Now that Casey Blake has officially become the first opposing player to openly mock Brian Wilson’s X-gesture, it’s time to answer some burning questions:
1. Who’s going to be the Giants’ starting pitcher who throws at Blake on August 10 at Mays Field (the next time the teams meet)?
Obviously it depends on the rotation, but the only way Blake won’t see a pitch aimed towards his ribcage in his first at-bat against the Giants is if the commissioner’s office threatens mass suspensions for weeks at a time.
Barry Zito seems to be Wilson’s best friend on the team, but his fastball would be the easiest to avoid of anybody on the team. Tim Lincecum’s too valuable to risk suspension and Jonathan Sanchez would probably miss Blake if asked to throw at him. So it’s either going to be Matt Cain or Randy Johnson, and don’t be surprised if Bruce Bochy shuffles the rotation to let The Unit start the series opener against L.A. A suspension might actually do Johnson some good, as he could probably use the rest. Plus, even though he doesn’t throw 101 mph anymore, Johnson is still by far the most frightening Giant starter. If Johnson does end up starting against the Dodgers on Aug. 10, Blake might be the first non-lefty to take a Unit off-day.
2. Did Blake really know how inflammatory yesterday’s mock-gesture was?
Certainly he wanted the Giants to know he was mocking Wilson’s gesture from the dugout after homering off him in the 12th, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned towards the camera and done it a second time. No Major League players like seeing pitchers gesture in any way after recording an out, and to think Blake knew Wilson’s signature move was a tribute to Jesus Christ and his late father is assuming a lot. Only the Giants themselves, beat writers following the team and fans willing to do their research and/or sit through one of Wilson’s interviews with Amy Gutierrez know what the gesture means. There are probably plenty of players in MLB who think Wilson’s just a punk trying to get attention, and after the whole Billy Sadler incident last year, when he gestured after striking out Manny Ramirez (which also upset Blake), there are probably several Dodgers who wish Giant relievers would keep the celebrating to a minimum.
3. Does this mean the Giants/Dodgers rivalry is officially “on” again?
Yes. After years of boring post-Lasorda managers in the Dodgers’ dugout, players constantly switching teams and a lack of engaging pennant races between the traditional rivals, Giants/Dodgers seemed to be heating up before this past weekend’s series even began. Now that Blake has decided to make it personal, the animosity between to the two franchises should be palpable for the rest of the season, even though the teams won’t face each other for three full months.
While there will be much consternation over whether throwing at Blake would be going too far, or if Wilson’s gesture could stand to be toned down a little, nobody can deny Blake’s actions have a good chance of lifting Giants/Dodgers to the level it used to be, meaning Red Sox/Yankees might not be the only rivalry in baseball worth mentioning anymore. That is, unless you’re ESPN, who’s covered Manny Ramirez since he was traded to the Dodgers in the same way the British media covered David Beckham while he was playing for the LA Galaxy — like a celebrity studying abroad.
Already this year, Wilson has started and closed down a Twitter account that was much more trouble than it was worth, sported a mull-hawk hairstyle which has the rest of baseball yelling “Douche!” and Giant fans muttering “Man, if he wasn’t on our team we’d really think he was a douche,” landed a weekly radio segment on KNBR that in just a month has become one of the strangest and most interesting segments in Giants’ guest-spot history, and now with Blake’s actions Wilson has indirectly helped Giants/Dodgers go from NL West afterthought to something that people other than Northern Californians will finally pay attention to for the first time in about five years.
Hopefully for the Giants, Wilson can use everything swirling around him to his advantage, as simply being a Major League closer is enough to make many a psyche crumble like a Butterfinger candy bar dropped on a concrete floor. Despite his penchant for full counts I’ve always been in Wilson’s camp, since there are only five or so closers in baseball better than him at this point, but a couple more blown saves and nobody’s going to want to hear anything about Wilson’s hair, multi-media exploits or religious fervor. It will be interesting to see if this whole Blake situation will increase Wilson’s focus on the mound, or if his hurt feelings will lead to erratic pitching and blown saves.