Ray Ratto

Giants, A's games capitvating in their own mutant ways

800474.jpg

Giants, A's games capitvating in their own mutant ways

The Yankees and Red Sox do this a lot, these nine-inning four-hour games, and the nation soaks it up like vintage Montrachet.

Thats a wine that neither the hoi nor the polloi can afford.

So the Giants and As have decided this weekend to pout together two turn-back-the-clock-until-it-breaks games, and they have actually been captivating in their own mutant ways.

Of course, before that happens, they have to go through their agonizing GET-ON-WITH-IT stages, but when Ryan Theriot chased down Jemile Weeks blooper into right field with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth on the games 385th pitch Saturday, those who stayed either in the ballpark or in front of their sets and laptops got a level of their moneys worth that they really had no right to expect.

The Giants have won both games, 5-4 and 9-8, in a grand total of eight hours and 772 pitches used by 23 of the 32 available pitchers, and while there were periods in both games that resembled the tortures of the damned, the end product was two games the attendees will remember for a good long time.

As opposed to games that are just, well, long.

There is a subtle difference here. The Yankees and Red Sox, for example, have perfected the purposeful dawdle, and it isnt just the extended commercial breaks between half-innings that do it. Terry Francona, Joe Torre and then Joe Girardi both loved slowing a game down to the pace of daguerreotypes, and not all of them deserved the extra time.

The Giants and As, though tend to rank among the teams with the shortest elapsed game times (mostly because they hit like the Amish), so the Friday and Saturday extravaganzas were unusual, both in execution and excess.

Friday started slowly because Tim Lincecum tried to see how close he could come to total meltdown, and because the Giants took advantage of a ninth-inning Oakland bullpen collapse. Saturday was just agonizing from the start, then seemed to crater completely when the As bullpen deconstructed again in the sixth and seventh, allowing the Giants to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 9-4 lead.

But then came the 50-minute, 76-pitch ninth, when the As sent 10 to the plate against three Giant pitchers, scoring four and coming within a foot of Weeks being the improbable hero in a game Oakland seemed hopelessly out of at the time.

The lesson? Its isnt the time of game that hurts baseball, its the type of game in the time of the game that does it. Both Friday and Saturday were worth the investments because stories came and went, moments piled atop moments, and baseball erupted in more ways than the average person can count.

And maybe dinner plans were crushed, and maybe parties were skipped or attended late, but fun was had for those who were open-minded enough to let it come to them. Even Theriots game-ending catch, in which he threaded the needle between Gregor Blanco and Nate Schierholtz while paying complete attention to the ball, was a moment to savor.

Even for As fans, this was worth it, because they got to see that their team is a harder out than it seems. Yeah, the results might blow, but the methodology is still sound at least as sound as a low payroll and a thin offense can offer.

Of course, that and about three bottles of that Montrachet will make that vein in Bob Melvins head stop throbbing, but since all but one of you out there aren't Bob Melvin, that isnt your concern. Fun baseball has been performed here, from the sublime (Brandon Belt) to the ridiculous (Brandon Moss) to the just plain Brandon (pretty much everyone else on both teams, including winning pitcher Brandon Bumgarner and the reliever who collected the save, Brandon Hensley.

Hey, back off. Were punchy here. Eight hours of this may be fun, but it wears on the cerebral cortex.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

baker-dusty-head-down.jpg
USATI

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.

 

U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

arena-bruce-sad.jpg
AP

U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.