There really is something special about the red, white and blue bunting on a stadium. For baseball fans, it really can make one smile and lighten the mood.
But on Tuesday, that lightened mood didn't last very long.
Let's put it bluntly: The team sucked. And that doesn't bode well for the fans, the season, or the team in the long run.
The hope did manage to linger under the surface for a little while. Although the Padres scratched out a run off of the world's highest paid pitcher, Barry Zito, in the first, Barry Bonds managed to make things seem alright by stealing a base. A legitimate stealing of a base, at that. It managed to eliminate from some people's memories that his single to get on base was the result of him being jammed and behind a pitch on the inside corner, that dribbled into a hit only because of the shifted defense teams play against him.
But at least Bonds looked alive. Pedro Feliz looked downright asleep, both at the plate and in the field. Rich Aurilia's return was not successful (Seriously, guys, he needs the Beastie Boys song back), and no one hit the few times guys were on base save for new No. 8 hitter Randy Winn. I'll give credit to late-inning replacement Ryan Klesko, showing off that those lessons from J.T. Snow in how to make nice plays at first worked with a ralining-leaner of a catch in the ninth, but even he would have to admit it was too little, too late.
But once the world's highest paid pitcher exited in the fifth inning (The 5th inning!), the bullpen made sure to put the kibosh on any good feelings. Kevin Correia pitched well for one inning, but a leadoff triple erased that. Jonathan Sanchez looked a lot like Charlie "Wild Thing" Sheen before the horn-rimmed glasses, throwing a wild pitch that wouldn't have scored a goal if a soccer net was set up behind the plate. And Vinnie Chulk may have not allowed any runs against himself, but he owes Sanchez a couple of beers.
It's not that the team didn't show any life out there. It's that they didn't show it when it mattered. And all day should've mattered, even going into the following day's night. This was the time for this team to come out and proclaim that age be damned, expectations be damned, this team will still win. Instead, they barely competed.
Of course, this is just one game in 162, and sure, a poor memory will make this game not mean more than 1/162nd of a year. But the fans will not forget this, and it'll take a while for them to forgive. The boos were heard, and not just when Benitez was announced. And the fans will remind the team of it every day the team does not compete.
This is a big deal for Peter Magowan and company. After this year, they won't have much to make their job of selling this team easy. If the Bonds chase isn't over one way, it's probably going to be over the other way. And they won't be able to hold the All-Star game hostage to ‘encourage' fans to buy season tickets. And an empty ballpark less than halfway into the stadium's incredible debt service, not to mention one year into Zito's immense seven-year contract, would be the start of a downward financial spiral for the team.
That, in turn, would put pressure knocking at Brian Sabean's door. Sure, the fans can't get to it (thanks to the wonderful security at the Giants' front office), but when the financial side is threatened by the poor on-the-field performance you know Peter Magowan will be right there. Sabean has no more leeway, no more grace periods. The warning shot was already fired over his bow in the Spring; It's win now or no more employment. At the very least, Magowan knows that he has that trump card that will make a certain number of vocal fans happy.
Now, some fans might wonder if Sabean actually cares either way. That's an obscene suggestion to those who know Sabean, because he's as fiery as anyone in the organization, but the fans don't always see that side. The decision to stick with older (and in some cases, increasingly unpopular) players has only made his detractors more vocal. There's legitimate questions as to when any changes would make it onto the field. New manager Bruce Bochy isn't exactly known for his willingness to shake things up to try and change fortunes. If Feliz continues to strike out when it counts, even at the No. 7 spot in the order, will the team ring Kevin Frandsen's number? Will Linden get a chance if Roberts or Winn don't bounce back to even average production for them? And how long will it take for the Giants to bite the bullet on moving Tim Lincecum up?
The answer will invariably be, too long for some fans to stomach. Quite possibly too late to make a difference for 2007.
Perhaps it is still too early to be looking down that road, and there is obviously plenty of time to turn this team around. But the chance for first impressions is gone, and the clock has started ticking away on the chances of coming back.
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