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SF Giants Sweep Detroit Tigers to Become 2012 World Series Champs

 

Giants Win

After Game 1, all bets were off. I never expected them to win, or come anywhere near winning, that first game. When Detroit announced Justin Verlander as their first starting pitcher—no surprise—I  mentally crossed off Game One. This was even before I knew Zito was the opposing pitcher—when I learned that, the deal was sealed. So when the Giants turned out to be the only team in the Majors that can actually hit Verlander, nothing was etched in stone anymore. Then again, with baseball it never is.

As much as I wanted the Giants to win here at home, and as much as I wanted to see Barry Zito give another sterling performance, losing two games might have demoralized them and stopped their incredible drive to victory, so I rooted for the final win in Detroit last night—and got it. That was another magical event in this series: nobody expected the Giants to beat Detroit in their own house. When they left San Francisco on Monday, a lot of fans prepared themselves for a possible loss or two by looking forward to the win and celebration next Tuesday. Then we got it last night; the team was geographically far away, but still in our hearts, as well as on a Jumbotron in Civic Center. I wonder if other cities televise their teams’ games in big public plazas? If I’d forgotten SF is special, I was reminded of it last night.

About that magic: the Giants were inexplicably sensational. Every time they hit a home run it was a stunning surprise, maybe ‘cause they just kept hitting them. Every time they put a Tiger out of business, the play was so unlikely that its victim recoiled in disbelief and stomped, scowling, off the field. Magic: Pablo Sandoval hit three—count ‘em, 3—home runs in Game One, becoming the fourth player in the history of the game to do so; the others are Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols. That’s Pablo Panda Kung Fu, the guy who contributed hardly anything to the 2010 series and was so out of shape he was told to deal with it…or else. Magic: Barry Zito, left out of the 2010 World Series, was front and center this time and pitched the best game of his life. Magic: The same pitcher who rarely hits, did hit two of Verlander’s unhittables at key moments.

The Elite World Series Triple-Home Run Club: Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval

 

Victory is sweet. The SF Giants are World Champions for the second time in 3 seasons, and they’re the only players who can hit Justin Verlander! Word is he was last seen checking into some kind of rest home to get over the trauma.

Barry Zito’s Chatter: The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher

Barry the Beautiful

I had to laugh when I checked my stats today and saw Dirty Laundry got its second highest number of views of all time yesterday. Under “Search Terms” were several variations of “Barry Zito Talks To Himself.” The phrase linked readers to the many posts I’ve written over the years about Zito, who I’m obviously mad about (if only he wasn’t so much younger than me…).

Anyhow, it’s true: Barry talks to himself on the mound with no shame or embarrassment. I don’t know if he’s conscious he’s doing it, but he must be, since he’s such a conscious human being–he meditates and does yoga regularly. I’d love to be a fly on the mound so I could hear what he’s saying. His chatter must help him in some way with pitching. Besides, pitchers are known to be the quirkiest players in baseball; some are nearly psychotic. I wrote a post about this once–but I left Zito off the roster of loco pitchers, since he’s so sane compared to the others. I mean, what’s a little muttering on the mound? It’s not like breaking a player’s hand (Hernandez to A-Rod) or throwing broken bats at them (Clemens to Piazza) or knocking down old men (Pedro Martinez to 70-something Don Zimmer).

When I was a kid I had a friend who talked to herself. She was an only child, and she told me she did it because she was alone all the time with nobody else to talk to. I’ve been talking to myself more and more as I get older, even in public; I’ve tried to control it, but cannot seem to stop. Part of the reason I do  it is because, like my old friend, I’m alone a lot these days.

Maybe that’s also Barry’s reason: up on that mound, he’s so very alone. Maybe his self-conversing is an antidote for The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher. Whatever the reason, if it helps him do what he’s doing these days, he can do as much of it as he wants.

Go Barry Baby!

David Zirin: Left-Wing Sports

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If the term  fan evolved from the word fanatic, then David Zirin is the ultimate personification of the sports fan. Zirin is distinguished, however, from the stereotype – and reality – of the beer-swilling, big-bellied, couch-riding passive observer by his application of left-wing analysis to all things athletic. In fact, he’s made political analysis of professional sports his life’s work, and is writing the record to prove it, with books like What’s My Name, Fool?, A People’s History of Sports in the United States, and Welcome to the Terrordome.

When I first read Dave Zirin a few years ago, I assumed he was the only person on the planet analyzing sports from a political perspective. I found out otherwise when I went to hear him speak Saturday at a four-day Socialist extravaganza held in downtown Oakland. Turns out not only are there other sports lovers with a political analysis, but they overflowed the room, and, judging from hisses, boos, and cheers at key moments, most are far better informed than I.

