Someone told me yesterday that I hadn’t had a walk-off hit since 2007, and I joked, “I haven’t played since 2007.’’ That’s kind of how it feels, like I’ve been away from the game forever.
For two years, I’ve been running onto the field for everyone else’s heroics. Finally I got to come through with the game-winning hit Tuesday night.
“Show me some love!’’ I said to the guys when they rushed at me. “I want you to come get me this time!’’
A moment like that makes us all Little Leaguers again. The most grizzled veterans are leaping out of their shoes. It’s a moment of pure fun and excitement, and it recaptures everything we love about the game and why we ought to be grateful every single day that we get to do this for a living.
The irony of getting that big hit is that I had stopped trying to muscle the ball, something I realized just wasn’t working with my post-injury wrist. Pride and ego get in the way sometimes when you come up to the plate. You want to hit a home run; you want to drive the ball; you want everybody to go crazy. But I needed to concentrate on shortening my swing – basically taking a two-strike approach to all of my at-bats. It’s more like playing pepper with the ball. And these pitchers are throwing so hard that they supply the power for me.
I’m also a guy who likes being at the plate when the game’s on the line. You see certain guys shy away from it, and certain guys accept the responsibility. I once asked Derek Jeter why he’s so good in big situations. He said, “There’s nothing that’s going to happen out on the field tonight that hasn’t happened before. I’ve played great and I’ve played terrible. It’s going to be somewhere probably in the middle.’’
So that’s what I tell myself when I go to the plate: Just relax, have fun, soak it in.
And it’s working. I read all the stuff people were writing that maybe my career is over. But I didn’t feel that in my heart. And Tuesday’s hit, and frankly the way I’ve been hitting in general lately, is validation that I can still contribute.
The most dangerous part of Tuesday night came after the walk-off knock when Pablo launched into his crazy handshake with me. He has a different one for every guy. Mine ends in two forearm bashes, and let me tell you, Panda is throwing some lumber. But I was prepared and escaped with no breaks or bruises.
A few thoughts about Panda:
Everyone talks about his offense but he’s having a great year defensively, too. He has ungodly talent. As he matures and gets smarter and hopefully listens to Beltran a little bit, I expect to be watching him in the All-Star Game for a long time to come. The best compliment I can give him is the ball sounds different coming off his bat than it does with 99 percent of the players. And he loves the game so much it’s contagious. You can’t measure the value of someone like him in the dugout and in the clubhouse.
Thanks for reading. Heading to the field. See you back in San Francisco.
I looked up from my locker Saturday afternoon and there in the middle of the clubhouse was Barry Bonds. He just walked over and started saying hi to everyone and soon we were talking hitting. Then he took a seat and eight or nine of us pulled up chairs around him. And off he went. And we weren’t going to let him go.
It was like a graduate seminar on hitting. Beltran asked Bonds why he choked up on the bat. Bonds said it was about bat control. It took more of the handle out of play and gave him more barrel. We got the sense in talking to him that the bat became an extension of his arm. It was like one big arm. (I don’t know that feeling.)
Bonds talked about what he sees from certain guys – Cody, Beltran, Pablo, Pat, me. He told Pat he has a tendency to be a little jumpy at the plate, meaning that he goes out and tries to get the ball and pull it to left field. That’s why he pulls so many balls foul because his bat is out there too fast. He told him to trust his hands and stay back.
For Panda – well, I think the average fan knows what Panda’s problem is. At the plate, he’s just so darn talented that he gets away with swinging at everything. But Bonds told him to find the pitches he knows he can handle instead of trying to handle them all. He told Panda to work himself into better hitter’s counts. Pablo is capable of winning batting titles with the hand-eye coordination he’s got, and that’s what Bonds reiterated. He just needs to be more selective at the plate. (Personally, I would love to go inside Panda’s head for an at-bat and see what he’s thinking up there.)
As for me, I’ve always been an inside-out hitter: I try to work the ball up the middle or the other way. Barry said I have a tendency to do that too much and that it takes power away. That sounded very true to me. But with my wrist I’m a little limited. So I think inside-out is the best way for me to compete right now.
But what I discovered is I think a lot like Barry Bonds does at the plate – even if we don’t have exactly the same results. In talking to him, you understand that he took absolutely everything into consideration: counts, who’s pitching, how that pitcher throws against similar hitters, whether there are runners on or if the bases are empty, how to work himself into a count where he’s likely to get a certain pitch that he can handle, how he makes adjustments on a pitch he can’t handle.
