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Down on the Farm: Journey from College World Series hero to Giants Triple-A

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Down on the Farm: Journey from College World Series hero to Giants Triple-A

Some Twitter bios are better than others. 

Baseball is something I do, not who I am. 

"Our jobs can't define us as who we are," Michael Roth says from the Raley Field clubhouse before a Sacramento River Cats win. "For me, that's really just what it means. My identity is not my sport. 

"That doesn't mean that if I go out there and I get shelled, that I don't get upset, but it just means that I'm not going to take that home with me. That's the biggest thing and that's what it means to me. Baseball is not my identity, I'm not going to wrap my life in it. While I love it and enjoy it, I'm just not gonna hinge on every game as to whether I'm a failure or success." 

Every June, college baseball's elite come to Omaha, Neb. aiming to do what Roth accomplished at the College World Series. As a team, that would be winning the national championship — twice in Roth's case. As a player, that would be turning into a superstar. 

Long before he earned a single cent for playing the game, Roth was signing autographs for more than just fans of his South Carolina Gamecocks on his way into the record books. 

"You’re pretty much famous while you’re there," Roth said. "The College World Series is about as big league as it gets when you’re not in the big leagues. Playing in front of 25,000 people, the fans are really good fans, they’re really into the game no matter if it’s your fans traveling or just the people in Omaha." 

Roth's College World Series career ended with three straight trips from his sophomore season to his senior season (2010-12) and was crowned a champion twice with legendary numbers. They are as follows: 10 appearances (third most ever), eight starts (record), three starts in a championship game (record), four wins (second most ever), 60.1 innings pitched (record), and a 1.49 ERA (fourth best ever with minimum 30 innings pitched). 

Roth's collision course to domination was not an excepted one, especially on the mound. In fact, he wasn't even recruited to South Carolina as a pitcher. 

"I was recruited to South Carolina as a first baseman and didn’t really perform well enough in fall to even merit much contention so I really pitched out of necessity my freshman year," Roth said. 

The lefty still managed to hit in 13 games as a freshman, batting just .154. On the mound, he turned out a solid 4.22 ERA with a 1-1 record after pitching in 16 games and starting two.  

That next season in 2010, the legend began. 

When he came back to campus as a sophomore, Roth was still plenty focused on trying to be an everyday first baseman. One day while turning double plays at first, then pitching coach Mark Calvi saw a way to make Roth into a force on the hill.

"He saw me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about dropping down?’ I’m like ‘Hell no, what are you thinking?’ He made me do it right then and there, go throw sidearm in the bullpen," Roth said. 

That lefty sidearm slot saw Roth, who is far from a flamethrower, sling unhittable pitches to the tune of an ERA just above one. He was the ultimate lefty specialist until South Carolina needed him the most for much more than a quick outing out of the ‘pen.

With South Carolina facing elimination against rival Clemson in the College World Series, the starting rotation was out of arms. Before he knew it, coach Calvi came up to his All-American reliever and named Roth the day's starting pitcher for the first time that season with one simple message: "Hey, just go out there and pitch." 

The plan was for Roth to go a couple innings so South Carolina could use a bullpen by committee approach. Next thing you know, Roth is through three innings. The plan seems perfect. Then five innings. Okay, this is a lot better than any plan. He's dealing, keep him in. Roth not only perfected the plan, he was more than perfect, better than any expectations that were placed upon him. He saved the season with a complete game, allowing only three hits in a 5-1 win. 

South Carolina went on to beat UCLA in the championship, starting its run of three straight appearances in the finals, winning again in 2011 before losing in 2012.

Now at 27 years old and pitching with the Sacramento River Cats as part of the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A team, Roth knows the questions are coming around this time of year. His left arm earned its legend as an amateur and instead of run from the past, his eyes are set on the present while appreciating how he came to this point. 

"I guess in a sense my career did take off in the College World Series because if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure if I’d even be here as a starting pitcher or as a pitcher in general," Roth says. "It’s kind of interesting how life’s events take you with things like that in big moments.” 