Wearing a bright orange “Los Suns” t-shirt, Zirin opened and closed his talk by praising that basketball team’s Cinco de Mayo demonstration against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, when they took to the court wearing the shirt. It was, as Zirin emphasized, an extraordinary event; political statements on the part of professional athletes are about as common as edible Gulf Coast oysters. The Suns’ action was effective: it spawned demonstrations against the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team everywhere they’ve played this season – the biggest one being at their game against the Giants in San Francisco.

I hadn’t known about the SF demo – nor did I know that my beloved Joe Torre damned the protests out of his belief that sports are apolitical; or that Tony LaRussa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and known for major dog rescue operations in the East Bay, vociferously supports Arizona’s law. As Zirin said, “He likes animals, not people.” I can relate. Apparently, however, a lot goes on that I know nothing about; I aim to rectify the situation, beginning with visiting Zirin’s website regularly.

I’ve always thought that the sports world’s official line that they’re all apolitical fun and games is patently false, and I suspect the owners and fat cats know it. First of all, everything is political. And secondly, just because nobody talks about the beliefs underlying their behavior, policies, and actions doesn’t mean they aren’t motivated by a set of principles: Left-wing Studies 101, kids: That’s Politics!

I can, however, understand some hesitancy about protesting D’Backs’ games: after all, their state’s draconian laws aren’t the players’ fault, so why persecute them? But the goal of these protests isn’t team persecution, it’s to persuade Major League Baseball, and its namby-pamby leader, Commissioner Bud Selig, to relocate the 2011 All-Star game slated to be held in Arizona. Selig, true to form, says he won’t change it, but I suspect that if more players and managers, like White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, threaten not to attend, and if he fears demonstrations disrupting the event, Selig might be pressured to cave in.

Zirin’s talk was followed by the usual Q&A, which among socialists is taken as license to vent. Zirin seemed to anticipate no real questions coming his way: after his dynamic, frequently funny talk, he sat down and let the audience rip. After five or so indecipherable monologues from every corner of the room, Daryl and I stood – we’d taken front row seats, no less – and quietly sidled our way to the back doors.

Did I mention that Dave Zirin is not only smart, funny, and charismatic, but also adorable as hell? He may be a quarter century younger than me, but I swear we made eye contact two or three times. He must’ve seen in me a kindred spirit; I only hope he forgave my hasty escape.

The Trouble With Angels

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This weekend the Yankees played the Angels, allowing me to reassess my antipathy towards them. The (so-called) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are high on my shit list of  Major League teams. Oddly enough, every team on my shit list wears a red uniform: the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Angels, and Atlanta Braves. Maybe it’s a blue state/red state thing.

Why do I dislike the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?  We can begin right there, with the phony name. These guys are based in Anaheim, not in LA, near America’s Great Escape, Disneyland. The Dodgers are the team that’s IN Los Angeles. Several years ago the Angels decided they wanted to be called the LA Angels, and insisted that everyone line up behind them. Pure pretension, revealing a pathetic aspiration to be seen as urban hip. Well, it takes more than a name to be hip, and an Angel by any other name would still be hopelessly provincial.

My antipathy for the team began way before the name change, though; it started when they played the SF Giants in the 2002 World Series. First it was the thundersticks, which their fans beat incessantly, creating a deafening roar of static on the televised games. Then there was that ridiculous lucky monkey of theirs; as the Giants’ charming catcher at the time, Benito Santiago, said, with real passion, “I don’ wan’ see that damn monkey!” Another thing: the original owner of the team was the late Roy Rogers, and while  I’ve nothing against him, the players were forever saying they “did it for the cowboy” in a tone of false sentimentality — ironically, they were actually then owned  by the Walt Disney Corporation. (In 2005 ownership changed hands again, to Arte Moreno.) All this stuff grated on my nerves. And, of course, being from the Bay Area, I was rooting for the Giants — who, sadly, lost, thanks to muddled management.

But hey, it’s nuts to carry a grudge for so long, and besides, during this weekend series I realized that very few of the  2002 players are still with the Angels; in fact, the most irritating ones are gone. There was David Eckstein, the twitchy little pest who had the distinction of being the most hit-by-pitch player in baseball; to my mind he got hit on purpose because it was the only way he could get on base. Then there was his sidekick, Darin Erstad. The sneering John Lackey. The ferocious, scary Troy Percival (whose pitching I  grudgingly admired).Vladimir Guerrero, Troy Glaus, and Chone Figgins — all of whom seemed to lack personality and a sense of humor.