I approach hitting the same way. I go up to the plate with a plan every time. In Saturday’s game, when I came in to pinch-hit in the ninth, I was facing Bryan Shaw, a young kid with a cutter. That’s his go-to pitch. Cabrera’s on first. The score is 7-2. I really can’t impact the game too much. So I figure Shaw is going to throw me his best pitch. And he did. That’s a pretty easy case.
But if you get a guy like Ian Kennedy who has two-plus pitches – his fastball and his change-up – and he’s got two strikes on you, you don’t know what he’s going to throw. He’s got enough confidence and guts to blow a fastball by you, so you better be ready for the fastball but he’s got a good changeup. It’s the game within a game.
That’s why it was so fun to talk to Bonds. He’s one of the very few players who was almost able to master hitting — him, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. Of course, they possess innate ability that is on a different level from normal humans. But in talking to players like them, you understand that no matter how great you are you don’t stay in this game on sheer talent. You have to be mentally tough. You have to think and analyze.
I remember playing against Bonds and becoming so wrapped up in watching how he approached every at bat, every pitch, that I’d have to pinch myself and say, “Hey, if the ball’s hit to you, you have to make the play.’’ If he was standing on second and there was a timeout or a pitching change, I’d always go over and ask him questions: What were you thinking there? Why did you lay off that pitch? For me, that’s the only way I’ve been somewhat successful – picking the brains of the great players and incorporating as much as I can into my game.
Clearly, Bonds has been watching us on TV and pulling for us. He’s probably one of the five greatest players to ever play. And for us to have 20 minutes of his time was really a privilege and an honor. I’ll remember that forever.
On my way into the clubhouse today, I saw Miguel Tejada leaving. He told me he’d been reassigned, another way of saying he was cut. I didn’t know Aaron Rowand was involved, too, until I saw him packing up his locker. It’s not been an easy day.
I think we all expected something to happen after playing the brand of baseball we had been playing for the past month. It was like 30 days of the same game. Like we kept hitting the replay button. There was passion and fight, but we couldn’t get anything going. Then the boos started creeping in. Listen, we know that if we lose our fans after winning the first World Championship since 1954, we’ve lost everything.
So we knew something had to be done. And today the front office and the coaches sent us a message loud and clear: No one’s safe. If you’re not delivering, there will be changes.
Ro and Miggy found themselves in a situation where they weren’t playing much. And when you have 10-plus years in the big leagues, and you have the resumes that these guys have, it’s not easy to be on the bench day after day after day. It beats you up.
I was in a similar situation, but I had an injury so I had a built-in excuse. But no matter what the reason for sitting on the bench, you feel terrible not being out there. Then when you do go out there and don’t play well, you find yourself right back on the bench. Ro and Miggy are very good players and they’ll resurface somewhere else. No doubt in my mind. Miguel Tejada will go down as one of the best shortstops ever to play the game. I will always respect what those two guys did.
Do I think the clubhouse shake-up helped us win today? It’s possible. If so, I hope it isn’t a one-game boost. Sometimes change can be the spark you need to snap back to life. We’ll see a bunch of young guys show up Friday for September call-ups. And that energy is always a welcome lift during the last month of the regular season.
Personally I’m excited for Brett Pill, who arrived today. I was down in Fresno rehabbing my wrist for three weeks and I think I spent more time with him than with some of the guys in this clubhouse! Let me tell you, the kid can play. He deserves an opportunity. So I’m excited for him to get his shot.
It’s great to have a day off tomorrow before we face Arizona. We’re six games back, and as we showed last season, that’s not insurmountable. Arizona is hot as a pistol right now. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we’ve been in this position before. That’s what I like. We have a lot of the same guys, and every one of them is a fighter.
And at the end of the day, I like our pitching staff better than anybody’s in baseball. We just have to go out there and score runs for them. We have to play good ball. Period. End of story.
See you at the park on Friday.
A couple weeks ago, when Matt Cain lost his second 2-1 game in a row, he stood up in front of reporters like he always does and took the blame. When I read his quotes the next day, I went over to him. I told him that every hitter in this clubhouse knows he ought to be pointing fingers at us. I told him that we as an offense feel horrible and we’re doing everything we can to figure out how to score more runs for the pitchers.
