The ball was hit to the right of center, and kept slicing away to the right like 90% of the balls I’ve ever hit off the tee with a driver. Nate Schierholtz ran in, and didn’t think about what Bruce Bochy would do or say if he let the ball go by him — even though with two outs and the bases loaded, if Jamey Carroll’s sinking liner did get past Schierholtz by more than 20 feet, the Giants would have had a lot more to worry about than Madison Bumgarner losing the chance to notch his first career shutout.
Nate Schierholtz has never been particularly tentative on the defensive end, as this video montage of Schierholtz’s outfield assists shows (make sure to watch out for Ryan Howard’s hilarious reaction when Nate gunned him at second). But that diving play tonight, with the game in the balance, was another example of Schierholtz playing differently this year. It’s hard to tell if winning a World Series as a member of the team he grew up rooting for as a kid loosened him up, or caused him to stop worrying about being a good, quiet teammate, or if he’s just healthy after a shoulder injury kept him down last year. But it sure seems like this is the Schierholtz everyone got to see in Fresno a few years ago, the last time he knew his name would be in the lineup every night.
If I weren’t already so aware of my own tendencies to go into ESPN mode and overrate everything I’ve seen in the past 12 hours, I’d say Schierholtz’s catch was the best play of the year for the San Francisco Giants. But since I already said it 20 seconds after it happened, who cares — that was the best play of the year for the San Francisco Giants.
Bruce Bochy finished a shaky week of managing (hey, the guy very well might be the best manager in San Francisco Giants history, but even Barry Bonds had shaky weeks) by leaving Madison Bumgarner in for emotional, old school purposes. It would have been an awesome feat, for Bumgarner’s first win of the season to be the Giants’ first CG shutout, too. But putting Brian Wilson (who’s also having a shaky week) in a position where the only way he’d come in would be with men on base … well, it wasn’t the best plan.
Bochy’s also a guy who has made Schierholtz earn his playing time. Last year, Schierholtz earned the right to be a defensive replacement in the late innings, no matter how big the stage. It isn’t the kind of role that’ll lead to 8-figure contracts, but it was something. Still, during many of his at-bats in 2009 and 2010, Schierholtz looked like a guy who was worried about striking out. Grounders to first and second were preferable to looking completely fooled at the plate and having the Grim Bochy tap him on the shoulder, which usually meant leaving Schierholtz on the bench in favor of “professional hitters” like Jose Guillen for the next week or so.
Maybe it wasn’t the World Series win, extreme motivation to maximize his career or a prior injury at all; maybe it was that homer in Colorado — the one that would have gone 500 feet if that third deck wasn’t in the way. Because ever since, Schierholtz has been going driver at the plate more often instead of 7-iron. Now he’s in a place where he’s the best defensive outfielder on the team, a guy who makes his mark on a nearly every game he plays, something that can’t be lost on Bochy — especially now that Rowand’s back issues seem to be semi-chronic.
Oh yeah, the pitching…
– Let’s get Wilson out of the way first: he isn’t right. He may have tweaked his ankle yesterday, but it’s hard to believe his oblique is 100%. If it is, he needs to stop treating each open base like if he doesn’t use it up it’ll turn rancid, moldy and the smell will latch onto his beard.
– Now to the fun part: Bumgarner was lefty Matt Cain again tonight, but not because he’s a young pitcher who got squeezed by a home plate umpire and received no run support, leading to a comically inaccurate win/loss record. Bumgarner pitched against a pretty stinky Dodgers lineup — especially considering post-streak Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are ice cold right now — but like Cain, he was incredibly effective while only striking out a few. Bumgarner’s record has caused much (ridiculous) consternation, but check out what his 2011 numbers would project to if he pitched the same number of innings as he did in 2010:
Year IP H BB SO HR
2010 111 119 26 86 11
2011 111 109 39 81 4
Yeah, Bumgarner’s fine.