Giants' youth look to do what Hall of Famers never could

Giants' youth look to do what Hall of Famers never could

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a sense, it hardly seems fair.

From the time they moved from the Polo Grounds to Seal Stadium in 1958, the San Francisco Giants have been a team with enormous star power.

Willie Mays, considered by some the game's most complete player in the post-World War II era, made the cross-country trek with the Giants as they, with the Dodgers, established a major league beachhead on the West Coast.

In time, he was joined by Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, Hall of Famers all.

After a relaively fallow period in the late 1970s through the late 1980s, there was Will Clark, and eventually, the notorious Barry Bonds.

All of them have one thing in common: they never won a World Series with the San Francisco Giants. (Mays had the good fortune to be with the Giants in 1954, when the franchise won its last title).

Which isn't to say they didn't come tantalizingly, infuriatingly close. Mays, Marichal, McCovey and Cepeda had the tying run on third in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series when McCovey's smash liner found its way into New York Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson's glove.

Bonds, having freed himself from the suggestion that he was a post-season flop, was two innings away from winning in Game 6 of the 2002 Series before the (then) Anaheim Angels rallied to win that game, and Game 7, too.

In that way, greats like McCovey, Marichal and the others share a history with great Red Sox stars such as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as Hall of Famers who came close, but ultimately retired without winning a championship.

Now, a roster full of rookies, castoffs and journeymen are close to doing what their predecessors couldn't. McCovey, who played 19 of 22 seasons in San Francisco, never won, but Aubrey Huff, signed last winter, just might.

Mays, denied in the Bay Area, played from 1958 through 1972 without earning a ring, but Andres Torres, in his second season, is in position to top him.

Marichal, who won 20 games or more six times in the span of seven series yet never won a World Series or a Cy Young Award, came up empty, but Jonathan Madison Bumgarner, who had started exactly one game before facing the Red Sox in June, might soon be a champion.

Fair? Not hardly. But as Ron Washington, manager of the current-day Giants' opponents, is fond of saying: "That's how baseball go.''

These Giants may lack star power -- nobody hit 30 homers, knocked in 90 runs or won 17 games during the regular season -- but this collection of mostly "misfits and castoffs,'' as manager Bruce Bochy refers to them, is halfway toward winning it all.

This anonymous, no-one-is-bigger-than-the-team approach wears well with the fan base, perhaps because it stands in such stark contrast to the Bonds-led teams of recent history. Those teams had a Bonds-or-bust mentality: if Bonds didn't hit, or, as was often the case, wasn't allowed to hit because opponents worked around him, the Giants had little chance to win.

His ego was every bit as big as his swelled head and his persona so dominated the franchise that the entire organization seemed held captive.

That's hardly the case with this edition of the Giants, which is probably why the team has been so beloved by the fan base.

(Side note: Do not make the mistake of lumping San Francisco fans in with their brethren from southern California. San Francisco fans are every bit as dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable as renowned sports cites such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia).

Team president Larry Baer, in citing the team's democratic approach, told the San Francisco Chronicle recently that the mood around the team this season "is how it is in Little League.''

The team's highest-paid player, pitcher Barry Zito, didn't make the post-season roster. But there was room for Pat Burrell, picked up after being releases by the Tampa Bay Rays, and for Cody Ross, put on waivers by the Florida Marlins.

The left side of the infield, which features warhorses Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, look too slow and immobile. Renteria is with his sixth team; Uribe is with his third, but this post-season, they've both been stars, invigorated by the post-season.

Some have said that this Giants' lineup is the most feeble since the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, but somehow, San Francisco has averaged 10 runs through the first two games of the Series, yet another manifestation of the team's selflessness and willingness to work together.

This weekend, they may have another thing in common with those Dodgers - a title.

Fair? To the likes of McCovey and Marichal, perhaps not.

But fun? Plenty, and part of what makes baseball so unapologetically unpredictable.

Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

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Kimbrel's knee 'feels great,' pushing himself towards return

BOSTON -- Just before the All-Star break, it almost seemed like the Red Sox were bound to lose Craig Kimbrel for six weeks potentially with the knee damage.

However, prior to Saturday’s game, John Farrell sounded optimistic about Kimbrel return more towards the three-week timetable.

The closer has gotten back to what he was working on prior to his injury, including his breaking ball.

“I’m out there spinning the ball right now,” Kimbrel said. “My knee feels great, so I’m just working on getting back into my mechanics. Staying compact and before I hurt my knee I was working on a few things. Just getting back to focusing on [those things].”

Kimbrel also stated that his arm “feels great” which was originally a concern for the Red Sox Front Office when he was injured -- fearing the knee would somehow lead to arm problems later.

Although things seem to almost be moving too fast for Kimbrel, he feels like the process has taken too long.

“It may look like a pretty fast recovery but it feels like forever,” Kimbrel said. “I think the way some people may look at it, it might be a little fast, but I’m not doing anything that is uncomfortable. I’m pushing myself, but I’m not pushing myself to a point where it doesn’t feel good. Testing everything out, that’s kind of where it is.

“Went in there and we didn’t really fix anything. Just kind of cut some cartilage out and right now it’s [about] getting my muscles firing like they’re supposed to. That’s coming back pretty fast because we were able to keep the swelling down right after surgery, so I was able to get back into the weight room and get back to the range of motion pretty quick.”

The righty will throw his first bullpen since the surgery and his confident he’ll feel good on the mound.

In fact, he thinks he could’ve thrown off the mound Sunday, but still hasn’t tested one important responsibility of a pitcher.

“I think I could throw off the mound,” Kimbrel said. “I don’t know if I can run in from the bullpen yet. Tomorrow we’re going to get off the mound, throw a bullpen and then can start pushing off and running.

“Fielding my position and cutting -- things like that. The kind of things where if a guy bunts on me [or] if I’ve gotta cover first -- I’ve gotta be able to do things like that.”

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

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Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Two players who began their careers at opposite ends of the spectrum nearly three decades ago ended up in the same place on Sunday — with their names etched on plaques at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, the culmination of their long journeys was tinged with tears all around.

"I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed," Griffey said, staring out at his family and tens of thousands of fans. "I can't describe how it feels."

The two became a piece of history on their special day. Griffey, the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft, became the highest pick ever inducted. Piazza, a 62nd-round pick the next year —No. 1,390 — is the lowest pick to enter the Hall of Fame.

Griffey played 22 big-league seasons with the Mariners, Reds and White Sox and was selected on a record 99.32 percent of ballots cast, an affirmation of sorts for his clean performance during baseball's so-called Steroids Era.

A 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Griffey hit 630 home runs, sixth all-time, and drove in 1,836 runs. He also was the American League MVP in 1997, drove in at least 100 runs in eight seasons, and won seven Silver Slugger Awards.

Griffey, who fell just three votes shy of being the first unanimous selection, hit 417 of his 630 homers and won all 10 of his Gold Gloves with the Seattle Mariners. He played the first 11 seasons of his career with the Mariners and led them to the playoffs for the first two times in franchise history.

"Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners, from the day I got drafted, Seattle, Washington, has been a big part of my life," Griffey said, punctuating the end of his speech by putting a baseball cap on backward as he did throughout his career.

"I'm going to leave you with one thing. In 22 years I learned that one team will treat you the best, and that's your first team. I'm damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner."

Dubbed "The Natural" for his effortless excellence at the plate and in center field, Griffey avoided the Hall of Fame until his special weekend because he wanted his first walk through the front doors of the stately building on Main Street to be with his kids, whom he singled out one by one in his 20-minute speech.

"There are two misconceptions about me — I didn't work hard and everything I did I made look easy," Griffey said. "Just because I made it look easy doesn't mean that it was. You don't become a Hall of Famer by not working, but working day in and day out."

