Giants must forget the past, focus on Bochy's magic 2013 shirt


Giants must forget the past, focus on Bochy's magic 2013 shirt

The eleventh celebration of the decade for the San Francisco Giants was surprisingly long in duration and exuberant by volume of alcohol dripping off the ceiling and trod into the clubhouse carpet. They did not act, to be sure, “like they’d been there before.”

But all history starts with the immediate, and given the circumstances, they could be forgiven for thinking that this wild-card berth felt a lot like any of their World Series.

That’s the beauty of exhaustion fueled by relief, though. Life in the minefield doesn’t seem so bad the moment you’re on the other side of danger, safe and with all your limbs where they started.

Of course, choosing to forget about the minefield immediately is another way to do it.

While the Giants players, coaches, executives and staff and ancillary family members all celebrated the Giants’ return to the postseason, proudly wore the latest MLB wear-this-under-pain-of-death giveaway, an industrial strength gray T-shirt that said “BACK TO OCTOBER,” Bruce Bochy sat in his office wearing a weary smile and his own beer-sozzled shirt -- one that proudly read “2013 SPRING TRAINING” in red and gold letters that looked like he’d bought it at an Iowa State rummage sale.

“I wore it the other day against Colorado,” he said almost sheepishly as he basked in the mutant-green glow of Sunday’s 7-1 win over the Los Angeles Scullys, and the upcoming Wednesday do-or-golf play-in game in New York. “And I’ve been wearing it ever since.”

Hey, anyone can wear a new freebie, but only the most skilled people in closest contact with the occult can feel the magic in an old, generic, off-brand freebie from the bottom of the locker.

Bochy had watched Matt Moore make his job easy Sunday, just as he had watched Ty Blach do the same thing a day ago, and Madison Bumgarner the day before that, and Johnny Cueto the day before that. He watched hit follow hit as a belated and refreshing change, and nine multiple-run innings in the last 32, after 10 in the previous 90. He watched Sergio Romo bolt down a seemingly rusted-out bullpen.

He watched, frankly, 2012 compressed into four desperate days. And he remembered how it felt to be the master of his surroundings again.

“It’s hard to think of what the hardest one was,” he said when asked if making the play-in game Wednesday against the Mets was the toughest hill his platoon has had to climb. “But all the fighting we had to do to survive, all the struggles, knowing we couldn’t afford to lose any of these games . . . I guess they just needed to feel their backs against the wall.”

No, the Giants didn’t save their best for last in sweeping the Dodgers during Vin-A-Palooza. They actually used their best in the first 90 games of the season, and all the math shows it. These last four wins (including the last game against Colorado) were, in fact, their first and only four-game win streak of the second half.

You know who had more? Every other team, save San Diego and Miami.

On the other hand, they failed to become the first team ever to have the best record before the All-Star Break and the worst after it – they passed Minnesota, Philadelphia and the Padres in the last week. So they blew that narrative, too.

Which brings us to the resident sage, Grandmaster Sabes. The general manager emeritus, Brian Sabean, stood in the hallway, away from the damp and musty madness, and looked at the season as he had never had the luxury to do before – from afar.

“You know what people don’t get?” he said, priming exactly the kind of rhetorical question he used to loathe when they were being asked of him. “They don’t get the power of the grind, and how hard it gets. They don’t get how the longer you’re in it, a season is actually one long game, that yesterday’s game affects today’s game and today’s game affects tomorrow’s game. It’s like life. Eventually, the past doesn’t matter.”

Especially when the past was as bad as the last two months.

“It was kind of weird the way we could never get any traction in the second half until right at the end,” catcher Buster Posey said. “We’d win a big one, and the next day we couldn’t do a thing. We’d win a couple but we couldn’t get the third one to build off.

“That’s why this is different than two years ago (when the Giants had to go to Pittsburgh to beat the Pirates in a play-in game behind Bumgarner). That time, we knew we were pretty much in it for the last week. This time, it came down to the end, and so that was different. I guess we’ll see if that was better or worse.”

Actually, it can’t be better than winning it all, but it could tie, which the Giants would cheerfully take.

Mostly, though, we will now see if the Giants can ignore the first half, which was full of false positives, the second half, which was full of frightening negatives, and even the last four games, when they did everything they wanted to do whenever they wanted. They even have to forget 2010, 2012 and 2014, because history doesn’t get them past Noah Syndergaard or the Chicago Cubs or Washington Nationals or the Fightin’ Scullys of whatever the American League tosses out in the World Series. Only the actual baseball does that.

They need, in short, to forget all of the past – except, of course, the improbable spring training of 2013, when nothing much happened of note except that elves, pixies and sprites combined to make one magic t-shirt and threw it in Bruce Bochy’s travel bag – perhaps for just this eventuality.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”