A Long, Strange Road Trip Indeed

Nothing like a 14-game, four-city road trip to catch up with old friends: Shawn Estes, Jose Cruz, Sidney Ponson…wait a minute. Once again I've mixed up the meaning of "Friends" with "Bringers of sadness and loss."

Estes greeted his former team with a fastball at Michael Tucker's jaw. Cruz reared his horned visage with a game-winning grounder in Tampa Bay (J.T. Snow would have made the play, I swear). And Ponson resembles that uncle you haven't seen in a while but has obviously hit hard times and gained weight.

All three of these erstwhile Gigantes flashed brilliance in their time by the bay. Estes the most, with 19 and 15-win campaigns. Ponson and Cruz studded last year's gleaming season--until they wore away the shine in playoff games two and three, respectively.

But let's try not see them as people, deserving of our indignant question, "What might have been?" No, ruthless Giants fans, we must dehumanize them, must look at them as symbols of this current and puzzling season.

Symbols of inconsistency.

Our beloved ball club arrived home from their long trip with a 32-31 record. They were 2.5 games out when they left. A game-and-a-half on return. But to misquote Leo Tolstoy, "All winning baseball teams are the same. But .500 teams are .500 in their own way."

An even record doesn't always mean that you lack talent and chemistry, or that you don't sacrifice enough bobbleheads to the patron goat-god of baseball, Ur-Nok Selig. It often means you're playing well enough to win. And are finding ways to mess it up.

Example: a 5-3 lead in the 7th against Arizona on the first leg of the trip; a 1-0 advantage in the 8th against Tampa Bay; up 4-2 in the 8th at Baltimore.

If we'd won all three, a glorious first-place tie in the mediocre NL West would have been ours, along with a successful 10-4 road trip.

It wasn't as if the bullpen wandered to the mound like a confused and overworked teenager, callously blowing these games (as it has done, regrettably, in the past). The most common baseball blunders contributed--errors, walks, and the cardinal sin of leaving runners at third base with less than two outs.

I know what you're thinking, attentive Giants fans: Shut up, you crazy a-hole. It evens out. We win games we shouldn't, like the first half of the twinbill in Baltimore, when closer Matt Herges managed six outs with 11 pitches, including a popup and double play with the bases loaded. We're lucky to be a .500 club. No way we come back from another game like that, with Miguel "I eat babies and spit out RBI's" Tejada up to win it.

You have a point. The doubleheader is indicative of this season. Should have lost the first. Would have won the second if not for Edgardo Alfonzo and his mysterious acquisition of what could only have been the long lost glove of Russ Davis.

Our Giants worked mighty hard to end up even.

Which is why I like this year's team. A lot. They do nothing easy. They don't blow a lead and lose. They come back with runs in the 9th--like in Tampa Bay, or in San Diego the first week of the season--only to see the game squibble away.

Yes, many of these contests wouldn't be so close if Pedro Feliz could overcome his propensity for bases loaded double plays (six and counting!). If Dustan Mohr and Michael Tucker wouldn't spend certain days going a combined 0-19. If Alfonso wouldn't leave nine runners on base to supplement his costly errors. If the bullpen equation subtracted the name Franklin. If Jose Cruz melted down his gold glove to make a necklace with the words, "I deserve your anger!" (no wait, that last one would only help me sleep at night).

But on the longest road trip since 1989, we still should have finished six games up. This year's club is sans Joe Nathan, Tim Worrell, Benito Santiago, Richie A., and let's say Marvin Biz-nard. The roster is not as substantial as pennants past. But the difference between ‘03 and '04 isn't a talent drain.

It is the same difference between winning 10 in a row and going 5-5: execution. Especially by veterans who don't miss grounders, don't often strike out with a runner on third and one down. By pitchers who know how to throw strikes.

So what? Where to now? Prayers that the West can be won with an 82-82 record? That Vernon Wells, Freddy Garcia, Randy Winn, and Richie Santo will be dropped in our laps on July 31st by a feasty front office? (According to sources--and by sources I mean my Jager-swilling cousin in a midnight voicemail--it is a done deal for Richie to return to us, prodigally, if you will.) Personally, I'm praying to Ur-Nok that Bonds will cut off his toes so they can grow into smaller, angrier Barrys ready to bat in the 3rd and 5th spots.

More than half a season remains. I am merely a crack practitioner of Augury, but if the beaky excitement of the Myna birds on my porch tells anything of the future, it's that the Giants will improve this year. They will finish 12 games over .500 at home. They will be around even on the road. They will fight for the division with a win total in the high 80's.

Because I swear. If Edgardo Alfonzo, who led all second basemen with a .993 fielding percentage in '99, makes another error to lose a game, I will petition the Powers That Be to create an all-star team of the ficklest Giants, populated by the likes of Cruz Jr., Ponson, Estes, Reggie Sanders, Alan Embree, a resurrected J.R. Phillips, and all the meatheads on this year's lovely squad who refuse to embrace the vaunted concept of consistency.

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 denevi@hawaii.edu

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