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LOWELL COHN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | April 9, 2016, 10:11PM
SAN FRANCISCO

Sometimes the story isn’t what you think.

The story Saturday at wet, gray AT&T Park was supposed to be the pitching matchup Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw. It was an important game, an event, more than just a regular-season game. It was a statement confrontation between rivals and between the rivals’ best pitchers.

Bumgarner and Kershaw are two of the elite pitchers. Maybe they are the two best in baseball. It is a privilege to watch them. Think Juan Marichal vs. Sandy Koufax. Think that exalted level. Think pitching as art.

And it was art, despite the rain delay, despite the bone-chilling cold, despite Santiago Casilla’s blown save, despite Kelby Tomlinson’s bobble of a double-play grounder that let the Dodgers back into the game which they won 3-2 — hard-fought, grim, brave on both sides.

The Bumgarner-Kershaw confrontation was art even though Kershaw gave up two home runs — to the pitcher and the ninth batter, for heaven’s sake. And it was art even though Bumgarner gave up his only run by hitting a batter with the bases loaded.

And it was art even though Bumgarner was off. Bumgarner being off is like most pitchers being on. But he was off, anyway. Throwing too many pitches. Not being precise. Laboring, grunting through his six innings. He kept putting Dodgers in scoring position but he kept getting the batters out — the Dodgers went 1 for 13 against him with runners in scoring position.

That’s how tough Bumgarner is. He is good when he isn’t good. He had a good bad game, or maybe it was a bad good game. Neither he nor Kershaw got the decision. And this is where the story changed.

Before the game, the Giants announced they had signed first baseman Brandon Belt to a six-year contract through 2021. This signing and the news conference Giants management held after the game meant more than the loss, more even than Bumgarner vs. Kershaw.

During the game, I made a chart. I am not a chart person, but this visual aid helped. According to my chart, the Giants entire infield is homegrown. “Homegrown” is a phrase Giants executives use, it is the holy descriptive. It means the Giants drafted and developed Belt and Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford and Matt Duffy. Also homegrown are catcher Buster Posey and best pitcher Bumgarner. That’s six guys right there on the diamond who are Giants, who know only Giants culture, who have a giant Giants commitment.
Other notable homegrowns: Trevor Brown, Matt Cain, Josh Osich, Sergio Romo and Tomlinson. The Giants are a core group — a very large core group — and they are a group with continuity and apparently longevity.

Listen to these quotes from the postgame news conference with Belt and Giants executives.

Larry Baer: “It’s an organizational commitment to do as much as we can with homegrown talent. Brandon is another example. We’ve filled out an infield and catcher with that so far.”

Brian Sabean: First he praised Belt, explained his value to the Giants. “To think originally (Belt) was a bona fide major league pitching prospect and then how he morphed into one of the premier first basemen in baseball. The biggest compliment I can pay him is that he got to the big leagues in lightning fashion, almost no minor-league time, literally before our eyes in the toughest classroom. To think that you can marry gold-glove caliber first-base play with potential long-lasting middle-of-the-order-hitter for this organization.”
I asked Sabean about the importance of expanding and keeping the core.

“It’s a common theme throughout our discussions,” he said. “It’s easier said than done, but all of a sudden we’ve got a core group. We had the window with the pitching, but to think now we have Crawford (also signed recently) and Brandon. It’s pretty amazing.
“I remember, one time in a previous life, this happened with the Yankees organization. We hope this gives us more opportunity for the type of success we’ve had in the past, and I think the players appreciate it. They know that their loyalty and their hard work is observed, and they’re going to be given credit for it, and we try to step up for them.”

Belt: “We’re going to have the core guys here for such a long time. I definitely wanted to be here as long as they were. If we have this group together, we have a lot of chances to win a lot of ballgames and to win more World Series.”

Which brings us to the core point about the core group. What’s so good about having a core? Because that’s the issue, right, in this era of free agents selling themselves all over the big-league map. What makes establishing a core — like teams did in another era — so important?

Here’s why. All these guys playing together year after year and traveling together learn to trust each other. Trust is a big concept in sports — not to mention business and life. Trust on the field and in the dugout breeds confidence and breeds winning and breeds three world titles.

The Giants’ concept of core players shows what’s wrong with Billy Beane and the A’s and Moneyball. I don’t mean to pick on Billy. I’m not picking on Billy. I like him. This is a philosophical discussion and I am criticizing his team-building philosophy.
The A’s don’t do well in the postseason because the players do not have a core group, do not know each other well enough and haven’t created trust. Don’t know how to come through for each other. I guess another word for all this is “chemistry,” a horrible cliché, but you know what I mean. Beane does not believe in chemistry, but Sabean and Bobby Evans are professional chemists.

Compare the A’s and Giants. The A’s have been a collection of players coming together for short periods, almost a pickup squad or a choose-up squad, as we said in Brooklyn. If anyone can make a collection into a team Bob Melvin can. But it’s hard. The Giants have worked diligently to make a team. Think core players, homegrown talent, chemistry, trust.

So, yes, the Giants lost a tough game on Saturday, but the team gathers force.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.