Ray Ratto

Ratto: Giants 'Don't Do Anything Easy'


Ratto: Giants 'Don't Do Anything Easy'


SAN FRANCISCO -- But first, this word from Counting Your Unhatched Chickens Theatre.

The Giants, who arose Thursday one step away from a World Series, will arise again Friday and then again Saturday, still one step away from a World Series. And, it should be added, one step closer to a potential flameout of galling proportions.

But then, youve already done those mental gymnastics, havent you?

Thursdays 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Match Point No. 1 was a clinical, almost bloodless performance by the cornered defending champions. Indeed, the longer the game went, the more the ballpark vibe dissipated as the customers were reminded why the Phillies are considered, well, the Phillies.

And why magic, magic, magic isnt going to spackle and paint this particular wall.

As you know, we dont do anything easy, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in that mono-baritone he uses when the mood demands it. We were under no illusion thinking this would be easy. We just made a couple of mistakes.

Well, yes. First baseman Aubrey Huff playing a sharp grounder from Shane Victorino into a sharp grounder into center field stood out, as it accelerated the Phils game-winning third inning rally. So did Cody Ross commandment-violating running error, being thrown out at third base to end the fourth.

This wasnt the Giants game to lose, but the Phillies game to win, and the Phillies did that very thing.

Roy Halladay muscled his way through six painful innings (he pulled a groin in the second inning) and dropped a bunt in front of the plate right before Victorinos smash put the Phillies in business. Placido Polanco lined a two-run single to left, and Jayson Werth aired out a ninth-inning homer to make sure no delusions of grandeur would be permitted.

In short, the Phillies reminded the giddy locals that the king must be killed before there is a new king, and the Phillies dont die easy.

Youll want to remember that Saturday, and maybe even Sunday, before you start calling the caterer.

I feel like Ive got to tell, someone will say it anyway, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, burnishing the Halladay legend. Second inning, he had a mild groin pull, his right groin. And he pitched like -- of course, he stayed in there.

Manuel said Halladay incurred the injury trying to hump up on Posey in the second inning, which didnt happen, because Posey didnt bat in the second, or even the third. Halladay, in fact, said, he hurt it facing Ross in the second.

Its always satisfying to win something like that, and youd rather not have to overcome anything, Halladay said when asked how it felt to perform as he did with an injury. Youd rather just win the game. Thats the great feeling about what it meant.

In short, the Giants did next to nothing with this apparent gift, because Halladay is nobodys farm implement, and nobodys porcelain knick-knack. They got only five baserunners on after Ross double (which is coming up shortly on your screen), and they all rest comfortably in this evenings box score, unharmed by the onus of the run column.

The Giants, who keep surrounding a big offensive game without ever achieving it, got their top-two hitters, Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez, on base six times, in succession in the first and fifth innings. That was the first time that had occurred, but the Giants scored only once because second baseman Chase Utley handled a Buster Posey grounder like an iced-over hamster.

Then came the back-to-back doubles by Pat Burrell and Ross that became the Giants last gasp.

I think he felt he had it easy, Bochy said, trying to explain away the obvious mistake, and Werth made a terrific throw, right on the money. But its the last thing you want to do is make the third out there. He knows it.

Indeed, the Ross-istic magic ebbed Thursday. The RBI double was helpful, as those things typically are, but the running gaffe and the three other strikeouts sucked a little air out of the legend of The Other Beard. He missed a cutter and a changeup from the gimpy Halladay, and a nasty slider from Ryan Madson.

And it all ... just ... faded away. The big, shiny sense of anticipation that vibrated the building slowly but surely dissipated as the reality sank in that this was one of those nights that belonged to the other guy. The better guy. The disappointing favorite that wouldnt die on cue because champions dont do that.

Now the circus moves back to Philadelphia, and with it a whole new set of anxieties for both sides. The Giants are ordinary again, and the Phillies are sending Roy Oswalt out on two days rest. This is not uncharted territory, but it makes figuring out Game 6 a fools errand.

So return with us in two days time, fools. This little dog-and-pony show has more stops, not to mention starts, before it comes to rest and you can start plotting out your November shopping.
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.