Ray Ratto

Ratto: Cain Shuts Down Phils' Mutiny


Ratto: Cain Shuts Down Phils' Mutiny


SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey is young for a catcher, and careful about what he says. So when he grows quiet in response to a question, youre never sure whether hes trying to say the right thing, or the truthful one.

So when he was asked which Giants starter at his best is the easiest to catch, he paused, stroked his chin (well, sort of) and said, Probably (Matt) Cain.

And why? Because of what you saw Tuesday.

Just his command, the Giant rookie said. Jonny (Sanchez) and Timmy (do you have to ask?), their stuff is so electric. Timmys fastball moves all over the place, and Jonny has so much deception. But Matt? Just the command thing again. All four pitches. Thats it.

So to summarize the Giants 3-0 win over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Cain simply commanded the Phillies to death. All four pitches. All four corners. Not so much surgically as cold-bloodedly. Morticians have more expressions, but few pitchers have more ways to make an at-bat end.

Cain allowed the Phillies seven baserunners in seven innings, three as far as second base. Only five saw a 2-0 pitch, and only one, Ryan Howard in the second, made you wonder if a Giant defender could track down the ball.

He was Matt Cain in his totality.

When he needed a fastball to run up and in to make a statement, it went up and in. When he needed a changeup to go away, it landed there. Of his 21 outs, 11 came on fastballs, six on changeups, two on curve balls and two more on sliders.

But while Cain has no beard to fear, or rodeo stories, or really anything that suggests a wacky secret life, thus precluding a killer quote that sums up his day, his year or his life, maybe the quote that works best is Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuels:

You know, when the game starts, thats when youre supposed to hit, he said. Now if you dont hit, thats kind of . . . youre kind of on your own when you leave a dugout.

He was speaking specifically of Chase Utley, the second baseman who took a quiet 0-for-4, but there wasnt a lot that separated Utley from his eight teammates. Cain threw 119 pitches, 17 per inning, but never looked like danger truly loomed. A few questioners asked Posey to break down the Shane Victorino at-bat in the seventh, with Carlos Ruiz at second and Ross Gload at first, but Posey could only shrug and say, It was a fastball.

Yes, it certainly was, one which he bounced harmlessly to second baseman Freddy Sanchez. It was one the 17 outs he kept within the confines of the infield, one more reason why he made the Phillies looks so thoroughly inert. They drove one ball, Howards in the second.

Given that, Cain needs no beard, no rally rag, no deep inspirational speech to get him to his happy place. Even when Bruce Bochy went to check on him in the seventh, he asked Cain if he was all right to keep going.

He was just asking how I was feeling, just kind of instilling that he had confidence in me, Cain said. It didnt sound like he wanted to take me out of the game, but he was trying to -- Weve got confidence in you, make your pitches and we can get this guy out.

Resisting the temptation to say, Who is this we of whom you speak? Cain nodded and said, Yes. And five pitches later, he and the Giants were home and dry. This postseason just gets easier and easier -- yeah, right.

Theres a lot more pressure on you, he admitted afterward, but you find your ways to think of little things, whatever it is to be able to think of it as another pitch or another starting day, just go out there and stay to your plan and stay to your strengths.

The Giants arent home and dry, of course, because Wednesday is another kettle of meat entirely. As Comrade Urban will tell you elsewhere on this, your favorite wed site, Joe Blanton is a more difficult equation than he seems on this stage, and Madison Bumgarner is still burdened not so much by youth but by small sample size.

But if this helps at all for Giant fans who dont want to miss a moments torture (you sick weasels), Matt Cain will be back in case theres a Game 7. Expressionless stares, reptile blood, all the pitches a fellow could need in all the places a fellow could need them.

Im a guy whos usually going to throw a lot of fastballs, he said, but I think the biggest thing today was really making sure the location was better than the previous times (he faced the Phillies, without success). I think the main goal today was to go out there and try to keep the ball closer to the knees and stay at the bottom of the strike zone.

And as an added bonus, to make it easier for Buster Posey. It isnt Job One, but it makes Job One a better days work.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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


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


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.