Sergio Romo is probably one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. He has pinpoint command, a wacky, confusing delivery, and an absolutely filthy out pitch in his physics-defying slider. When he has it working 100%, it is one of the closest things to “unhittable” you’ll ever see. Tonight, he came into the game in exactly the sort of situation you’d want to deploy a guy like Romo, and he gave up the winning runs to a right-handed hitter.
I still love and have great faith in Romo; I’d probably throw him out there against a right-handed hitter over just about any pitcher in the league. But the point is that relievers are a fungible property – good one year, awful the next, and subject to an entire level of secondary fallibility based on their use by the manager. Jeremy Affeldt’s been bad. Javier Lopez has been nonexistent. Brian Wilson, yeah. And so on.
I mean, it’s not just the Giants. Heath Bell is literally in the process of blowing a save as I type this*; Mariano Rivera faked a knee injury so he could return to his home planet for a season and use his cutter to befuddle invaders from Zorgion 5; meanwhile the previously unexceptional Chris Perez has been utterly lights-out in Cleveland. Over the long run, relievers are about as trustworthy as the recognizable character actor early in an episode of Law & Order.
*Seriously, when I started that paragraph he had a runner on second and nobody out, and by the time I finished it he’d given up a double and the game was tied. Heath Bell. Wow.
The difference between a lot of the other teams with their complement of spastic relievers and the Giants is that the Giants didn’t have a lot of money to spend, and they spent it on relievers. They decided to attempt to repeat the success of 2010, scoring just enough runs for their superb pitching to carry the day. And would you look at that! – the pitching isn’t always that superb. It hasn’t really been awful. Specifically, the bullpen has been an Okay Major League Bullpen. Sometimes it’s been good and sometimes it’s been bad. Sometimes Bochy has used the exact right pitcher, and sometimes Javier Lopez has been dispatched to fly the KRON 4 traffic copter during games.
But to assemble that fallible, yet perfectly acceptable bullpen, the Giants spent money they could have used on, like, literally any other part of the team. Keep Carlos Beltran. Pick up Marco Scutaro for spare parts. Bid on “the Japanese shortstop” (that’s Hiroyuki Nakajima, Mr. Sabean.) Have some money to throw at Roy Oswalt to bolster the rotation. Etc. etc. etc.
Why am I talking about this? Because this was yet another game where the Giants’ offense showed signs of life but was missing a vital bat or two. In this case it was probably Pablo Sandoval, but for game after game, even with Pablo in the lineup, the Giants have had huge gaping (mostly middle-infield shaped) holes in the batting order. They could have filled those holes, or at least taken a run at it. They didn’t – they went with Just Enough, and put their fate in the hands of the most unpredictable part of their team. And tonight their best relief pitcher gave up a two-run single, because sometimes that happens, and Misfits And Castoffs 3: Electric Jubilee couldn’t catch up.
You’ll notice that I haven’t said anything about Tim Lincecum. I’m wary of saying anything about Tim Lincecum, because I don’t want to admit the idea of living in a universe where Tim Lincecum isn’t at least a very good major league pitcher. “Very good” are not the words I would use to describe Timmy tonight. I had lots of words I would use; most of them are Yiddish and would have made my grandfather look at me funny if he heard them. He put it together, could probably have gone six or seven innings, but man, that first inning was terrifying. Let’s not have that again.
Anyway, the good news is, the rest of baseball is just as weird and unpredictable as relief pitching; just on a broader and more controllable scale. There’s lots of things that could happen to the Giants in Pablo’s absence that could keep them in the race. Melky Cabrera’s looking hot again, and Angel Pagan can’t go too much longer without starting to take some pitches. (Also, he is hilariously fun to watch, so there’s that.) Connor Gillaspie might actually get on base. Brandon Belt is like 75-80% of the Brandon Belt the Giants need him to be, and if he gets comfortable, that 20-25% could come back and start sailing into the Cove. Santiago Casilla could be the new Brian Wilson, and Travis Blackley could be the new Javier Lopez. Timmy could put it together any day now.
(Seriously, Timmy. Any day now.)
That’s basically where I’m at. Hoping for baseball to be bizarre and inexplicable. Hoping for the Giants to start doing unlikely things to stay afloat until the Panda comes back. Because this game was a pretty good microcosm of what happens when the offense performs as expected and the pitching performs as expected by people who weren’t expecting 2009-2010 to be yearly occurrences.
Madison Bumgarner tomorrow, on national television! With Dave Flemming! Against…oh goddamnit Randy Wolf. I’ll be bringing you your recap again, so tune in to see me extrapolate season results from one game! I hope Manny Burriss goes 4 for 4 with two doubles and three stolen bases. I’ll be so confused.