Less than a year after being selected by the Angels in the ninth round of the 2012 draft, Roth made his MLB debut against the Astros, pitching two perfect innings while striking out four straight at one point. The dream was made, but he also learned the realities of pro baseball compared to college. 

"As far as from a career perspective, college baseball really teaches you how to go out there and compete and go out there and win," Roth explains. "Pro baseball is much more individualized. 

"It still sucks if you come to the park every day and get your ass kicked. But it’s just more individual in its nature, it’s more of a business." 

After the 2014 season, the Angels released Roth. He has made it to the bigs with two teams — the Angels and Rangers — but the Giants signing him in November 2016 made them Roth's fourth organization since 2012. 

The Giants were particularly intriguing to Roth in the offseason as they weren't set on him being a starter or reliever, creating flexibility and hopefully another path to the majors. Roth has pitched in 13 games this year for Sacramento, starting nine, and holds a 4-4 record with a 4.12 ERA in the highly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. 

The journey has been stardom in college with peaks and valleys as a pro. For Roth though, it still comes down to that message coach Calvi said to him as he started his status among the College World Series greats — make pitches, throw strikes, get outs. 

"Whether you throw mid to upper 90s or 88 to 92 like I throw, I think it's really just attacking the zone," he says. "That's something I focus on every time out there. It's going right at them and not trying to be too fine and make a perfect pitch. A good pitch is good enough, I don't need to make a perfect pitch."

The stats will always be there. The memories too. Records are meant to be broken, but plenty of his might as well be etched in stone. The game, the numbers have been how others see him yet it's not all who Michael Roth is — just like he showed by spending three months in Spain after winning the 2011 national championship — no matter how many South Carolina fans sit around bars talking about what his left arm did in Omaha, no matter when he's back in the big leagues and no matter how long he toes the rubber.

Baseball is something I do, not who I am. 

Giants notes: Chris Shaw shakes off confusing call, drives in game-winner

Giants notes: Chris Shaw shakes off confusing call, drives in game-winner

SAN DIEGO — The Giants have had one of the better replay records in baseball since the system was installed, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the process. Several calls have baffled manager Bruce Bochy this season, and on Tuesday he couldn’t understand how a fan wasn’t called for interference for getting in the way of left fielder Chris Shaw’s glove.

Shaw went back to the wall and leapt for a Franmil Reyes fly ball. He thought he was about to rob a homer for the first time in his career. Instead, a man in an aqua t-shirt got his hands in the way and pulled the ball into the seats. 

“I just don't understand it. If that’s not interference, I don’t know what is,” Bochy said. “The only thing they tell us is that it came from (the office) in New York. It looked like definite interference to me. I don’t get it.”

Luckily for the Giants, the call didn’t cost them a win. Shaw made sure of that. The homer gave the Padres a one-run lead, but Shaw came up in the eighth with the bases loaded and poked a two-run bloop single into left. He thought he got enough of it for a sacrifice fly. It ended up being a positive that he didn’t hit the ball as hard as he thought, though. Padres left fielder Hunter Renfroe’s dive came up short and the Giants took a 5-4 lead that held up. 

“I was pretty pissed off right there,” Shaw said of the sequence that started with the fan robbing him. “I thought I had a chance to take two runs off the board. Coming up in that position, that’s where you want to be.”

Shaw got his first start against a lefty, but it was right-hander Craig Stammen on the mound in his biggest at-bat. Bochy liked that he put the ball in play.

“Good things happen when you put it in play,” he said. “He didn’t hit it good, but he put it in play.”

For a player plagued by strikeouts his first two weeks in the majors, that was a big moment. Nick Hundley scored easily and Brandon Crawford got an incredible read, nearly running up Hundley’s back as he tagged at third. Third base coach Ron Wotus said he never even had a decision to make. Crawford saw that the ball was going to drop and he was headed home regardless. It gave Shaw a game-winning hit. 

“That’s incredible baserunning,” Shaw said. “Obviously he’s got great instincts.”

--- The main story tonight is on Hunter Pence and his future. 