Every one of the players I’ve named is gone. In their place is my beloved ex-Yankee, Hideki Matsui, and Bobby Abreu, another ex-Bomber. The rest of the guys on the current team seem to be less annoying than the earlier group.

So I’m letting go of my 8-year grudge. However, I’ve got a new, perhaps even more serious, reason not to like them: they lack proper respect for the Yankees. This was confirmed by an announcer, who noted that, unlike almost every team in MLB that’s in awe of the Yanks, The Angels remain nonplussed. To them, the Yankees are just another team to beat (and they did so in two out of three games). Lacking respect for the Yankees is a major transgression in my book. So, while I’m turning over a new leaf and letting go of my 8-year grudge, I’m counting up the Angels’ current sins in a new case against them. No Surrender!

Note: David Zirin, Sports Editor of The Nation, is calling for a boycott of the Arizona Diamondbacks as protest of AZ’s new draconian immigration law. Zirin says he won’t be writing about the D’Backs as long as the law is on the books. Ditto (though I rarely write about that team anyway.)

Zito Razzle-Dazzles

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It’s a proud day in San Francisco. After three seasons of rock-bottom performance, Barry Zito made his season debut Tuesday, pitching like the ace he was when he played for Oakland. (See my musical lament, The Ballad of Barry Zito.) He threw six scoreless innings and won a season debut for the first time since 2003.

What makes this a bigger deal than most good pitching openers is, of course, Zito’s dismal performance since joining the Giants for an astronomical salary that, IMO, got in his way psychologically. In 2008 Manager Bruce Bochy demoted Zito to the bullpen after his worst performance of the season, a three-inning, eight-run outing in a 10-1 loss to Cincinnati. That dropped Zito’s record to a Major League-worst of 0-6. His ERA was 7.53.

During the same season Zito did pitch one great game, but as I said at the time, “one win does not a comeback guarantee, and there’s no way to know if this is the beginning of Zito’s recovery or just a fluke.” I’m afraid to admit it, but the same could be said for what happened Tuesday; I’m keeping my fingers crossed this is a new–or rather recovered–Zito we’re seeing, who will continue to knock ’em dead throughout 2010. One point in his favor is that, according to Giants closer and Zito’s good friend Brian Wilson (not to be confused with the Beach Boy), Zito has increased his capabilities with a slider, which helped him pull off a 2.83 ERA in last season’s second half. “He’d been working on that last year, but today it was on cue,” said Wilson, who himself pitched a perfect ninth for his second save in two nights.

The Giants not only won Tuesday’s game, they swept the Astros. We just might be in for an exciting San Francsico season, for the first time since they made the World Series back in 2002 (even though they lost.)

Barry Zito UpdateMay 8th:

Five weeks into the season it’s apparent that Barry Zito’s comeback is real. This is no fluke, no one- or even six-time lucky streak. On Wednesday the SF Chronicle‘s Sportssection carried Zito on the front page under the headline: “Back in business,” and a sub-head saying “Zito looks like the ace Giants signed in 2006.”

Hell, he looks even better! After pitching 42.1 innings, Zito’s ERA is 1.49, better even than the Giants’ darling Tim Lincecum (1.70). He’s won five games and lost none.

You can see the change in his persona: on the mound he’s looking ferocious, zeroing in like a laser beam, focus and fury behind every pitch. He talks to himself, muttering in between pitches, not caring who might notice. That’s an indication that Zito’s in his own private pitching zone, instead of fretting over what people are saying and thinking about him.

While he says he can’t explain the steps to his comeback, he knows the reason for his three-year dive. “It was about money,” he told the Chronicle. It was about the microscope being on me more than ever before in my life.”

I just love saying  “I told you so.” For three seasons I told anyone who’d listen that Zito’s problems came from making so much money and being watched so intensely. At the time, nobody else pinpointed this as the root of the issue. Zito now says he was caught up in frantic people-pleasing pressure.  Most of us can probably relate to that; too bad Zito can’t bottle his recovery process — he’d make a fortune.

Knowing Barry Zito, if he could bottle it, he’d give it away free. The reason I like him so much, besides his adorable face and pitching delivery and skill, is that he’s a real mensch. Even more impressive, Zito practices yoga and meditation, and seems to be familiar with the dark side of his psyche.

I like that. It shows courage. It shows depth. It shows there’s more to his pretty-boy looks than meets the eye. I can picture Zito as a distinguished gentleman of  80, his handsome face deeply lined, his eyes unfathomable pools of wisdom.

Not too soon, though — Barry Zito has a lot more innings to pitch before then!