Baseball 101

April 18

God, anyone but Manny.

The Dodgers’ rubber game 2-1 win over the Giants went to script — the L.A. script. It’s a script that works in Hollywood in this age of iconoclasts — sometimes, the bad guys win. Giants fans are gnashing their teeth that Manny Ramirez won the game for the Dodgers today, but that’s the way Dodgers fans felt all those years about Barry Bonds.

Anyway, this loss brings us to another session of Baseball 101.

When a slugger like Manny is laying off a fastball for a second strike, you know what he’s waiting for. Sergio Romo and Bengie Molina obliged. Sergio not only threw Manny a slider, but a spinner that settled right over the plate. Sir Dreadlocks didn’t miss it.

Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow hinted as much when they pointed out that great hitters like Manny ( and yes, even now, he’s a great hitter ) will guess with two strikes. Kruk and Kuip were guessing right along with Manny. Give Ramirez this much — for all his loony behavior he’s seen a lot of baseball, and the one place where he’s a student of the game is in the batter’s box. He outfoxed Romo today.

Romo, Molina and the Giants might have out-guessed themselves. They might have thought Manny was laying in the weeds for a fastball after taking strike two, but if that’s true it was a case of over-thinking. At any rate, fastball or slider, Romo’s offering got too much of the plate and even a ‘roid-less Manny will put it into the seats.

Lesson two in Baseball 101 deals with baserunning. Sadly, the Giants showed once again they need a tutorial. This time the student is Andres Torres.

He was caught stealing, as the #7 hitter. As F.P. Santangelo pointed out on Comcast during the post-game show, he was a #7 hitter his rookie season and was never given the green light to steal. Why? Because in most cases when a #7 hitter steals a base, the #8 hitter is walked to get to the pitcher.

Torres was actually picked off first by Clayton Kerhsaw and tagged out between first and second, a kind of basic mistake the Giants have been making far too often early in the season. I refer you to Eugenio Velez’ failure to freeze on a line drive in the 5th inning Friday night. The Giants are better offensively but still don’t have enough of a margin to make this many mistakes on the basepaths.

Manny’s home run spoiled a tremendous outing by Barry Zito. Say what you want about the last three seasons, and I’ve said plenty, but Zito is pitching brilliantly — today against a very tough lineup. His location and his commitment to his pitch selection is greatly improved. I guess that’s what happens when you’re hungry like a lion.

I know some fans will second-guess Bruce Bochy for pulling Zito after he walked Garrett Anderson in the 8th inning, but there was no way Bochy was going to let Zito face Manny. He was not going to put Zito at risk for the loss after such a great effort. If Bochy should be second-guessed for anything, it’s that he let Zito pitch the 8th at all, against a guy who has hit him well through his career. Not surprisingly, Garrett Anderson walked.

Some will second-guess the selection of Romo with a rested Brian Wilson in the bullpen. That is a more valid criticism, because if ever there was an 8th inning “save” situation, this was it. The Giants still had Affeldt in the ‘pen to face any left-handed hitters in the 9th.

On the flip side, if Romo is ever going to be the type of pitcher the Giants think he can be, they’re going to have to give him the ball in situations such as today’s. Unfortunately Romo made a bad mistake, and hopefully this doesn’t shake his confidence so much that he goes to the place Felix Rodriguez and Merkin Valdez went, wherever that is.

The Giants are off to a solid 8-4 start, but it was a very costly weekend. I hate to be the boy who cries “wolf,” but there are some signs of trouble with the Giants. They leave L.A. a bit bruised, physically and mentally.

First of all, with Aaron Rowand’s injury the outfield is even thinner now, which means more playing time for guys like Velez and Torres. It’s time for them to step up in the next couple of weeks, and if they don’t that’s going to be a problem. Secondly, the bullpen isn’t quite as strong as we thought. Medders is barely hanging on, Joaquin is struggling and Romo can’t be counted on to get the big out right now. Third, there have been too many bad baserunning mistakes, the kind that really hurt in close games, of which the Giants will play many.

The Giants are certainly capable of taking two of three in San Diego, and they’re going to need veterans such as Molina, DeRosa and Huff to calm the team down after a rough weekend, but don’t think the Padres are pushovers. They can be very tough in their park, which has been the home of Giant nightmares in the past.

The Padres do have some young ,emerging talent such as Kyle Blanks, Will Venable, Everth Cabrera and Chase Headley. They also got Giant-killer Scott Hairston back from the A’s and they still have the great Adrian Gonzalez, at least for a couple of months more. Two out of three is not going to be a cinch, but will be very important for the Giants before they head into the meat-grinder portion of their schedule.

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