The lack of a single primetime game was both baffling and inconvenient. I'm all the way out in Hawaii. Three start times at 10 and one at 7 AM. For Game 4 I was able to find a bar filled with college football gamblers looking for early money on a Saturday morning. The establishment didn't start serving beer until 9, and I hadn't planned on drinking, but a 5-1 deficit and hat-throwing frustration changed that. The Giants were charging back in the 6th when I gulped my first Steinlager. And lucky for me—I began to feel a lightheaded reprieve, an easing from the growing inevitability of all Giants playoff games in south Florida. An artificial reprieve, of course. But instead of looking ahead I reveled in momentary lapses of fate like Matt Herges' gutsy jam-working and a friendly double play.
But deep down I was like you. I wouldn't have accepted it had we actually won. I would have run around the bar, giddy with the school-girl exclamation of "I don't believe it," slapping those gamblers hands as they laughed at my beer-stained replica jersey and wondered why I didn't put any money on the Wisconsin game. I would have done something wild, like tattooed Edgardo Alfonso reeling in a pointy-nosed fish on my rear, had J.T. Snow followed Richie's on-deck gesturing and hooked a slide to the first base line, had Barry then come up to hit the first homer of the series for the Giants.
But these hypotheticals are as painful as the contrast between Yorvit and Pudge. Pro Players Stadium brings a feeling of Old Doom (striking for its relative baseball youth) from the Chevron sign that robbed Bonds in '97 to a past-and-present Jeff Conine and his haunting left-field play. A Doom different than a Curse, because of its immediacy.
I am an eternal optimist with the Giants, always calculating how many baserunners are needed for Barry to come up in the ninth and always pulling for Nen to throw that double-play slider, the way he did in Atlanta last year. I grit my teeth at the defensive negativity of Glenn Dickey and the Chronicle's "Giants Guy." Baseball is no fun if you self-prophesy Doom. You end up loving to hate your own players, rooting for them to fail just so you can be right. Doom needs to be exquisitely fought against, with a sense of martyrdom, so that if by chance it is reversed, all you can be is surprised.
And so we come to the 2003 Giants. Each year is revealing itself more distinct, with the turn over of players and managers increasing. Next season Bonds may be the only remaining position player from the World Series squad of two years ago, not to mention the last remnant of the '93 club. The 162-game campaigns now seem more ephemeral, and the collapses are no longer shaded by a promising future, especially when that future holds the retirement of baseball's greatest player and predicted revenue shortfalls.
This year the Doom had more finality, setting in later, during and after the rally. The Marlins' early runs brought mostly anger and disillusionment, and it wasn't until the late inning tie that I understood what was happening. As fans we feel helpless in moments like these, unable to grab a bat and rip a double. So we shake our hats upside down by the bill on 2-2-2 counts, or arrange the bobble heads on our mantle differently for each batter. Or slug down three rally beers in the last inning, to incite a comeback, as I did.
But what did the players, the ones with gloves and decisions to make, feel about this Doom? I would like to ask J.T. Snow about it. About what he thought on that pitch he lined to center, to tie the game in the sixth. Or when that throw from Cruz sailed over his head, and Yorvit and the team were spun to a two-run deficit. How did he feel when Neifi led off the ninth with a double, highlighting Ugueth's malaise, and when he smacked his third single of the game to bring us within one?
The commentators on Baseball Tonight faulted his jump from second base, and rightfully so. But few mentioned the reason for his piddling secondary lead. Snow had been picked off first already, by Pudge in the sixth. He might not admit it, but somewhere in his athletic perception, he was thinking not to bounce-off too far. Just in case. Never doubt Pudge's confidence to throw down. What an ending that would have been, a pick-off espousing the Giants' series-long mistakes. But instead the Baseball Gods touched this game with collision and a final instant of doubted inevitability.
You could say that a tumbling Pudge is a fine elegy for the season. Better than being one-hit by Bobby (insert initial here) Jones. Or watching Livo phone-in game seven. Each playoff appearance since the first of the Sabean era, in '97, has seen an excruciatingly-close loss followed by a lackadaisical elimination game. This is the first time the Giants have gone down shoving to the final out.
But after the 2000 loss to the Mets, Ted Robinson, the former Giants broadcaster, wrote an article about the plane flight home. He said the young players were beginning to shake it off, talking and laughing again. Only the veterans were silent. They knew that these opportunities didn't come along very often; they understood what had been wasted.
Luckily old Ted was wrong. The Giants made the playoffs two-out-of-the-following-three years. But you can't help wonder if his words are more poignant now. What else was wasted in this first-round loss, and how much longer will this gleaming string of 90-win seasons last? Changing the name of the ballpark a week after this defeat doesn't quell that feeling of Greater Doom, which protracted over possible rebuilding years and sub-five-hundred ball is far worse than a wasted playoff series.
You know the Giants weren't really doomed, though. The series was just misplayed. If the ghost of Candy Maldanado doesn't fill the immanent void of Cruz's defensive ability, if Aurillia hits that ball over Conine's glove or picks that grounder cleanly and throws home, if Worrell's pitch is just a kneecap lower . . . But how else do you explain failed execution by a team who did just that to win a hundred games? Lack of talent, poor management, and a hot opposition don't add up. Peter Magowan said we should have won games two and three, and he's right. But bad luck isn't a glamorous enough answer either. Just ask the Cubs.
Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at firstname.lastname@example.org
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