Friday, June 29, 2012

They Could Be Giants

I'm a baseball fan. 

While I ordinarily don't blog about it, something happened Wednesday that will likely never occur again in my lifetime and I've got to celebrate.

The Giants swept the dog-ass Dodgers in a three-game series this week and didn't allow a run. In the 123-year history of the Giants franchise, this had never happened before. Back in 1954—when they were still the New York Giants— they did it to the Philadelphia Phillies, and twice since moving to the Bay Area they've managed to throw three consecutive shutouts (just not all against the same team). But doing it against the arch-rival Dodgers is the sweetest of all, and I'm a happy guy.
• • •
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and my father taught me to love baseball. It was one of the few pure shared joys in our tumultuous relationship. He had grown up alternately living in St Louis and Chicago and was thus steeped in one of the strongest natural rivalries in all sports: Cubs versus Cardinals.

My Dad was a Cardinal fan and we'd sometimes sneak out to the car (the radio in which had superior reception than the box sets or transistors we had in the house) on summer nights and listen to KMOX broadcast the Cardinal games. It was with my father that I learned to tell the likely progression of the game based on the timbre in the announcer's voice (upbeat if the Cards were ahead and more sober if behind; it was probably a laugher if the announcer was telling stories rather than describing the action on the field; dead air signaled a pivotal late-inning moment in the game).

Not surprisingly, most of my early childhood experiences at the ballpark were watching the Cardinals play at Wrigley Field (though I can recall a particularly gripping pitching duel between Billy Pierce of the White Sox against Whitey Ford of the Yankees at Comiskey Park, the outcome of which hinged on a spectacular sliding catch in center by Jim Landis—but I digress). 

Indoctrinated as a baseball fan early in life, somehow I never bonded with the Cubs, and avoided hitching my wagon to the Cardinals' caravan either. For some perverse reason that remains obscure I established an early, tentative preference for the Cincinnati Reds and rooted for them right up until Horace Stoneham moved his Giants from the Polo Grounds to City by the Bay in 1958. I was only eight at the time, but I switched allegiance to the Giants on the spot and haven't looked back. Always and forever, I'll be a Giants fan. (Lest you think this is an anti-home town thing, I root unabashedly for the Bears in football and the Bulls in basketball.)

Mind you this has not been a particularly sagacious move (are leaps of the heart ever?). Until 2010, the San Francisco Giants had only made it to the World Series three times (1962, 1989, and 2002) and lost them all. It wasn't until the miracle of Buster Posey that the Giants caught lightning in a bottle and brought it all home two years ago in five games against the Rangers.

If there is any rivalry in professional sports that can equal that of the Cubs & Cardinals, it's the Giants and the Dodgers. (Note: since reading Dan Jenkins' sports classic Semi-Tough in the early '70s, I invariably refer to the the Los Angeles National League baseball club as the "dog-ass Dodgers." You have to understand that if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Giants fan, as I am, then you are automatically a Dodger hater. Your second favorite team is whomever the Dodgers are playing.)

Thus, there is no greater joy than the Giants coming into the three-game set against the dog-ass Dodgers three games behind them for the top spot in the NL West standings and then hosing them three straight to pull into a tie for the division lead. It's even better that the Dodgers are having a good year (stomping on the downtrodden isn't near as fun).

As an ameliorating factor, the Dodgers' best player, Matt Kemp, is on the disabled list and didn't play in the series. Going the other way, the Giants have had solid pitching for the last handful of years, and you might think that this great once-in-a-lifetime performance featured the confluence of their best three pitchers lining up perfectly in their five-man rotation to face the Dodgers. Not so. Deliciously, the Giants' two most reliable pitchers, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, didn't pitch against the Dodgers. Whoa! The Giants achieved this singular string of goose eggs with a rotation of Zito, Vogelsong, and Lincecum. And while Timmy Lincecum is a bona fide major talent (he's won two Cy Young Awards, after all) he hadn't won a game in two months. So nobody saw this coming.

[Editor's Note: I had gotten this far in drafting this blog when the Giants started last night's game with the Cincinnati Reds... ]

You might think that such an outstanding sequence by the other three starters would put pressure on Bumgarner and Cain. Well, think again. Zito, Vogelsong, and Lincecum all lasted through seven innings in the Dodger games, with the bullpen taking care of business in the 8th and 9th. Yesterday the Reds—in first place in the NL Central—arrived in San Francisco for a four-game set, and Bumgarner promptly shut them down on one hit, in an eight strikeout, complete game masterpiece, giving the Giants four shutouts in a row—all against first place teams! When you're hot you're hot.

The Giants had never thrown four consecutive shutouts before last night and this marks only the 17th time since 1918 that any major league team has done so. The last time was the Baltimore Orioles in 1995, when they had five. All of which is to say that magic is happening at PacBell Park. Tonight the Giants give the ball to Matt Cain as he attempts to push the streak to five and equal the Orioles accomplishment of 17 years ago. How likely is it that the magic can continue? Well, Cain has won his last eight decisions and threw a perfect game just three starts back. It could happen.

1 comment:

Stefan Podell said...

Two new reasons to like you: 1. the whole Giants thing. 2. you still call it PacBell.

(amateur editor's note: it was 2002, not 2003)

My kids asked me which team I dislike the most and naturally I said, "The Dodgers." Then they asked who I dislike next-most, and I didn't really have an answer. I don't dislike any other team. I have to be able to root for them when they play the Dodgers.

When the Giants won in 2010, I got a copy of the Oakland Tribune sports section from a friend. My daughter (8 at the time) promptly wrote "Dodgers Suck" on it. I was mad at first but then realized how excellent that is.