The last thing the Giants needed was another rain delay, after the weather problems in the Bay Area for most of March and April. The team waded right into a soggy situation on Friday and had the game called hours before it was set to begin. It set up Saturday’s twin bill, with game one’s pitching matchup an interesting one.
In this corner, the Giants had Matt Cain going. Cain’s perplexing season has had ups and downs, and he’s on a shaky upswing following two winshis masterpiece one-hitter in Oakland on May 21st and doing enough to get by against Colorado at home on the 27th.
Facing him, the newly acquired Orlando Hernandez. The Mets needed pitching like people need water after injuries devastated the rotation. Hernandez’s year has gone much like Cain’s, but the guy has eight post-season wins, indicative of the fact that he can just pitch. Enter El Duque.
The first game was delayed two and a half hours and the inclement weather threatened after baseball got underway, and during the contest. Between the battle of the two starters to stay on top of things and the rain that played hell with it all, it seemed like a race to the fifth inning, if just to get the game official and with the lead on the right side.
Randy Winn and Steve Finley teamed up to give the Giants the lead in the top of the first inning. Winn led off the game with a double and scored on Finley’s double to right field. Cain nearly gift wrapped the tying run for the Mets by allowing a double to David Wright in the second inning, and he stood on third with one out after Jose Valentin’s single.
Since Cain’s turnaround, one distinct thing has come back, that was missing before. He’s able to buckle down and pitch through trouble, like he did with this potential situation of runners at the corners with one out. He did it throughout his five innings in New York, and even when he surrendered the lead in the fourth inning, he kept his team close.
Both teams scored in the third inning. Winn and Finley connected again to produce a run, after Cain led off with a single, then advanced to second on a balk, but erased the baserunning threat by getting caught in a rundown on Winn’s fielder’s choice.
That whole exercise wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it wasn’t for Winn’s run scored, a manufactured run thanks to Winn stealing second and Finley’s single to right. Finley advanced to second on the throw. Hernandez walked Barry Bonds intentionally, walked Ray Durham unintentionally, and for all the hope Lance Niekro has created in the hearts of Giants fans since his huge game in Florida Thursday, he wasted it by striking out with the bases loaded.
The wasted opportunity might have made a difference, because the Mets would score in the next three innings. Jose Reyes can change the course of a game with his speed or his glove, and he used his tremendous running ability to fly around the bases for a one-out triple in the third inning. Endy Chavez drove him in on a groundout to Durham.
In the fourth inning the New York big bats took over. No more of this small ball garbage. Wright and Cliff Floyd banged hard doubles off Cain to generate a run, and Floyd would get around to third after Valentin walked and catcher Ramon Castro hit a ball to Omar Vizquel at short. The Gold Glover took the only out he could get, Valentin at second, but left the door open for Floyd at third.
The rain couldn’t have helped at this point; it was coming down heavy and made problems with the mound, how well the batters could see, and the grip the players had on their equipment. Cain lost control of a pitch, the unlucky wild pitch, and Floyd took home easily. In one of the worst ways possible, the Giants suddenly stared at a 3-2 deficit.
The fifth inning looked worse. Cain beaned Reyes square on the elbow to start things off, and what should have been the start of a beautiful double play as only Omar Vizquel can create turned into an ugly error, as Durham dropped the feed from Vizquel’s bare hand throw.
Carlos Delgado loomed in the batters’ box with two runners on, and he’s known as sensational in such situations. Saturday, however, he was merely ordinary, as he went 1 for 9 on the day, and 0 for 5 in game one. He grounded into a double play, while Reyes sneaked to third. Wright picked him up with an RBI single and things looked bleaker than the weather for the Giants.
They needed something to happen, something to swing their way, after mistakes and bad luck and ugly weather forced their backs to the wall. Barry Bonds was leading off the sixth inning, what better way to turn it around than by asking him to save the day? While there was no Superman act from Bonds, he did get it started with a single that fell between everybody lined up on the right side of the diamond, and then lumbered home on Pedro Feliz’s two-out triple.
Then, the unexpected, the improbable story that only happens in movies. Eliezer Alfonzo came up, the eight place hitter and backup catcher just called up from AA Connecticut making his major league debut, to replace iron man Mike Matheny after he went on the DL with a concussion. He stroked a ball to left field, over the fence for the go-ahead home run. Giants prospects have enjoyed smashing debuts in this young season.
San Francisco’s bullpen pulled together again. Kevin Correia, Steve Kline, and Jeremy Accardo combined for three scoreless innings, all retiring each batter he faced, and Correia struck out the side in the sixth. The Mets relievers were also very good, until the ninth inning when Darren Oliver surrendered an insurance run, thanks to sloppy pitching: hitting Winn on the back foot with a pitch, walking Finley and giving up the RBI single to Bonds.
Armando Benitez entered the ninth and pitched like a man determined to blow the effort his comrades put in. He walked Valentin to begin the inning and walked pinch hitter Carlos Beltran after striking out Castro, but got living fossil Julio Franco to pop out to Winn in foul territory, and ended the game on an easy ground ball to Durham.
Nothing about this game looked easy, and none of it could have felt easy for the boys, but after nearly three hours of sitting around watching the rain, and three hours of playing in it, they’ll take the win for what it’s worth.
SFDugout.com Player of the Game: Alfonzo’s big day also ranks in Giants history. He’s the first San Francisco player in twenty years to get his first major league hit off a home run. The last man to do it in a Giants uniform was Randy Kutcher in June 1986. An exciting moment in itself, and it had even more relevance when he hit it to break the tie and win the game. Not bad for an emergency catcher.
