Giants/A's; Lew Wolff; Josh Nunes/Zach Maynard/Jeff Tedford/Big Game; 49ers Draft
AT THIS writing, the possibility of a Bay Area World Series is still in play, but both the Giants and Aís face formidable obstacles to get there.
The Giants were lucky not to get eliminated in three games. They won in 10 innings in Cincinnati on Tuesday despite getting only three hits, when Scott Rolen \, who has won eight Gold Gloves, committed an error to allow the winning run to score.
Today, they got lucky again. Matt Latos, who has only to show up to beat the Giants, has a bad case of stomach flu, so the Reds had to make a move to activate Mike Leake, their No. 5 pitcher, to start todayís game. The Reds had already lost their top starter, Johnny Cueto, to an oblique injury, but Latos pitched so strongly in relief in game 1 that the Reds won, anyway.
The Giants have their own problem: They have to start Barry Zito in todayís game. Zito is a fly ball pitcher and Great America Park is a small one. The TV announcers last night noted that the park isnít the home run haven it had been earlier in the year, because the temperature is down and the air is moister, but that may not be enough to save Zito.
The Giants need all the help they can get because an objective analysis would say that theyíre inferior to the Reds and Nationals, the other two division winners, and possibly the Cardinals, the wild card team which now gets pitching ace Chris Carpenter back.
The Aís are playing at home, and they got another superbly pitched game last night from Brett Anderson, who got a big boost from center fielder Coco Crisp, who reached over the fence to catch what looked like a home run drive by Prince Fielder.
This is an unbelievably resilient team, and Iíd never write them off because theyíve faced so much adversity this year and never blinked. Donít forget that, in their last three games of the season, they swept a Texas Rangers team that had looked like the best team in the American League all year.
The scary thing for the Aís right now, though, is that even if they win tonight, theyíll face Justin Verlander in the fifth game. Verlander is probably the best starter in baseball at this point, a guy who can keep firing near-100 mph fast balls as long as heís in there. The Aís would have to hope they can keep the score close until the late innings and then come back against the Tigers bullpen. Highly improbable but what would you call this season?
WHEN THE Aís reached the playoffs this year, it was doubly embarrassing to owner Lew Wolff. Not only did it disprove his theory that the Aís couldnít win in the Coliseum nor draw sizeable crowds, it also gave other baseball owners a closer look at the way Wolff operates a baseball franchise. It isnít pretty.
The biggest example was the way Wolff kept the tarp over the upper deck in place for the start of the postseason. Then he had the nerve to say that he did it because when so many seats were empty, the Coliseum looked desolated. Well, Lew, whose fault is that? The Aís claimed that all the tickets available hadnít been sold but Doug Boxer, head of a group to keep the Aís in Oakland, said he had 10,000 e-mails from people who wanted to buy tickets. Who do you believe? My money is on Boxer because we know that the Aís employes have to take their lead from Wolff. And, are you telling me that the team wouldnít like 50,000 fans screaming for them?
Of course, Wolff said the tarp would be taken off if the Aís reached the World Series. He neglected to add that major league baseball sets the conditions for the Series, not the home team. Nobody in MLB would be so stupid that theyíd cover up seats they could sell so easily.
Iíd like to be a bug on the wall the next time Wolff tries to tell other owners that he canít make it in Oakland.
The other laughable element of the Wolff style came last Tuesday when there was an unbelievable fiasco in the parking lot. During the Wolff regime, there has been free parking on Tuesday, though that policy is still a secret to many Aís fans. Free parking also means that there are no attendants in the parking lot, so drivers didnít know where to go. Without supervision, they often took up multiple spots for their tailgates, so many others who should have been accommodated had to park off-site.
Wolffís whole plan since he and John Fisher bought the Aís has been to discourage Oakland fans so he could get approval to move to San Jose, where he could build a ball park so small it looks like a boutique Ė but one which is chock-full of luxury suites for Silicon Valley buyers.
That plan has always been a no-go, despite a barrage of publicity from San Jose, because MLB would either have to challenge the Giantsí territorial rights or, if the Giants agreed, have to make a payment of something like $100 million to the Giants. The first choice is a bad one because it would bring baseballís anti-trust exemption into play. That exemption was given by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 as it ruled that baseball was not inter-state commerce. Think that ruling would survive a challenge? As for the second, who would pay the $100 million? If you asked the other owners, I doubt youíd see any hands in the air.
And now, Wolffís behavior has further damaged his case. He should sell. I donít see what heís getting out of this. Heís obviously not enjoying his teamís success, and his hope of getting to San Jose is getting further away, not closer. Heís making money, of course, because of baseballís generous revenue-sharing plan, but he can make money at other ventures without being hated. Seems like time to fold your cards, Lew.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL fans got some unexpected good news this week: The Big Game will be played in the daytime, starting at noon. I had assumed it would be a night game, because everything is done to fit the TV schedule now. Tradition means nothing, and the actual fans at the games are treated like extras in a television show. The schedules are loaded with TBA (to be announced) starting times, and fans find out when the games are being played only 12 days before. Good luck with planning your own schedule.
