increasingly favored by San Franciscans will soon make its appearance: Spring, heralded by Orange, Black, and garlic fries.

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Is This Heaven or San Francisco?

When last I posted, Buster Posey had just been railroaded by Scott Cousins.  The Giants season immediately headed down the toilet.  We didn’t know how Jim Harbaugh would do with the 49ers, a team that looked largely like the one from dismal seasons past.  The Sharks had made the playoffs, only to look like a team that lost all sense of fundamental hockey.  And the Warriors…

Since that time, more has happened in my life than I could write here.  So why type upwards of 10,000 words when a few images will do:

We moved back here, the greatest place in the world. (We live near this view, too!)

I married my gorgeous wife and best friend in August of 2012.

The Niners came close to a Superbowl appearance.

This happened…

…then this…

…then this…3 times.

So of course we had to have another one of these!

We also ate at a few great places, some that are getting pretty famous. (State Bird Provisions)

Incanto, with Executive Chef Chris Cosentino.

Windmill time with Pete Townshend.

This guy made us proud and we almost did it again.

In other words, it’s been an exciting year and a half!  One of the best of my life and certainly one that I could never forget.  Why not post about it?  Between the wedding, new jobs, and never finding a great time during the Giants’ miracle run, it was hard to find the time or energy.  I thought about resurrecting the old blog during media week, but I didn’t want to single-handedly jinx the team.

One week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, it’s time to write again.  I’m not sure where the Giants will end up this year and we’re still recovering from the gut-wrenching Superbowl loss, but a lot is going on in San Francisco these days.  Time to pay attention.

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Crossing the Foul Line

One of the suggested rule changes proposed to protect catchers: runners cannot cross the third-base foul line to force contact with a catcher.  Perhaps we can use a similar rule for GMs, too.

It may come as a surprise, but I was taken aback by Brian Sabean’s comments yesterday on KNBR:

If I never hear from Cousins again, or he doesn’t play another day in the big leagues, I think we’ll all be happy.

Read more:

That snippet says a lot about Sabean as a person and as a GM–he wears his heart on his sleeve to a fault.  Maybe he felt a need to justify Buster Posey’s lack of response to Cousins’ apology or maybe he’s trying to bring more publicity to the rule change as the news cycle shifts gears.  No matter the reason, I found it ironic that in the same week the Giants created an “It Gets Better” video denouncing bullying, the GM of the team talks about having a “long memory” and settling the score.

In my last post, I spoke against the traditionalist argument for keeping the collision rule in baseball.  Though I am in favor of changing the rule for the future, I also agree that Cousins was in his rights under the current rules.  No matter my opinion on whether his choice was correct, he had choices.  The devastating result ruined Posey’s season, but as this article points out, Sabean has not taken issue with any previous events involving Giants players (on both sides of the collision).

Sabean also mentioned that until a tough injury happens to your team, nobody else feels quite the same way.  I can relate–it can be frustrating to feel in the minority when talking to fans of other teams about the Posey incident.  No doubt the result of this incident sparked his sudden interest in changing the rules, but to go after Cousins publicly lacks the professionalism I expect from the Giants organization.  I can only hope Bill Neukom has a serious conversation with Sabean about how the Giants want to be perceived in MLB.  Bullying minor-league lifers trying to make it in the bigs does not help any cause.


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Nuancing the Rules

The argument that railroading the catcher at homeplate represents the clean, hard-nosed side of baseball was bandied about by just about every sports outlet after Buster Posey was hurt on Wednesday night.  “Giants fans only complain because it’s their phenomenal young catcher,” goes the argument.  “Why change a rule that has been around for more than 100 years?”  Perhaps other teams’ fans assumed that our self-righteous bellyaching was coming from a suddenly smug bandwagon championship fanbase.  Correction baseball fans: we have always been smug and most of us have been here for awhile (sarcasm font).

Meanwhile, every Giants fan I know wants to string up Scott Cousins by his toes and beat him with his USF degree.  Several of the more disgusting comments suggested retaliatory bean-balls at Marlins’ hitters Wednesday afternoon.  Most of the others have simply been crying and rocking in a corner.

These two sides, the traditionalists and the progressive pitchfork mob need to relax.

