Game 162: Parting Ways

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito prepares to take the mound at AT&T Park, September 29, 2013
Barry Zito

Tonight the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers — thereby earning an American League wild card spot, and the distinct privilege of playing the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.  And so, I am closing the book on regular season baseball.

It has become a tradition for me to attend the San Francisco Giants’ final regular season home game each year. It’s usually a day game, and the weather is always exceptional. That’s how I spent Sunday afternoon: at AT&T Park, switching between photo taking in the fabulous fall light, and monitoring the Indians game against the Twins on the scoreboard. If the Tribe had lost, they would have had to play a tie-breaker of some kind — a crushing outcome I could not accept.

Never fear, the Indians won, and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 — at which point I gave the game in front of me my undivided attention.

The Giants did not disappoint, rallying from a five-run deficit for a walk-off win, courtesy of their $90 million man (for the next five years, at least), Hunter Pence. Barry Zito also took the mound for his long-awaited curtain call. Classy and gracious as always, he tipped his cap to the crowd and later gave a sweet good-bye speech.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ll miss you Barry.

Each year, I feel a little melancholy during my final afternoon at the ballpark. Will my favorite players be back next season? Is there room in me for one last bratwurst? When do pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale? (Answers: probably not, always and 139 days from Sunday.)

So as I took in my last regular-season game, I decided to have a little fun.  I snapped photos not just of players, but also of some of the colorful characters I encountered at the ballpark. I had to be sneaky of course.  If some camera-shy fan got angry with me, I doubt I could have run very fast after all that bratwurst.

Now I have the Cleveland Indians to cheer for, with the Oakland Athletics as my back-up team should misfortune befall the Tribe. And there is so much blogging to do… once I remember what I blogged about, before baseball season started.

Suggestions are welcome!

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How Many Games To Skin The Cats?

This year’s Giants have the knack

They win… from two or three games back

They pitch with grit and take their hacks

Delighting fans of orange and black.

Opponent one: The dreaded Reds

San Francisco’s bats looked dead

Fans’ hopes were hanging by a thread

But…lose?  No way!  They won instead.

Next up: Matt Holliday and the Cards

Three straight losses left them jarred

But doubters they paid no regard

And won game seven in our yard.

Now they are World Series bound

With game one played right here in town

Barry Zito’s on the mound

Skin the cats, they’ll get the crown.

Let’s go Giants!

1,281 Reasons My Arm Hurts

Barry Zito
Barry Zito

Buster Posey called Monday’s extra-innings victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks possibly the best San Francisco Giants win of the season. Fitting that it happened on Labor Day because it was, at times, pretty laborious. The sixth inning in particular, when Barry Zito blew a four-run lead, felt like breaking rocks.

Of course, the Giants’ comeback starting in the eight inning — and punctuated by a Posey-Scutaro one-two punch in the 10th — was made sweeter because so many fans bailed in the seventh to beat the traffic, L.A. Dodger-fan style.

Not me.  As my southern Baptist relatives would say… Oh, ye of little faith.

Knowing that the Dodgers had probably watched the Giants struggle, and smirked and puffed up as they imagined themselves closing in on first place in the NL West… well, that was pretty enjoyable too.

I took a record-high 1,281 photos at the game.  I could blame a digital camera that shoots eight frames-per-second.  But instead, I blame Zito and the Giants’ shaky band of middle relievers.  After Barry got the hook, it took six of them — Mota, Kontos, Loux, Penny, Machi (who did great, going 1-2-3 in his first inning in the big leagues) and Romo — to finish off the Diamondbacks.

Of course, as is my custom, I had to photograph them all.  My forearm ached from holding my camera, and pushing down on the shutter-release button for hours.

Whatever.  I rubbed some dirt on it.  It was totally worth it.

Sunday’s Rocky Road

Sunday’s San Francisco Giants game against the Colorado Rockies was a bit of a nail biter.  On one of the most beautiful Bay Area Sundays we’ve had in some time, fans enjoyed a somewhat explosive first inning… followed by six innings of sleepy offense.

Barry Zito was… Barry.  He blew a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and with the help of George Kontos and Clay Hensley the Giants were losing 6-4 by the start of the eighth.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled with Zito’s improvement this season. I could be a twitter hater — wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth about the size of his contract.  But you know what?  It’s a sunk cost.  Why not just be satisfied when Barry gets a win, even if it’s largely thanks to Hunter Pence?  Even better, let’s celebrate when he actually does well. Why the hell not?  It’s better than the alternative!

That said, I love this revisionist quote from Barry after his shaky game. It was like the kid who takes a face plant off his bike, and tells everyone who rushes to his aid, “Oh don’t worry, I MEANT to do that.”

“We needed something like that.  We’ve had a lot of wins by sizable margins and lost some tough ones in-between there. Having come-from-behind wins is important going down the stretch.”

So you think we needed that, Barry?  Did we really?  My cardiologist says no.

After all that torture, the Giants won 9-6 thanks to a three-run homer by newly acquired Hunter Pence.  So far, I like that trade.

I was again in Larry Baer territory with my trusty Canon.  A few of the keepers:

Marco Scutaro
Marco Scutaro
Barry Zito and Ryan Theriot
Barry Zito and Ryan Theriot

I love this photo because it looks like these two guys are holding hands. Like maybe Giants’ veteran Zito is looking out for relatively-new-to-San-Francisco Theriot.  Taking him under his wing.  “Listen little buddy, nobody here calls it ‘Frisco’.  I’m just saying.”

Buster Posey takes one for the team
Buster Posey takes one for the team. Buster was BLEEDING!
Barry Zito
Barry Zito, looking fine for a guy who just blew a three-run lead.
Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan
Angel is all smiles after stealing third.
Angel is all smiles after stealing third.
Lou Seal makes his move.
Lou Seal makes his move. He appreciates maturity, and I can respect that.
Javier Lopez
Javier Lopez. Adjectives elude me.
Barry Zito
Barry Zito
Classic Zito
George Kontos
George Kontos. Eye candy, but not his finest hour.
Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence crosses home plate after his three-run homer. He looks sorta happy!

Deconstructing Barry

Barry Zito, Spring Training

There once was a Giant named Barry
A burden the team had to carry
From season to season, we all know the reason.
His contract was ironclad. Very.

Pitching was his chosen vocation
But his fastball lacked speed and location.
Back in 2010, he tried to be Zen
Then walked his way out of rotation.

This season he’s back and he’s “tweaking”
His delivery, technically speaking.
He hopes he can be taught, to maintain his arm slot.
If he were a ship, he’d be sinking.

He’s still throwing more balls than strikes
A thing that opposing teams like.
We Giants fans grieve, we will get no reprieve.
He has no plans to hang up his spikes.