Ray Ratto

Ratto: Giants Savor Champagne, Braves Taste Defeat


Ratto: Giants Savor Champagne, Braves Taste Defeat


ATLANTA -- In the end, the Giants remembered their manners. They celebrated at the mound after Brian Wilson choke-slammed the rally he had brought to life, and then they stopped and applauded Bobby Cox one last time.

Cox, the Atlanta manager since forever, stood a few steps in front of the Braves dugout after his team went down, 3-2, in the final game of the NL Division Series, waved his hat over his head in a circle the way managers used to, and the Giants stopped what they were doing and saluted him.

And Cox remembered his manners too. He didnt milk the applause. He pointed at the victors and nodded, and then turned and descended the dugout stairs for the final time, and the Giants returned to the matter at hand.

Assembling themselves for Philadelphia, and a battle that will be far more difficult, and probably nowhere near as bizarre.

The Giants beat the Braves thrice in four one-run games, with a different hero each time. Tim Lincecum in One, Aubrey Huff (assist Brooks Conrad) in Three, and Cody Ross in Four. Ross homered to break up Derek Lowes no-hitter on a first-pitch cutter, and slapped the game-winning single to left in the seventh off Jonny Venters.

In doing so, he became a kind of folk hero in these parts (San Francisco, not Atlanta), the desperation pickup designed to foil the Padres who became the square peg for so many square holes. With the improbable combination of shaved head and beard that always makes a guy look like he left the house with his head upside down, Ross won hearts and minds in a town that normally goes for younger, more fashionable types.

Their loss, too, because Ross is exactly the kind of guy who makes playoff teams have deep playoff runs. He took the eighth place in the order and made it a useful part of an often non-useful offense. He put the ball in play most of the time; he struck out only twice the entire series, fewer than any starters except Pablo Sandoval, who played only two of the four games.

And Monday he provided the dent needed to show his mates that Lowe could be hit. That mattered because this was a starting pitchers series in the extreme; the eight starters combined to allow only 10 earned runs in 51 23 innings, an ERA of 1.75, and only one, Tommy Hanson in Game 2, didnt make it to the sixth.

Ross, though, also justified his place on the roster both in this series and whatever else awaits the Giants. They open Saturday against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, and it is unlikely to see any changes in the roster unless some as-yet-unknown injury arises between now and Saturday morning.

The rotation is set up -- Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and, based on Mondays work product if nothing else, Madison Bumgarner in Game 4. Assuming the Phillies do nothing different after sweeping the Reds, Charlie Manuel will deal out Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and ... well, maybe Halladay again.

But there are five days to pound that one home. For now, the Giants have worked their way back to an NLCS for the first time since Barry Bonds was walking four out of every three times at bat. They have been put through a proper amount of hell by a badly undermanned Atlanta team, and by rights probably should have had to win Monday to get to play Game 5 Wednesday.

That is, unless you want to insist that they should have won Game 2. Thats parallel universe stuff, and youre welcome to all of it you can eat.

But no matter how messy the kitchen looks, the meal ended up being satisfying. Not too rich, certainly not too heavy, and probably not enough to meet the nutritional and caloric needs for the upcoming series, but just enough to win the series they should have won.

The hard way, and white-knuckling it down to the end, with Wilson walking Rick Ankiel, the Braves hero in Game 2, and Eric Hinske, the almost hero of Game 3, before bringing Omar Infante and Melky Cabrera to heel. It was a 25-pitch save, the kind that used to make Wilsonians yank their hair out in clumps, but it was entirely apropos for the evening.

But torture? That ones been exhausted, as weve already said. You want torture, wait until Saturday. You want to feel like your boys earned their way in, wait until Saturday.

In other words, the funs just started, masochists. Be not fooled by their genteel sendoff for Bobby Cox, a man like few others. Therell be blood on the walls from here on out.

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.