First, can both sides please agree that the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy?  Tell me why collisions at the plate are important and why that rule needs to be in today’s game, independent of the fact that it has since the beginning.  Does railroading a catcher, blocking or not blocking the plate, with or without the ball, add to the game of baseball, make it more enjoyable for fans, and demonstrate the athletic skill of players?  More importantly, does the rule itself fall in line with the goal of the game, which is to score more runs than the opposing team?

Second, does anyone want to argue that Buster Posey is not one of the premier young talents of the game?  Would a Rookie of the Year Award help?  How about catching one of the best pitching staffs in baseball on the way to a World Series?  I read some comments about how Posey “isn’t the next Babe Ruth or anything,” but as far as I understand baseball, he isn’t much of a slouch either.  Maybe both sides can agree that young players with a clean image improve all of baseball, in the same manner Jason Heyward or Stephen Strausburg also sparked our collective interest.  Protecting young players is no more important than protecting all players equally, but when a player is the victim of a bad situation, it should be up to MLB to address any concerns.  It’s good for business to keep your young players healthy, after all.

I simply do not believe that every meeting between a catcher and runner at homeplate should be a blank check to railroad the catcher.  It may add to the excitement level of the crowd, but it does not necessarily demonstrate the type of athleticism that the rest of baseball showcases–agility, bat speed, hand-eye coordination, etc.  If the goal of the runner is to touch homeplate, that should be his intention as soon as he leaves third.  That singular goal should drive any decision the runner makes, whether that is to take an outside route on a slide or to collide with a blocking catcher.  Observe that Posey was not blocking the third base path toward homeplate, but standing in the left-handed batter’s box with his left leg in front of homeplate.  The outside route to the plate was open from the moment Cousins left third and remained open as Posey swung around to apply a tag.  The trajectory of Cousins’ body does not appear to have been toward the plate, but toward Posey.

This is the aspect of the rule that needs to be changed.  I agree that a collision would be necessary if a catcher were blocking the third base path toward homeplate and had established himself as an impediment to the runner.  Yet in a situation in which the path to the plate was unobstructed, the runner’s obligation is toward homeplate.  The result, if this revised rule had been in place Wednesday night, would be an out on runner interference.

There is plenty of precedence for this sort of rule in other sports, including baseball.  In football, if a defender makes a play on the receiver rather than toward the ball, the call is pass interference.  In soccer, a slide tackle is clean if the tackling player touches the ball and not only the defending player.  In baseball, a runner must be making an attempt on the bag (and not outside of the basepath toward the fielder) in order to break-up a double play.  Before this rule was in place, a runner could spike a shortstop and make zero attempt at the bag (see: Ty Cobb).  I don’t see a lot of traditionalist fans calling for blood at second base anymore.

The intent of the runner needs to be toward homeplate, not the catcher.  Just as an umpire can call a wayward runner out at second for interference, the same should be true at the plate.  Ruling illegal all contact on a catcher is unrealistic; catching a ball and blocking homeplate by itself cannot constitute an out.  Yet the injuries Posey sustained occurred because he was not set and was not blocking the plate.  It was his unpreparedness for collision–in the sense he could not plant his feet or brace for impact–that seemed to contribute most to this accident.  Slightly changing the rule to allow the catcher more awareness of impact would allow him to sustain less injury, while not completely eliminating collisions at the plate.

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Too Soon?

The goose egg was in the hit column long enough to get excited.  Sure, he had given up a couple of walks, but Timmy had his stuff working.  Whether it was his protein-rich In-N-Out special, extra conditioning, or the slider he added to baffle even former battery-mate Bengie Molina in the World Series, Tim Lincecum has officially and emphatically returned to form in 2011.

He didn’t no-hit the Rockies and didn’t even record a shutout.  When you face the hottest team in baseball, giving up a run and striking out 10 speaks for itself.   Even after CarGo laced his hit to right field, I was ready to ask: Is Tim Lincecum already one of the greatest pitchers of all time?

So far, he counts:

  • 2 Cy Young Awards
  • 1 World Series title
  • A strong postseason record: 4-1, 2.43 ERA, .92 WHIP, 43 SO, 9BB
  • Tied with Christy Mathewson for franchise record most games with 10 SO (28)
  • 7 career complete games, 4 shutouts, 939 SO

Last night he located his fastball well and paired it with his devastating changeup, garnering 7 of his 10 strikeouts at 85-86 mph (an ungodly speed difference from his heater).  He needs 61 strikeouts in his next seven appearances to surpass Kerry Wood as the fastest pitcher to reach 1000 strikeouts in his career.  He is also on pace to match his season high in strikeouts, which would give him four 200 strikeout season in a row–Nolan Ryan had a stretch of five 200K seasons twice in his career.

