Full Circle: The Curse of the Balk-Off is Over

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by Dr Lefty

Saturday, July 16, 2016. The Giants were on top of the world. It was their second game back after the All-Star break. They had the best record in baseball and leading the NL West by 8.5 games. Their ace, Madison Bumgarner, sent them into the break with a one-hit gem shown on national TV. Their other ace, Johnny Cueto, was named the starter for the NL All-Star team.

The Giants swaggered into San Diego for the first post-All-Star series. They were 9-0 versus the Padres in the first half, including a three-game sweep at Petco in May. An overworked Bumgarner lost the first game on the Friday night, but the Giants were about to win an entertaining extra-inning game (that among other things had featured a pinch-hit homer by one Johnathan Mackensey Williamson) after a top-of-the-tenth homer by Buster Posey.  And then Santiago Casilla happened. He was wild, didn’t even get an out, and he finished with this.

Since then, the Giants have gone…checking my math…63-247. Or thereabouts. The Oracle will know for sure. And I don’t think they’ve beaten the Padres since (well, hardly ever, anyway).

It all ended last night. I’m not sure why. Maybe Casilla or Matt Duffy’s late cat Skeeter finally took the curse off. But on October 1, when the regular season has ended and we’re looking forward to watching the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, we’ll be looking back at April 27, 2018 and saying things like this:

  • “I never would have thought the Giants could go from 11-13 to 101-61 and run away with the NL West. It all turned around on that Friday night in April.”
  • “I can’t believe Brandon Belt set the new major league record for bunt singles. You’d think they would have learned after a while, but I guess when you hit 37 home runs, they have to keep trying the shift. I’m sure he’ll be joking about it when he gives his speech for the MVP Award.”
  • “Kelby Tomlinson, best pinch-hitter in the history of the game. I always liked that guy. #TeamSpecs”
  • “Andrew Suarez, Rookie of the Year. Grabbed his opportunity after Holland had his last bad start against the Dodgers in late April.”
  • “All those outfielders in camp, and the only one who stayed on the big league roster wire-to-wire was Gorkys Hernandez! Remember that big hit in the Dodger game that changed the season? Remember how later in the game he forgot how many outs there were? What a kidder! #Gorked”

 

The view from Dodgerville

Dodger fans have questions. Why didn’t their rich-ass team spend a few pennies to bring back Brandon Morrow (0.00 ERA, 6 saves for the Cubs) or Tony Watson (0.77 ERA in 11 games for the Giants? Why did Hyun-jin Ryu, who was dealing and had a lead, get pulled after just 89 pitches? And why oh why does Dave Roberts keep turning to Pedro Baez in crucial situations?  From Andy McCullough’s gamer in the LA Times:

In the dugout, a pained expression haunted the face of manager Dave Roberts. The moment did not defy belief, not if you’ve cataloged the ineptitude of this Dodgers team in this season’s first month. But it came close: In the seventh inning of a 6-4 loss to San Francisco, Pedro Baez balked in a run by falling off the mound.

Seriously. This happened.

 

The Giants looked down for the count in this game. Despite jumping out to an early lead on second-inning homers by Longoria and Crawford, they were down 4-2 after Derek Holland couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, his last pitch a 3-2 two-run double by the opposing pitcher, Ryu. They had mustered zero offense since the second inning, and it was looking like another disheartening loss.

But then Belt led off the bottom of the seventh with a bunt single against the shift on a 3-1 pitch by lefty Tony Cingrani. After Austin Jackson hit into a fielder’s choice, Crawford walked, and Gorkys Hernandez drove in Jackson with an RBI single. Then pinch-hitter Kelby Tomlinson ripped an RBI double, scoring Crawford and moving Gorkys to third. In came Baez, and then…this happened.

And that was it. Go-ahead/winning run scores on a balk. Curse broken. Season changed.

So what happened there, Pedro?

“It seemed to be a little muddy,” Baez said through his interpreter, Jesus Quinonez. “I went to go step and I got caught with the mud.”

Ah, yes. The “mud.”

I have a better explanation. Someone, somewhere–Casilla, Duffy/Skeeter, Jobu–decided it was time to reverse the curse. Have fun with that, Dodgers! We’ve sure enjoyed it!

 

Some other game notes

  • As someone–Krukow? Bochy?–put it: the bullpen had to cover 5 1/3 innings, and they “bent but did not break.” Pierce Johnson, Cory Gearrin, Sam Dyson, and Tony Watson gritted through some messy innings. Then Hunter Strickland did an outstanding imitation of a–whaddayacallit?–a closer, calmly mowing down three lefty hitters with offspeed stuff, and, most delightfully, reversing the smirk on Chase Utley’s face when what he thought was ball four turned out to be a called strike three.  Bwahahahahaha, grab some pine, Utley.

Strickland now has two wins and six saves. In the eight games in which he’s entered in a save situation, the Giants are 8-0, and yes, that meant he blew two saves and got wins instead, but–they still won. This is much better than they were getting from that expensive injured guy this time last year.

Andy McCullough felt the need to throw in a little snark about the Giants.

The offense had no answer to the assorted gas cans in San Francisco’s bullpen.

 

Yeah, about the sneering, Andy? Let’s compare the Giants’ bullpen with that of the Dodgers. Huh. Look at that.

Giants’ bullpen: 6-3, 3.44 ERA (7th in the NL), 7-13 in save opportunities

Dodgers’ bullpen: 4-5, 4.22 ERA (10th in the NL), 4-11 in save opportunities

 

OK, let’s not kid ourselves about the Giants’ bullpen–it’s a work in progress, as is their rotation and their lineup and their outfield and…well, everything. But the Dodgers’ bullpen is a serious weak link for them right now, and Dave Roberts’ early hooks for his usually effective starters and overmanaging of the pitching changes isn’t helping anybody.

  • Derek Holland was pretty awful, but oddly, this was the first Giants win this year in a game he started. No thanks to him, however. Andrew Suarez’s spot start, presumably coming up on Tuesday, is looking more interesting. Holland is now sporting an ugly 5.76 ERA in his five starts, but worse than that is how he made Bochy burn through 5+ innings of bullpen with a doubleheader coming up today. I don’t see the Giants making changes there before Bumgarner returns, but the Suarez/Holland dynamic (competition?) is something to keep any eye on.
  • The Giants’ offense continues to lurch along like it has a couple of flat tires. Belt had another good game. Gorkys and Longoria each had two hits, and it was nice to see Crawford get hold of one. The rest of the lineup was pretty quiet. They are definitely, to continue my car metaphors, not yet firing on all cylinders.

 

Today’s doubleheader

Dodgers at Giants (Game 1): 1:05 p.m, AT & T Park

Walker Buehler (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Chris Stratton (2-1, 2.32 ERA)

Dodgers at Giants (Game 2), 7:05 p.m., AT & T Park

Alex Wood (0-2, 3.72 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (2-0, 0.35 ERA)

 

This should be interesting. There are two intriguing pitching matchups. How will Stratton respond to his cross-country jaunt between starts to see his daughter be born? (Congrats to Chris and Martha Kate on the arrival of little Mary!) How will Buehler handle his AT & T Park debut? How is Kemp’s hamstring? How is Mac’s head? How are both teams’ bullpens? Should be an entertaining day and night of baseball with some Warriors playoff basketball and Day 3 of the NFL draft thrown in. See you all in the comments!