Giants still riding high heading into '02 reunion
SAN FRANCISCO -- All good things have to come to an end. And so it was for the 36-inning consecutive scoreless streak tossed in the previous four games by the Giants pitching staff.
It ended on the very first pitch thrown by Matt Cain in a 5-1 loss to the Reds. Leadoff hitter Zach Cozart deposited it in the left-field seats at AT&T Park. Friday night's results, though, didn't negate a spectacular week for the Giants and a month in which they obliterated a huge lead once held by the Dodgers in the National League West.
With game No. 78 in the books and the season nearing the halfway mark, the Giants, despite a debilitating injury to their closer and a subpar few months from their two-time Cy Young Award winner, have to be happy where they currently stand: one game up on the Dodgers and four ahead of the suddenly charging defending division champion D-backs.
"It's great that we're in this position now," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. "We gained a lot of ground. The last thing you want to do is get too far behind. You don't win it early, but you certainly can lose it. Guys have fought back and played good baseball. But there's so much baseball left. Our focus has to be going out there every day and being ready to go."
It's reunion weekend at the ballpark Barry Bonds helped to build and the Giants have turned into a winning platform. The 2002 team that Bonds helped carry to the NL pennant and a seven-game World Series loss to the Angels will be honored here before the game Sunday. The all-time leader with 762 homers was the centerpiece of that team back then and will be at the center of the reunion again Sunday.
The Giants had a 3-2 lead in the 2002 World Series and a 5-0 bulge heading into the bottom half of the seventh inning of Game 6 at Angel Stadium before letting it all slip away. It's a missed opportunity that can't be erased, despite the Giants finally winning it all in 2010 for the first time since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1958.
Those chances don't come along very often, said Dusty Baker, the Reds manager now and the Giants skipper back then. Ten years has gone by and the sting never will dissipate. Baker hasn't managed a team back to the World Series since. Bonds, who last played in 2007, never got another chance.
"My son was 3 back then; now he's 13," Baker said. "Time goes by. That's why I urge these guys to maximize their careers. Don't give away days or give away at-bats. Time is so precious, especially in this career that appears to be long when you're in it and very short after it's over with. I have some very pleasant memories [of 2002] and some things you don't want to think about because of the pain that's still there."
It's a lesson that can't be missed by the current Giants, who were 7 1/2 games behind the Dodgers on May 27 and are now in what famous play-by-play man Red Barber once called "the catbird seat." Don't squander the opportunities.
More than any other, this year's edition of the team has been built around excellent starting pitching and a powerless offense, which is amazing to consider because two of their former players -- Bonds and his godfather, Willie Mays -- are first and fourth on the all-time home run list.
When Pablo Sandoval homered off Mike Leake with one out in the ninth inning Friday night, it was only their 48th as a team this season and 14th at home. Those numbers are good for 28th in Major League Baseball overall and dead last at home. Bonds set the single-season record by hitting 73 all by himself in 2001, 37 of them in the ballpark nestled on McCovey Cove.
Compare and contrast that to this season's Yankees who are No. 1 overall with 119 homers and No. 1 with 64 of them at Yankee Stadium. The latter figure is 16 more than San Francisco's total output.
Yet both teams are in first place in their respective divisions. The Giants have learned to win without hitting the long ball because newcomers Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan have paced the offense. Though these offseason acquisitions have been given great attention locally, general manager Brian Sabean hasn't received ample credit nationally for engineering those two deals: Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for Cabrera, and Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Pagan.
Without them, the Giants might still be treading water somewhere in the middle of their own division. Cabrera is tied for the third in the NL with a .354 batting average and Pagan is ripping along at .296. Together the left fielder and center fielder have turned the Giants' outfield from one of the worst in baseball defensively into one of the best.
"They've changed the dynamic of this team," Bochy said. "They've given us speed in the outfield, two switch-hitters, who are hitting in the heart of our order. They added speed on the bases to this team, which was something we needed. It was a great job by Brian getting these two guys. It makes it easier to score runs when you have two athletes like that on the team."
Nearing the halfway mark, the Giants are 44-34 and have put themselves in ample position to make another playoff run. Things like scoreless pitching streaks come and go. But on reunion weekend, they foreshadow a sense of probable team success and accomplishment.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.