--- Aramis Garcia has a hit in eight of his nine career games. Before this one, Bochy said Garcia will get a lot of starts at first over the next 10 games with Brandon Belt’s knee ailing. 

--- Will Smith recorded his 14th save, tying Hunter Strickland for the team lead. Smith gave up a double, but this one never seemed in much doubt. That’s what he does, and there seems no doubt he’ll enter next spring as the club’s closer.

After fueling Giants win, Hunter Pence unsure if he'll play in 2019

After fueling Giants win, Hunter Pence unsure if he'll play in 2019

SAN DIEGO — A decade from now, when former Giants gather at AT&T Park to celebrate a dynasty, Hunter Pence may be remembered more for his words off the field than his play on it. As good as he was, as powerful as he was at the plate in his prime, Pence’s enduring legacy will be the speeches he gave in 2012, the motivation he provided over the following years, the ability to grab a microphone and speak from the heart, representing an entire organization in good times and bad. 

Buster Posey was the face of the dynasty. Madison Bumgarner was the best player on the field most of the time. But Pence was the one who would be given the stage when a message needed to be sent to fans. He has rarely been at a loss for words, but on Tuesday night, his voice was quiet when he was presented with a question he seems to have been dreading in recent weeks. 

Will you play next year?

“We’ll see,” Pence said, not offering anything further. 

He has stuck to that message over the final month of a five-year contract signed at the end of the 2013 season. Pence has politely declined requests to talk about his future in baseball, but late in a disappointing year, he has left some in the organization with the belief that he will try to continue his career next season at the age of 36. If he does, he will not get the opportunity to do so in San Francisco. 

The Giants know they need to move on. Get younger, more flexible, more dynamic. Pence, traded from Philadelphia at the deadline in 2012, has 10 games left in orange and black. He made the most of a night in San Diego on Tuesday, driving in three runs and hitting a mammoth homer in a 5-4 win over the Padres. While he did not give any hints about his future afterward, he did seem to acknowledge the nature of his future with the Giants. 

“I’m trying to enjoy and give everything I have every day, but it is pretty special,” he said. “It’s been an incredible time for me being part of the Giants organization for this long and I’ve loved every bit of it. I’m going to continue to do so until it’s officially over.”

The end will come at home, and while the Giants have not made any official plans, you can bet Pence will run out to right field at least once next weekend, trying to make the most of any at-bats he’s given. He talked Tuesday about making adjustments and working to get better. He has had no trouble finding motivation to do so, even if the scoreboard says he’s hitting .215, and even if the two-run shot Tuesday was just his third in 200 at-bats. 

“I’m always motivated,” he said. “I love to play. I love the game. It matters. It matters to all of us.”

This performance certainly mattered to Pence’s teammates. Starter Derek Holland said it was great to see, calling Pence “the perfect teammate.” 

“He definitely deserves a lot more praise than he’s been getting,” Holland said. 

Let’s offer it, then. Pence has still maintained some tremendous physical gifts. At times, his batting practice displays have put him in the lineup. Members of the staff stand behind the cage and watch him go moonshot-for-moonshot with Madison Bumgarner. They wonder if he can run into one in a game. They lean on hope. 

On Tuesday, those hopes were rewarded. Pence’s 437-foot homer gave him two of the five longest bombs of the season for the Giants. It was the second-longest homer of the night in Major League Baseball, and when he smacked a pitch down the right field line two innings later and hustled into second for a double, he had the second-fastest home-to-second time of the night. At 8.08 seconds, Pence nestled in right between speedy Astros outfielder Tony Kemp (8.05) and Rays rookie Joey Wendle (8.08).

Perhaps those are the snapshots that Pence will hold onto this offseason if he goes through grueling workouts. The Giants will remember him for so many other highlights, many in the biggest spots this game has to offer. There’s a reason he still gets standing ovations every time he digs into the batter’s box. There’s a reason his manager smiled when he thought about his right fielder’s big night. 

“Good for him,” Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got a different role and he just keeps working and keeping himself ready. It’s good to see him have some success.”