Let’s play two? The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants didn’t have a choice Saturday. Since heavy rains on the East Coast washed out their Friday night game, and severely delayed the start of the regularly scheduled Saturday game, they had to scramble to get the nightcap of the doubleheader in, more than the usual slapdash actions of doubleheader planning.
Neither lineup looked much different from game one’s configurations. There was another interesting pitching matchup, that of Tom Glavine opposing Jamey Wright. One future Hall of Famer, one journeyman who has better stuff than his luck would let you believe, but both have a common thread in their success in 2006.
Okay, so Glavine’s success is more apparent: at 8-2 with an earned run average under 3.00 and 60 strikeouts, it’s easy to look at Wright’s numbers (4-5, 4.43 ERA and half Glavine’s strikeouts, only 33) and laugh at the comparison. The truth of the matter is, every time either guy goes on the mound for his team, they feel they have a shot to win.
Both came out with guns blazing…as much as a control artist with a quietly outstanding career as Glavine can do, and as much as Wright’s uninspiring if effective repertoire of ground-ball inducing sinkers. They cruised through the first two innings at a scoreless pace with only one hit allowed between them, until the Giants got on the board in the third inning.
It was the day of unexpected power. First, Eliezer Alfonzo’s big hit in game one, and then unappreciated utility man Jose Vizcaino stepped up and nudged a ball over the wall in left for a home run to put the Giants ahead 1-0.
The Mets are in first place in the NL East for a reason. They have enough offense to carry them through, and their pitching has suffered but somehow stayed afloat. To fill in those gaps, they’ve used the little ways to win. Things like speed and smart base running. Endy Chavez showed how speed can turn a game around by beating out an infield grounder in the third inning, then advanced to second on a textbook bunt by Glavine. Jose Reyes brought him home on a base hit to centerfield, then he stole second. Paul LoDuca singled, Reyes scored.
The score stood at 2-1 through the next few innings. Pitchers settled down, defenses did their jobs. Randy Winn took this talk of streaky play and told everyone to shove it. He led off the sixth inning with a home run to left. With a tie score and both starters throwing like they have all season, and rain hanging around to make things damp and miserable, it was hard to tell where this game would go.
Both bullpens were outstanding in the doubleheader, although San Francisco used five pitchers in each game, and New York used four. It’s a night where you have to play two, and it’s cold, wet and you don’t know if you’ll even finish these games; a manager would think to use discretion when choosing who to run out there after his starter has tired.
Each starter did as he was asked, eight innings from Wright and seven from Glavine, but as this game stretched into extra innings, Giants manager Felipe Alou called on Steve Kline and Jeremy Accardo. You might remember these two as contributors to the Giants victory in game one. Each threw an excellent inning of relief, Kline in the ninth and Accardo in the tenth, but the question still remains. Felipe, why do you insist upon exhausting the bullpen at the most inopportune times?
The Mets came at the Giants with Aaron Heilman, their closer Billy Wagner and former Dodger Duaner Sanchez. As the game dragged into the eleventh inning, with rain and fatigue setting in heavier, each team looked for a way to break through. Wagner blew a save in the series against the Giants in San Francisco in April, and Sanchez was an easy target for the Giants during his Dodger days.
These three kept a handle on things and pitched four innings of scoreless relief, Sanchez’s temporarily lapse in control in the 11th notwithstanding. He teased the Giants into thinking they had a chance by putting two runners on, grazing Todd Greene’s batting helmet with a pitch and then walking Ray Durham. Pedro Feliz popped out to center and whatever they had cooking was quashed.
Perhaps down to the last available arms, Alou asked rookies Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez to deliver the team to the twelfth inning. Wilson couldn’t get an out, allowing back to back hits to LoDuca and DelgadoDelgado’s first hit of the day. He walked David Wright by edict of the old man in the dugout and left the game, for Sanchez to clean up his mess.
Sanchez set the world on fire in AA ball, but hasn’t even found a match at the big league level. It’s early yet, and he pitched just fine in his role Saturday night. He got Cliff Floyd to pop out to third with no out, an absolute must to record an unproductive out. And can he really be blamed for the sacrifice fly that won the game for the Mets? All he was asked to do was to get the Mets out. This is a team that has won nine games in its final at-bat, and crow about inherited runners if you must. This game felt like one neither wanted to win, a game that didn’t even exist until Friday evening. That the Giants could split a doubleheader with the NL East-leading Mets, hang in against their best pitcher and take the team into extra innings, that says something.
SFDugout.com Player of the Game: Steve Kline and Jeremy Accardo split the honor this time around, for their effort in this game. Kline has filled in the left-handed set-up role nicely, and Accardo has gotten his head and arm right after looking shaky in the early going. This could become a solid one-two, left-right set-up combination for the team.
Notes: Six degrees: Kutcher’s connection to the rookie catcher may not be impressive, depending on how you look at it. He only played five years in Major League Baseball. He was traded from the Giants to the Boston Red Sox in 1987 as the player to be named later from a previous deal. The Giants received Dave Henderson on September 1 of that year and sent Kutcher to Boston in the off season to complete the deal. Henderson, of course, went on to have a fine career with the Oakland Athletics...LoDuca was a late scratch from game one’s lineup, released a full three hours before the game actually began. He started game two, despite the reports of him being ill…Saturday was not the first time Jamey Wright has gone eight innings and not won against these Mets. In the aforementioned series in San Francisco, Wright threw eight innings and gave up four earned runs en route to a loss…Carlos Beltran is nursing a bruised right knee. He hasn’t started a game since fouling a ball off the knee in another marathon extra-innings game on June 1. He pinch hit in both games Saturday. His status is day-to-day.
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 24th 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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