What A Day

April 12

On the 10th anniversary of A T & T Park, it turned into Candlestick for a day.

“My, what hearty fans” I thought to myself as I sat inside the climate-controlled press box. Hey, I’m no hero. But the 10-thousand or so Giants fans who hung around after a four hour rain delay Sunday certainly earned a Croix de Candlestick, if they were still giving those things out.

It was a day that would make Alaskans run for cover. Cold rain and a hard wind. At 2:00 p.m., no one would have given you a plugged nickel that the game was going to be played. Never have the palm trees behind the left field bleachers looked so out of place.

The fans who stayed were having a good time. Alcohol might have kept them warm, but they also saw greatness, once again. You can’t help but continue to marvel at Tim Lincecum. He might be small in stature but his heart is as big as the Bay.

It didn’t look like it was going to be his day. Despite the four-hour delay, Lincecum got out to the bullpen a bit late and didn’t take enough time to warm up. It showed in the first inning.

Lincecum threw the first three pitches wide, and then with two outs, gave up an unforgiveable four-pitch walk to the looming terror that is Eric Hinske. His fastball had yet to thaw out, but he appeared to have early command of his incredible changeup. So when he got Brian McCann to a two-strike count I thought he would see another change.

Nope. A fastball that got too much of the plate, and too much of McCann’s bat. Despite the nasty weather he belted it into the front row of the right field bleachers. 2-0 Braves. The first homer Lincecum allowed at AT and T since September 2008.

That would be all Lincecum would allow for the rest of the day. He managed to go seven innings, striking out 10 — all swing-throughs. That change-up, which acts like a split-finger fastball, may be the best pitch in baseball today.

The Giants pulled within one, but with the weather threatening it was an official game. Then in the 6th, Mark De Rosa’s single to right scored Pablo Sandoval, and then Aubrey Huff. Rookie Jason Heyward made a strong throw but it was the up the line, hitting Sandoval and setting off the “Yakety Sax” music from the Benny Hill Show.

The Giants were ahead 3-2 to put Lincecum in position for the win, and he smelled blood. He struck out the side in the7th. For the 20th time in his career, he had 10 K’s.

I think most fans realize it and truly appreciate what they’re seeing, but it’s worth emphasizing: at age 25, in his third full season, Lincecum is becoming the finest pitcher of this era along with Roy Halladay.

With a piercing cross-wind from right field to left, it was hard to believe anyone could hit a ball harder than McCann did in the first. Sandoval did it — twice. He tripled to right-center, a ball that would be out in most parks, and then in the 8th absolutely striped on OVER the right field bleachers.

I doubt I have ever seen a harder-hit ball, considering the conditions. It was the old Panda. Maybe that protective layer of “skin” comes in handy on cold days.

Then Matt Diaz dropped a high fly ball in the wind and rain, and the conversion to “Stick-like conditions was complete. Aubrey Huff made it to third and scored on a Bengie Molina single. That allowed Bruce Bochy to use Jeremy Affeldt in both the 8th and 9th.

As a parting reminder of what’s to come, Jason Heyward put an Affeldt fastball into the left field bleachers, his third home run in six games of his young career. Oh yes, this kid is for real. He struck out a lot, made a bad throw, but he also showed why he might be the game’s scariest hitter, very soon. AND HE’S 20.

The Giants have already had two remarkable wins this year and are off to a 5-1 start. They have rallied from two-run and three-run deficits this weekend, something that would be cause for a parade down Market Street last year. This could get interesting.

***

“Interesting” barely describes The 2010 Masters. “All-time” comes close.

Tiger Woods was the story heading into this remarkable weekend, but on Sunday afternoon it was Phil Mickelson. Although the gallery supported Tiger, it was hard to look at him as a sympathetic figure compared to Mickelson. Tiger earned some admiration for his ability to jump into the thick of a major after a five-month layoff, but his problems are mostly self-inflicted.

You wouldn’t wish Mickelson’s troubles on your enemy. Both his mother and wife are being treated for breast cancer, and while his wife Amy was in Augusta, she was in her bed. Until Sunday afternoon.

Mickelson won this tournament with vintage Mickelson shots. 13th hole, ball sitting on pine needles 207 yards from the pin, a six-iron through a gap in between two trees ? Four feet from the hole. That’s so Lefty.