For those of you already shaking your head, this post is rhetorical; I am definitely coming off the Rocky Mountain high of seeing Lincecum at the top of his game again.  For many of you, Lincecum does not rank with the likes of Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, or Roger Clemens.  He does not have as many complete games, has not pitched a no hitter or perfect game, and does not have the length of career to enter this discussion yet.

But for the sake of argument…

In terms of dominance, we could use Bill James’ Game Score to see how he matches up to some of the greats.  In his 4+ seasons, Lincecum has recorded 2 games with a Game Score of 90 or better (the higher the number, the better the game pitched).  His high of 96 came in NLDS Game 1 against the Braves where he struck out 14.  It actually bests Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the Phillies-Reds NLDS, because the metric values strikeouts in addition to outs.  Kerry Wood also holds the record for highest game score at 105, walking only 2 Astros and striking out 20 in 1998.

There are a couple of reasons Tim does not have more 90+ game scores on his resume.  His control, which has varied over his career, causes him to throw more pitches than necessary to record outs (he threw the most of any pitchers last year).  Naturally he sees less innings as a result and Bruce Bochy, not being Dusty Baker, knows how to rest his young talent.  Regardless of control, the Giants have little reason to over-extend any of their starters: the 2010 Giants bullpen ranked second in the majors in ERA and saved the most games of any ‘pen in the majors.  Even with improved control this year, Tim may find himself out of the game after 7 innings, if only to keep him fresh down the stretch.  Additionally, the overall strategy of starting pitching has changed; pitch count, specialty relievers, and closers mean that the complete game does not come into play as frequently.  It is still one of the most impressive feats in sports, but definitely a rarity and one that should not be counted against a pitcher.

One of Game Score’s weaknesses is valuing total innings pitched rather than accurately measuring the quality of those innings.  In order to do so, we certainly can’t use “quality starts,” since the criticisms of that statistic are well-documented (in short, a quality start at its worst would mean a 4.50 ERA…hardly “quality”).

I stumbled upon this article about “high quality starts.”  It measures 7 IP instead of 6 IP, and 2 R (earned or not) or less rather than 3 ER or less.  Just for fun, I looked at Tim’s HQS compared to others I’ve mentioned (Halladay, Clemens, Ryan, Johnson).  Lincecum has a HQS at a rate of .47 starts.  The rest?  Halladay, .40, Clemens, .44, Johnson, .39, Ryan, .38.  Tim’s elevated rate is no doubt a feature of small sample size.  Halladay has 9 extra seasons on Lincecum’s, 4 1/2, for example.  However, we can assume from this metric that Lincecum has the stuff right now to be in the company of some of the greatest pitchers in the last 50 years.  Consistency and health will determine where he ends up on the list.

And for my money, there is no cooler looking delivery than this:


Batter already swinging (not shown)

I hear people saying they’re tired of Brian Wilson’s antics.  I am certainly not one of them.  For everything he does that seems crazy, he does something for a good cause (with Cody Ross and Lou Seal)…

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A Few Words on Belt and Huff, Game 2

I like the idea of Belt moving to right field and, eventually, maybe even left field.  He played a lot of outfield in high school and he certainly shows more mobility than Huff.  Most of all, both player have looked lost at the plate.  Huff’s approach offensively could be linked to his discomfort defensively.  Check out these splits:

as 1B 100 358 55 105 12 45 45 64 .293 .377 .480
as LF 41 97 25 33 9 19 25 16 .340 .476 .670
as RF 33 112 20 27 5 22 12 11 .241 .323 .455
as PH 3 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2011.

So really, in the small sample size from 2010, we can see little discernible difference in his offensive numbers based on his defensive position.  We can try and assume from 33 games that he does not perform as well offensively in RF as he does at LF.  Somehow he has gotten more attention in the field, though, and placing him at 1B may be the best way to keep Belt on the squad.  Glad to see the rookie get a basehit last night–his approach at the plate still looks good, but he has not been hitting the ball hard.  Since line drives were reported to be his strength, I hope he figures that out soon.

Rowand is on a tear; there is no other way to put that.  Maybe the second-half of last year forced him into working even harder, but aside from his diminished range in the outfield, his work at the plate speaks for itself.  The Giants are nowhere near 5-6 if he doesn’t perform like he has in the past few games.  I miss Torres and Ross, but thank God for Aaron Rowand.

Other notes from Game 2: Posey! Wilson!  Good win and a chance to win a second series in a row.

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Where are you Seattle?

Two teams threatened to move to Flordia in the 1990s.  The Giants and the Mariners both almost became the Tampa Bay Giants or Mariners and only ownership, playoff runs, or glistening new ballparks stopped them.  Since it opened in 2000, Pac Bell Park has hosted at least an average 35,000 fans per game, with its record low at 26,593 in April of 2009.

Safeco Field, meanwhile, opened in 1999 with attendance rising in the early part of the 2000s (playoff runs), but dipping under an average 30,000 fans per game since 2008.  Last night, a game in which the Mariners made an improbably comeback after a rare dismal start by Felix Hernandez, only 13,056 fans showed up to the park–a new low.  I would be surprised if one-third of them stuck around to see the walk-off win in the bottom of the 9th.

Designed by the same architect and in styles befitting their respective cities, both Pac Bell and Safeco feature amenities and luxuries our great-grandfathers never imagined in a stadium.  Safeco’s retractable roof, city views, and stadium food crafted by well-known chefs should give fans plenty of reasons to stick around even through losing seasons.  Some may say that the product on the field mirrors attendance, but compare San Francisco and Seattle again.  In the time both parks have been open, the Mariners have finished out of first or second place 7 times and the Giants 6–comparable numbers, but not comparable attendance.  Meanwhile, a center-field bleacher seat at Safeco Field costs all of $8 on game day, while at Pac Bell, the same seat may cost anywhere from $11-35 (dynamic pricing).  Mariners games are still one of the best entertainment deals in Seattle: 3 hours for $8.  Better than a movie.

Seattle fans: come out to the park!  Even in a good year, your team will compete in the standings with three other teams at the highest level of the sport: your odds of leading the pack at the end of a 162-game season are slim even with a talented roster.  It must be frustrating to be in a state of rebuilding.  I know the Giants were lucky that some of their young talent bloomed quickly at the major league level, but our 2010 was also a work in progress.  Yes, our rotation was the true star, but our offense had to find ways to win.  Just like last night against the Jays, a team that grinds out at bats and makes the other team work will have success.

13,056 for King Felix is a joke.  Even if the reigning Cy Young Award winner was nowhere near form, he’s still the reigning Cy Young Award winner for crying out loud!  Again, it’s hard to watch a losing team.  When we trotted out this Opening Day lineup in 2008, I didn’t think we would see the playoffs for a good five years.  Let’s put this in perspective Mariners fans: your present lineup is far away better than that.


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The O&B mustered a series win out of the Cardinals and look ahead to a major division series at home.

It goes without saying that Clayton Kershaw, tonight’s starter, will be a tough at bat.  He won’t have Chavez Latrine’s sun to camouflage his pitches this time.  Hopefully Giants batters will settle in more quickly than their last trip against the patchiest beard in baseball.

Fingers crossed for stronger plate appearances and capitalizing on RISP.  More fingers crossed for a strong MadBum outing.

Thoughts with Bryan Stow and his family as the organization honors him tonight.  No retaliations, but BEAT LA!

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Return of Rowand, Home Opener

Even though I missed the majority of the opening ceremonies–MLB must have some rules against pregame on–the passing of the banner from Mays all the way to Wilson who “closed” the ceremony looked (from pictures and montage) amazing.

I guess it was ironic that Wilson couldn’t close the game. He ran into some bad luck with the groundball to Tejada, but at the end of the day, he missed when he should have hit. Once you get the bases loaded and a full count, you have to believe the hitter has the momentum. I’ll find a stat for that somewhere, but it was obvious to Theriot and everyone else that Brian had more command over his tightly spun cutter than his overpowering fastball. Still, a great at bat beat an okay pitching sequence and 41,000+ got some free baseball.

The comeback and subsequent win proved that the 2011 Giants remember how to grind it out to the bitter end. They certainly squandered extra inning opportunities, but I’m hoping that the timely hitting will complement an improved defense after a few more series pass.

All in all, an eventful opener–very jealous that I missed the festivities. Gold jerseys tomorrow!

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