Griffey's mom, Birdie, and his father, former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Sr., both cancer survivors and integral to his rise to stardom, were front and center in the first row.

"To my dad, who taught me how to play this game and to my mom, the strongest woman I know," Junior said. "To have to be mom and dad, she was our biggest fan and our biggest critic. She's the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others."

Selected in the draft by the Dodgers after Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza'a father, Vince, put in a good word, Piazza struggled.

He briefly quit the game while in the minor leagues, returned and persevered despite a heavy workload as he switched from first base to catcher and teammates criticized his erratic play.

Mom and dad were foremost on his mind, too.

"Dad always dreamed of playing in the major leagues," said Piazza, just the second Hall of Famer depicted on his plaque wearing a Mets cap, after Tom Seaver in 1992.

"He could not follow that dream because of the realities of life. My father's faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you dad. We made it, dad. The race is over. Now it's time to smell the roses."

Piazza played 16 years with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics and hit 427 home runs, including a major league record 396 as a catcher. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top five of his league's MVP voting four times.

Perhaps even more impressive, Piazza, a .308 career hitter, posted six seasons with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 batting average (all other catchers in baseball history combined have posted nine such seasons).

Though the Dodgers gave him his start, Piazza found a home in New York when he was traded to the Mets in May 1998.

Three years later, he became a hero to the hometown fans with perhaps the most notable home run of his career. His two-run shot in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium lifted the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Piazza paid tribute to that moment.

"To witness the darkest evil of the human heart ... will be forever burned in my soul," Piazza said. "But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and eventual healing.

"Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21st, but the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders that knew that they were going to die, but went forward anyway. I pray that we never forget their sacrifice."

Attendance was estimated at around 50,000 by the Hall of Fame, tying 1999 when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Young were inducted, for second-most all time behind 2007 (Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn).

Copyright The Associated Press

 

First impressions of Red Sox' 8-7 win over Twins

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First impressions of Red Sox' 8-7 win over Twins

BOSTON -- First impressions of the Red Sox' 8-7 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Fenway Park:
 
Rick Porcello did all he needed to do.

Although he’s still undefeated thus far at home (10-0), Porcello’s start could have easily gone better for him -- especially if Brock Holt catches a few fly balls hit his way.

Regardless, he's 13-2 with a 3.57 ERA and still maintained the title of Boston’s “most reliable pitcher.”

Yes, he gave up five runs -- but four were earned. And Juan Centeno’s “double” that was lost in the sun by Holt should’ve been caught -- accounting for at least one more run.

Porcello had another start where the bullpen was overworked the previous day in a tough loss. Furthermore, his teammates were expected to perform a little more than 12 hours after a rough four-hour contest.

This is a game where the numbers don’t do his performance justice -- but at the same time, Porcello left the bullpen to hold a three-run lead in the final 2 1/3 innings.
 
The Red Sox need Mookie Betts back in right.

If that wasn’t made evident with Michael Martinez’s play Saturday night, Holt made it clear when he couldn’t corral Max Kepler’s deep fly to right in the fourth.

Although the sun could’ve played a factor, Holt got there in time. So the ball has to be caught. Instead, he was too worried about the hip-height wall that he was heading toward at full steam.

Not too mention the fly ball he dropped looking into the sun in the seventh -- which was somehow ruled a hit. As much as the Green Monster is a difficult beast to master, right field at Fenway can be just as difficult.
 
Hanley Ramirez continues to take advantage of pitcher’s mistakes.

The best part about Ramirez’s third-inning, three-run blast was it came on a first pitch changeup -- not exactly something hitters are sitting on out the gate.

Additionally, Tommy Milone’s changeup ran in on Ramirez, instead of away from him -- given Milone is a lefty and Ramirez a right-handed hitter.

If Ramirez gets that pitch a month ago, he rips in foul or rolls over the top of it. Instead, he keeps displaying that he can still pull the ball with power.