Here is a link to my Tuesday column about the Giants. The full text runs below:
This is going to be critical of the Giants. Not too critical. They lead the National League West and have the best record in baseball.
Even so, Giants euphoria had surged recently. I was on television a week ago and we were talking Giants. If they did well on the homestand, just completed, were they in position to wrap up their division by the All Star break?
I almost swallowed my tongue. That’s how surprised I was by the topic. This was early June. Lots of ball to play in a long season — the season is long for a reason. So, anyway, the Giants swept the awful Mets. More euphoria. Then the Giants fell on their faces, flopped against the Nationals and Rockies. At home. Now, they’ve lost six of their last seven games. How does the euphoria feel now?
Look, the Giants are good. They almost surely will win the NL West and go to the playoffs and do well in the postseason with all that starting pitching and their new-found power. We feel all that. But they are not perfect, far from it. And we learned about them in the past week.
What did we learn?
We learned the closer doesn’t always close the deal. We’re talking about Sergio Romo. As I write this, he’s second in the league in saves with 20. That’s very good. He also has blown four saves. That’s not so good.
Romo is an emotional, excitable man. He cries a lot. He struck out Miguel Cabrera to win the World Series two years ago, Cabrera not even swinging at strike three. That is an image etched on our memories. But Romo blew saves, blew them in the ninth inning Friday and Saturday. Couldn’t get the necessary outs. This is troubling for the Giants. Is Romo becoming less effective? Is he in an emotional tailspin?
He didn’t pitch on Sunday. The other relievers loused it up, anyway. Call it a group effort. The Rockies, who had trailed all game, scored four runs in the top of the eighth, took advantage of Juan Gutierrez and Javier Lopez. Which makes you wonder about the Giants’ bullpen. Santiago Casilla is returning and that should help the Giants’ relievers.
And then there’s the case of center fielder Angel Pagan. This man is essential to the Giants. He missed most of last season and, partly because of that, the Giants missed the playoffs. He is the leadoff hitter they absolutely need. You could make the case he is as important to the Giants as Buster Posey. So, this is not a “get Pagan column.”
But, it’s a “let’s think about Pagan” column.
He is a good athlete and, because of that, he often atones for his sins as a center fielder. He is not as refined as, say, the A’s Coco Crisp, a superior practitioner. And Pagan does commit sins.
On Friday night against Colorado — Romo’s first blown save of the weekend — Pagan abetted in throwing away the game. The Rockies entered the top of the ninth down 4-2. Surely the Giants would win. But Romo gave up a single to Troy Tulowitzki, the hottest hitter on Earth. Charlie Culberson ran for him.
Please stay with me here. The Rockies have a runner at first, Culberson. (I know. I just switched to present tense.) Justin Morneau singles to center. Which means the Rockies have men at first and second with nobody out. Now comes Pagan’s screw-up.
Wilin Rosario flies out to Pagan in center. Culberson tags and runs toward third base. Culberson is no concern of Pagan. Just let Culberson have the base. But Pagan wants to be heroic. Pagan tries to throw him out — which he fails to do. While this tumult is occurring at third, Morneau takes second, a base he never should have reached. He is the tying run. He now is in scoring position. He eventually will score.
Call it Pagan’s baseball sin — not his last of the weekend. You are taught in Little League to hit the cutoff man, to keep the runner at first. Pagan forgot that basic rule, forgot at the worst time.
Cut to Saturday. The Giants lead the Rockies 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Romo again. There are two out. Charlie Blackmon singles, Romo again unable to close the deal. Brandon Barnes gets a base hit to right-center. Pagan again. He runs straight across the outfield for the ball. Horrible route. He should run backwards to cut off the ball. But, he takes a chance. That silly hero thing again. The ball goes past him. Inside the park home run. Two runs score. Giants lose 5-4.
On television, Vida Blue was almost apoplectic. He said — correctly — Pagan’s job in the ninth inning was to stop that ball any way he could. No time for risks. In Little League, they teach all outfielders to think of themselves as hockey goalies in that situation. Just stop the ball. The game is on the line. Act like it. Pagan didn’t do that. Little League stuff.
You have to wonder about Pagan’s instincts as a center fielder. Crisp has better instincts. You see that every day. You file Pagan’s sins away in your mind for the postseason.
And when you think about the Giants, you don’t automatically anoint them the best team in baseball. The Nationals, who just beat the Giants three of four in San Francisco, sure haven’t anointed them. The A’s sure haven’t anointed them. And you don’t anoint the Giants World Series winners or even NL West champs.
Use caution, please. Prudence would be good. A little perspective always helps.
MORE LOWELL COHN
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