Traditional games should be always be played in the daytime because they provide a natural way for alums to come back to the campus if they donít come to every game and a time for tailgates for everybody. I suppose people tailgate at night games but that canít be a lot of fun in late fall.
Traditional games should always be the last games on the schedule, too, the natural climax to the regular season. I donít know what happened this year, just as I donít know why Cal is playing a 12-game schedule with a break, but I hope future seasons see the Big Game at the end of the season. I know this seems laughable to many of those who put together collegiate schedules these days Ė and certainly to Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner Ė but college football should be about those playing the game and those supporting the teams with their attendance, which means mostly alumni or relatives of alumni.
End of sermon.
The good news is that this looks like it could be a wide-open Big Game because both teams got their quarterbacks and their offenses in high gear last weekend.
Josh Nunes answered a lot of questions in Stanfordís wild overtime win over Arizona. Itís never easy following a great quarterback like Andrew Luck. Iíve watched Stanford quarterbacks since the Ď60s, and Luck may be the best of the bunch. John Elway was the most physically talented but Elway was also undisciplined and actually wound up his collegiate career one game below .500. Of course, his coach was Paul Wiggin. I have to think Stanfordís record in that period would have been far better if Bill Walsh had stayed.
Luck had more success, though not quite as much as Jim Plunkett, who won the Heisman Trophy and the Rose Bowl. Call it a tie, then, between Luck and Plunkett for the best Stanford quarterback of the last 50 years.
Nunes isnít in that category but heís still a talented player, good enough to succeed in a balanced offense, which Stanford has. Before last weekend, I saw comparisons between Nunes and Joe Ayoob, who had the misfortune of following Aaron Rodgers as Calís starting quarterback. There is one important difference, though. Calís success during Rodgerís time attracted fans who were of what I term the ďfans of winningĒ crowd. They were not alums and had no interest in the school, and they were relentless in their hounding of Ayoob. Stanford doesnít have those fans. Truthfully, they donít have many fans at all. All teams, college and pro, announce attendances based on ticket sales but the actual crowds at Stanford games donít come close to filling the 50,000-seat stadium, unless Cal, USC or Notre Dame is the opponent. Perhaps Oregon, as well.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard also silenced his critics with the best game of his career as the Bears shocked UCLA, and one which earned him the national player of the week honors by one group.
Fans always blame coaches and quarterbacks when their team loses, but the explanation is usually much more complicated..
Prior to last Saturday, Calís offensive problems stemmed chiefly from the fact that so many changes had to be made in the offensive line, and it hadnít come together. In the Arizona State game, for instance, Cal called only 11 pass plays in the first half but Maynard was sacked on three of them. No quarterback succeeds in that kind of situation. Invariably, he starts to throw too quickly and his passes are inaccurate.
Last Saturday, Maynard got good protection, and he responded.
As for coach Jeff Tedford, Iíve heard from numerous alums who insist heís ďlost his mo-joĒ, which seems to be the current clichť. But when I talked to Tedford this spring, he was very excited about the new High Performance Center and the re-done stadium. He certainly didnít sound like a man who had lost his enthusiasm for his job.
And, I think the way his team played against UCLA is proof that he can still get their attention.
SOME PEOPLE are never happy. The 49ers have won their last two games by a combined score of 79-3, setting franchise records in the last game, but Iím still getting complaints about their last draft.
The fact that none of their seven draft picks are currently active reflects one fact: The 49ers already had a very good roster and they lost only one significant player, guard Adam Snyder, who has been replaced.
Meanwhile, theyíve made some significant free agent additions in wide receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. They have a healthy Michael Crabtree, who is finally playing like the receiver the 49ers thought they were getting when they drafted him. Because coach Jim Harbaugh didnít blame Kyle Williams publicly for his costly fumbles in the NFC championship game, Williams has been productive, and now, Ted Ginn Jr. is back from injury.
I think the 49ers have drafted very well recently. When they had high draft picks, they picked offensive linemenótackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iapatu. Drafting almost at the end of this yearís first round, it would have been very difficult to find another good offensive lineman, so they went for A. J. Jenkins, because wide receiver seemed to be a spot where they needed help. I have no doubt Jenkins will help down the road, but it should be comforting to fans to know they have multiple other receivers who can help.
Oh, well, I guess I should be happy that Iím no longer getting those ďAlex Smith must goĒ e-mails. As I wrote all along, all Alex needed was the right coach and a consistent system. He has both now.
NEXT WEEK: Iíll be writing on Tuesday because Iím going to the Guardsmenís Big Game luncheon on Wednesday.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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