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Giants: 2012 Vs. Nationals

(originally written 7/6/12)

Let me tell you: Nationals Park is fine. If it were a woman, you'd be buying her drinks and wondering "if (she) had a map...cuz you were getting lost in (her) eyes."
I've been to both this field and the revered Camden Yards; Nats Park is superior. Easily.

This week, Tim Lincecum was the series-opening starter for S.F., fresh off two quality starts versus Oakland and the Dodgers. As alluded to in a previous article, the Dodgers' start felt like Tim's turning point. It had the numbers, the energized crowd, the symbolic crowd-pleasing play at home plate. True, first-place Washington doesn't appear to be a pretender this year, but they're no juggernaut; if Jason Hammel can fire eight shutout innings against them in late June, why couldn't Lincecum give Bruce Bochy six innings and three runs?

Because it's just not going to be his year. Of all of #55's poor games/innings this season, this one was the worst. All-Star Ian Desmond—now 9-for-11 career against Tim Lincecum—hit a home run off him that I can only describe as "fierce". Desmond was all but standing ON home plate when he connected. Opposing pitcher Jordan Zimmermann drove a pinata-esque curve down the line for a double. Lincecum is not supposed to be a comfortable at-bat; he's a guy just wild enough to keep guys from treating the batters' box like a lawn chair. 

This year, Lincecum's wildness has been to the heart of the plate, two feet directly above it, or two feet in front of it. Not a lot of guys have been afraid to dig in against Timmy since Opening Day and these cocky, young Nats—long removed from their bastardized Expos days—personified that emphatically Tuesday.

Stay all nine; you may see something you've never seen before. Washington's Danny Espinosa cracked one off the wall that caromed hard into the hands of Angel Pagan. I used to see it all the time in EA Sports baseball games, but never in a real one off a standard-size wall. Kind of weird, like when a catcher gets crossed up.

July 4 at Nationals (9-4 loss)

Independence Day baseball in the nation's capital—no better time for a ballgame and hard to believe that MLB went 33 years without one. At this time I'd like to use this forum to beseech MLB to always have the Nats at home on 7/4—like the NFL's Cowboys and Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

Madison Bumgarner was not the same pitcher who one-hit the Reds six days ago, heaping birthday gift upon birthday gift to Washington after a strong start to the game (and a 3-0 lead). Zimmerman and Morse went back-to-back yard against him, and backup C Jonathan Solano added another soon after. (We don't always follow birth certificate spelling here at TSR.) 

A final home run came off the bat of Rick Ankiel, who continues to toil in the majors in spite of annual rapidly declining production—while he can still make some sick throws from the outfield, his offensive numbers have fallen faster than the hitters he inadvertently knocked down during his final days as a pitcher. 

July 5 at Nationals (6-5 loss; especially painful)

This one hurt. I'm the reason Matt Cain and the Giants blew a 5-1 lead to Washington, who completed a three-game sweep in un-dramatic walk-off fashion.

You see, I'd been planning to catch the entire game via DVR late at night, but then I made the awful decision to join the live broadcast, which was in the top of the 7th. Pagan had just tripled in Pandoval from 1B with the Giants' fifth run; with 0 out, a sixth run seemed a given, but Craig Stammen and his slider/changeup K'd Belt and Arias and got Cain on a weak grounder—SF's third wasted scoring chance, I'd learn later.

Cain would go on to surrender back-to-back homers to Desmond and Espinosa in the bottom of the 7th, followed by three straight hits off reliever Jeremy Affeldt to draw the Nats within a run. The final hit came courtesy of 19-year-old Bryce Harper, he of incredible talent and a questionable rep. A rep partially earned, a rep partially grown from his development in the Internet era in which the accidental crunching of a snail can unleash a nationwide flood of judgmental blogs and Tweets and screaming middle-aged men before the shoe is even rinsed off.

I've read and watched numerous features on Harper; the guy's got just as many people calling him a good, misunderstood kid as a (bleeping) jerk...or worse. But then he'll do something like he did in the 8th inning today, and openly look the 3B ump in the face and curse after a check-swing went against him on appeal. True, the call sucked, but after Harper's reaction, I sure didn't feel sorry for him.

Back to the game:
Santiago Casilla endured a disastrous 9th, allowing the first four Nats to reach (one via his own error) and tie the score. Still, he almost wiggled out of trouble with the game tied, inducing a potential double-play grounder from the tough Adam LaRoche. But 1B Belt couldn't handle defensive sub Brandon Crawford's bounced throw and just like that—game over.

Credit Davey Johnson's team for handling its victory in proper fashion; all too often in this era teams go completely bananas on the field after any and all walk-off wins—throwing helmets, tackling dudes, running on the field at 100 MPH as if the World Series was just won. Not all women are good mothers, not all cholesterol is bad, and not all last at-bat wins are exciting.

The Nats didn't really win this game so much as a couple of bad bounces gave it to them. Harper, who scored the winning run, let off a simple fist pump, his mates walked on the field to congratulate him and LaRoche, and that was that. They've done it before, and it shows.

Stay all nine; you may see something you've never seen before: Espinosa got plunked by Cain, but no base—he swung at the pitch. Then he fouled one hard off his leg before Cain put him out of his misery with a backwards K. A very rough at-bat—I've never seen one quite like that. (Later in the game Espinosa happily allowed a high and tight Sergio Romo offering to bounce off his elbow guard, securing the proverbial "last laugh".)

* Sincere shout-out of support to Dave Righetti, longtime Giants pitching coach who lost his mom last week and left the team. I met Rags at the KNBR/Giants FanFest 2009; he could not have been any nicer or more gracious.

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