And I especially wanted him to know that we are acutely aware that he and the rest of the pitching staff are being extraordinarily kind in their public comments.
There’s only so many times you can pitch your heart out and not get any support from your team. Eventually it can cause a rift in the clubhouse. I’ve seen it happen on other teams. We’ve got such a tight-knit clubhouse. And you want to keep it that way because it’s a big part of winning baseball.
That’s why it’s so important that the pitchers know we understand their frustration. We watch TV. We read the papers. We know that Cain has gotten one run or less in 12 of his 26 starts. We know that we haven’t scored a single run for Timmy in 10 of his 27 starts. Our starters have ERAs hovering in the three’s, and Timmy’s at two and a half. You’re two and a half in today’s game and you’re nasty. You should be leading the league in wins.
I remember talking to Greg Maddox when we played together in Atlanta. We’d lose a close one and he’d be absolutely fine on the plane. I asked him one day, “Why are you OK with that?’’ And he said, “Well, I did my job. I can’t control the other things. I can only control my job.’’
I think that’s a great way to look at it, but when it starts becoming the norm, it’s got to frustrate you. And all it takes is one comment to cause a riot in the clubhouse, one comment said the wrong way. So you don’t allow that to happen. You go out to dinner with the pitchers and talk about it. You go up to a guy in the clubhouse and deal with things before they become an issue.
I’ve been on a lot of teams over the years, but I’ve never been on a team that has gone so cold offensively for such an extended period of time to where it almost has become more mental than physical. You’ve got guys pressing, trying to do too much, not staying with consistent approaches. Everyone’s trying to be the hero and get hot and get us going. But it seems to just push us more and more down.
And believe me, we take it personally. There’s not a guy in here who doesn’t take it personal. We have too good a team not to make it to the postseason. We have the greatest atmosphere in baseball right now in our home park. The most loyal fans. They deserve for us to go back to postseason. They’ve supported us all year.
I’ve also never been on a team with so many injuries to key players. We don’t have Andres Torres at the top of the order who ignited everything. You take him away, then you take away your No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, Freddy and Buster, and it’s going to cripple you. It’s not that easy to replace really, really, really good players. Players are not interchangeable parts. Then Sabes goes out and makes two great trades to replace them, and those guys get hurt.
We’ve done a great job of grinding, but at the same time, no one’s going to wait around, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. We got 30-some odd games to find a way to get into the postseason. I think when we get in, everyone will take a deep breath and then we’ll be dangerous again.
In the meantime, we have to stick together as a team. You have four months to be an individual player. I know everyone says that’s not the case but everyone plays for numbers the first four months of the season. But now it’s team first at all costs.
Which is why I’m not lobbying Bochy to give me more starts. He started me in Houston over the weekend, and I played well. Given the opportunity, I know I can help the team. That being said, I know with the struggles I’ve had with the wrist, I understand Boch opting for another guy. Two or three times over the course of my contract, I’ve asked for Bochy to give me a chance, and he’s given it. I won’t do it now. We’re in a different situation. If we were 10 games up, maybe he would give me a little more of a look. But we’re two games out and he feels he’s got to go with his big guns. All I can do is keep working hard and hoping to get into a situation where I get a big at-bat and come through and prove that I can still play and contribute.
In any case, it’s a great chance for me to be a mentor to some younger guys. And to keep showing support for our pitchers in the clubhouse until we can show more support on the field.
I had a long talk with Brandon before he left for Fresno last week. We talked about how baseball is a constant work-in-progress. The route to becoming an established major-leaguer is rarely a straight line. He understands that going to Fresno is simply part of the process.
So I hope he doesn’t feel in any way that he failed. He didn’t fail at anything. Just two years ago, the guy was in college. Since then it’s been a whirlwind for him. In one year, he went from Single A, to Double A, Triple A, Arizona Fall League. You heard about this guy coming the whole time. The Giants have done a tremendous job bringing him along, but I think the expectations from the fans and the media were huge.
Then he comes to spring camp, and the media is following his every move.
Then you face big-league pitching. Guys he’s never faced before. He couldn’t make an out without people second-guessing him. It just seems like a lot for a young kid to take in.
And on top of that you’re following Buster, who I think is unequivocally the best young player I’ve ever see come up. You follow in those footsteps — that’s pretty tough to reproduce if that’s what people are expecting. And Brandon handled it well. He’s going to be just fine. He’ll take a deep breath, process what happened and make the necessary adjustments to come back up. He knows he has some things he needs to work on. And I think he knows the next time up it will be different.
I went back and forth to the minors when I started with the Braves. I had the skills, but I wasn’t ready for the major leagues because I wasn’t confident enough. I was still in awe of it. I was in awe of the whole thing. Being a big league player was my dream as a kid. Then I get drafted by Braves and when I got called up the first time, I walked into the clubhouse more as a fan than as someone with a job to do. So it took me a little bit to get over the fact that these are my teammates now. That I belonged up there. But I think that’s good. There has to be that awe factor when you get to the big leagues. Otherwise what the heck are you playing for?
Next time: The particular challenges of staying ready when you don’t know when, where and if you’re playing on any given day. And: Patience as a virtue is over-rated: I am really, really ready to feel 100 percent again.
Just finished the final game against the Cardinals. We couldn’t pull off the sweep, it’s been a weekend we’ll never forget with the flag-raising on Friday and the rings on Saturday.
For me to open that box and see the World Series ring, it just put a stamp on a lot of hard work even though I was injured and wasn’t able to play last season. You look at that ring and think about playing catch with your dad and your brother in the yard, dreaming of playing in the bigs and then seeing it come to fruition. You’ve got to take a step back and think how far each and every guy in this clubhouse has come.
When I look at that ring, I’ll always remember Huffy’s red thong, the emergence of the bullpen, the moves Boch and Brian Sabean made, the two-out knock Freddy Sanchez got in Atlanta. All those things will come back. The ring is a just a beautiful representation of a miraculous season.
But I don’t think I’ll ever wear it. I’ll keep it in my office at home in Atlanta as a conversation piece. I’m not a big jewelry guy. Other than my wedding band, I’ve never worn a ring. And second, I would have loved to be on the field when it all happened.
So while the ring is something I’m really proud of, it’s not something I feel like I earned.
It was interesting that the same day we got the rings, we played a game that was the perfect symbol of what we were all about last season. We came from behind to beat the Cardinals in the ninth inning on Miggy’s double. That’s how we won a lot of games last year – not giving up, fighting the whole way. And that’s why I think the fans rallied around this team. Because outside of Timmy, there were no superstars. There were so many players for little kids and adults to latch onto. Your favorite player could have been anybody in the lineup – Freddy Sanchez or Cody Ross or Andres Torres. There were a lot of good guys to go around.
As great as all the flag-raising and ring ceremonies have been, we’re looking forward to getting back to some normalcy. Ballplayers are creatures of habit. So hopefully as we get back into our routines, you’ll start to see more consistent ball.
It’s fun to watch a guy like Brandon Belt because it brings back memories of my own first year. I got called up to the majors for the first time on September 2, 1998. I was playing in Zebulon, North Carolina, for the Pirates’ Double A team. I was shocked. I wasn’t on the 40-man-nothin’. I was 23 years old, a year-and-a-half in the pros. I ran outside and called my dad and he didn’t believe me. I was in a complete panic when I walked into the major-league clubhouse. I knew to keep my head down and my mouth shut. Though you know you have skills, you can’t help wondering if you really belong up there. Until you perform in front of 20,000 people in a stadium with the world watching, you don’t know if you can do it. It took me three call-ups before I got comfortable. It’s such a huge leap from the minors to the majors. It’s night and day. The intensity is different. The stadiums. The pitchers are completely different. Even to this day, I have moments where I’m proving to myself I belong. I remember getting a hit off Mariano River and going to first and thinking, “OK.’’ I remember going against Randy Johnson and getting a walk. You get to this level and then there are levels within this level that you test yourself against.
What I’d tell Brandon Belt is to take it all in because this first season happens only once. Your dream is being realized right in front of you. Expect to be nervous. Realize you’re going to feel different than you have ever felt playing baseball. Pick the brains of the older guys. Carry yourself like a professional, meaning that every day you walk into the clubhouse you’re the same guy, no matter how you did the day before. And you have to always be confident that whatever situation you’re in, you can handle it. If you don’t have that mentality up here, you’ll get chewed up.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to post questions.