It was also borderline dumb. Five feet shorter and the ball is in Rae’s Creek, where many Masters hopes have gone to die. Just ask Mike Reid. Nonetheless, Mickelson saw no other option. That’s so Lefty, too.

This is part of the arrogance of Lefty’s game. He is so stupidly skilled, he can occasionally do the stupid. Do I need to bring up the 18th hole at Winged Foot at the ’06 Open ? There should be a picture of that drive next to the word “hubris.”

It is also why we love Mickelson. He is not a paint-by-numbers golfer. He’ll do the crazy to come up with the memorable, like he did Sunday. Then he missed the four-foot putt. That’s so Lefty, as well.

He managed to win by three strokes, and credit him for this: on 18, he pulled out a 3-wood instead of driver. Ahh, a teachable moment.

Mickelson has always been a gambler, but perhaps watching his closest loved ones stare down death has made him even more fearless. And Sunday, the golf gods were a bunch of softies. He was met at the 18th by Amy, both had tears in their eyes, and anyone with a human bone in their body had to be choked up watching that scene.

Tiger left somewhat disconsolate, and likely he was emotionally spent. He shouldn’t be too upset about his golf. Top 5 is a great achievement, even for someone with Tiger’s lofty goals. His old temper flared, regardless of the supposed return to Buddhism. He should go away feeling good about his golf, but the bigger picture is what’s important.

Tiger and Phil. They’re both corporate, millionaire golfers but both human beings. Both capable of doing the stupid and amazing. One enduring family upheaval, the other who caused it. Phil honored his family, Tiger almost ruined his. Maybe this will be another teachable moment for Tiger. His family is none of my business, but I always root for someone to become a better person.

Oh, and one more thing. I seem to remember they’ve both been pretty good at Pebble Beach. I’m already licking my chops for the Open in two months.

***

Masters sniglets:

I told Brian Murphy on Friday morning to watch out for Anthony Kim. He made a giant splash on Sunday with a 65 but ran out of time.

K.J. Choi was like a metronome, steady all week until the back nine. It happens to the best of them.

Fred Couples still has as much game as anybody walking a PGA Tour course, but his back is his achilles heel. When he’s right, he’s special.

Lee Westwood has three straight Top 3’s in majors, and I believe he will break through. He was also very classy. He’s no Colin Montgomerie.

The Masters is the best tournament because, unlike the U.S. Open, the goal is not to put the world’s best golfers through an abattoir for our pleasure — or the USGA’s pleasure. Sure, there’s risk, but Sunday pins are meant to be fired at, creating an incendiary back nine for golfers with the skill and the daring. It’s Lefty’s kind of place, And Tiger’s, too.

***

Lost amid all the Sunday hoopla were two reminders of the BALCO era. They were both at AT and T Park for the stadium’s 10th anniversary celebration, as members of the 2000 Giants gathered, despite the nasty weather.

Marvin Benard, in perhaps the least-shocking story of the year, admitted he used steroids. His name is in the Mitchell report. Like fellow Hydrant F.P. Santangelo, Benard said he used ‘roids to get back on the field after injury, and said the toughest part was telling his children.

Barry Bonds had the same opportunity as Benard Sunday, but he has still has a court case to resolve. You won’t hear any such confessions from Bonds for a long time, if ever. He did say he was “proud” of Mark McGwire for coming clean about his steroid use, perhaps the single most ironic statement ever uttered by an American athlete.

The McGwire question ended a brief interview with reporters. Will the BALCO cloud over Bonds ever dissipate? Probably not, but with time it will become more of a footnote.

Bonds will likely resolve his court case unscathed. He will eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame because he was too good, but writers will make him suffer for a few years, a silly exercise in vindictiveness. If he was good enough for the Hall in the 5th or 10th year, he was good enough on the first ballot.

Then, in the year 2055, a 91-year-old Bonds will finally spill, surprising absolutely no one. Then he will announce his official retirement.

Bonds did cut it up with his former teammates in a rain-delay conversation with Dave Flemming on KNBR. I suppose there were times during his playing days when he was Laughing Barry, but there were those other times, too. Nasty Barry will be remembered the most, along with BALCO — along with Bonds’ surpassing skill.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: