Sunday was what every Giants fan had been waiting for since the team convened in Arizona for spring training. For the first time all season, manager Felipe Alou penciled Barry Bonds fourth and Moises Alou fifth on his lineup card. San Francisco’s big bats were together at last, and with them came tenacious starting pitching and clutch defense as well as a little offensive support from the usual suspects to produce in their absence. And not a moment too soon, because it was needed to upend the Dodgers for a series win.
For as poor as the season has been, there have been flashes of brilliance, and when one facet of the team tries its hardest to fail, when the Giants are going well another one picks up the slack. Left-hander Noah Lowry started the contest with a record of success against Los Angeles and with his recent turnaround in mind, it was difficult to watch him fight his way through five innings. What Lowry lacks in command and/or stuff on any given day this season, he makes up for it in resolve. Lowry’s problems didn’t stem from control problems or not dropping in the new curve or failing to make the changeup effective, but from his high pitch counts, which have been a problem for him since he came up from the minor leagues. He threw well enough on Sunday to collect five strikeouts, ringing up Dodgers back-to-back in the third and the fourth innings.
The Dodgers generated offense by playing into the Giants’ weaknesses; how small SBC Park plays during a warm sunny day as opposed to a cold, damp night, and using former Giants to beat the currents. With two out in the third inning shortstop Oscar Robles lofted a ball to right that carried over the brick wall. Jose Cruz, Jr., who’s making a living off beating up on the Giants, deposited a ball in the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. The one encouraging thing about that at-bat was watching Barry Bonds time the ball to jump after it, and he had the hops to get to it, if it wasn’t a few rows back.
It was the Randy Winn Show today again, going three-for-four with a leadoff single and a hit later in the seventh, but the big one came in the third inning. Lowry helped his cause by hitting one to deep left field, bouncing over the wall for a ground-rule double. Winn picked him up with a home run into the arcade. Omar Vizquel added a walk and Pedro Feliz doubled, and suddenly Bonds had a second and third situation with no out.
Give the National League West some credit. It’s easily the worst division in the sport, but since Bonds’ return NL West pitchers have been unafraid to challenge him. It’s part of what’s made his return so triumphant. This time around he had to settle for a sacrifice fly to left to score Vizquel, but it all came down to a 3-1 lead for Lowry.
Lowry’s gumption is what kept him, and the team, in this game. When he opened the fifth inning with a walk to Jayson Werth and a single off the bat off pinch-hitter Jason Phillips, things looked bad. He responded by inducing a pop-up to third and a groundout to first, and finished his afternoon with a strikeout to Antonio Perez, denying him a third chance to get on base for the afternoon.
It became a bullpen game, and with what’s known about both relief corps, it could have been anyone’s game. Los Angeles’ bullpen was once good, when pitchers were used in their appropriate roles. San Francisco’s relievers have been good overall this season, excellent at times and horrific at others. Matt Kinney came in and with two out allowed two hits, one scoring Dioner Navarro to tie the game at three runs apiece, then hit Werth to put two runners on. Another hard-hit ball to right would have put the Dodgers ahead, but Alou came up throwing. On a perfect throw from Alou, catcher Mike Matheny applied a beautiful sweep tag and got Edwards to end the inning.
There’s something about a guy who makes a clutch defensive play. He almost always comes up immediately after, and he almost always does something amazing. Matheny did not disappoint. He launched one to left field to put the Giants ahead, and they didn’t look back from there. Jack Taschner, Tyler Walker and Armando Benitez followed Kinney from the bullpen and sewed up the victory with three scoreless innings of work.
No story about the afternoon would be complete without mentioning Bonds’ final at bat. Facing a young, hard-throwing Taiwanese pitcher named Hong-Chih Kuo, he worked the count full then blasted his first Splash Hit of the season, an emphatic punctuation on the series win and a sign that maybe, really and truly, he’s back. Whatever it means, “BEAT LA!” can still be heard ringing around the ballpark, and if the team can’t win the division, at least they can make it exciting for the rest of the way.
SFDugout Player of the Game: Matheny’s career year at the plate just gets better and better. With his outstanding tag to preserve the tie and then the game-breaking homer, Matheny earned a place in the books of this rivalry, although sure to not be as obscure another anti-Dodger moment by a catcher, Brian Johnson’s extra-innings home run in 1997.
Notes: The Giants have finished ahead of the Dodgers in the division the last seven of eight seasons. They try for eight of nine this year…going into today’s game Winn’s .455 September average still tops everyone in the Major Leagues…with the exception of a three-game swing in Washington DC starting Tuesday, the Giants play only their foes in the NL West the rest of the way. If they’re going to make a push for the division crown, now’s the time.
Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 23rd season of fandom and first where she's had the honor to write for the Giants on SFDugout.com. Love/hate mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.
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