Thursday was an occasion for playing hooky from work, as our entire office moved down Third Street to take in the afternoon showdown between the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. The weather was lovely, the company was excellent, but the baseball was less than stellar. A difficult season for the Giants and their bullpen full of belly-itchers reached a new low, as the Reds turned a close contest into an embarrassing rout by scoring ten runs in the eighth inning. During this endless, soul-crushing parade of offensive might (the Reds) and unbridled suck (the Giants), a young British visitor displayed an impressive understanding of our national pastime, and I put the finishing touches on a very silly-looking sunburn.
I blame the sun for many of our woes. Expecting the usual overcast and chilly San Francisco summer weather, our party was unprepared for the clear, sunny day that resulted. Our food consumption was slow and weary, our peanut fights half-hearted, our heckling quiet and uninspired. I think I may have even referred to Reds' pitcher Aaron Harang as "nothing but a lousy diatribe". Even my sunscreen application was lacking. I thought I'd learned my lesson from last month, when I burned my upper arms after rolling up my sleeves during a convertible ride. The result was a painful reverse farmer tan. This time I was more vigilant with the SPF, but neglected the narrow strip of forehead between my hat brim and eyebrows. Luckily, it only hurts when something really surprises or worries me.
Still, Kirk Rueter was on the mound, so the game went quickly. Rueter works faster than any other pitcher in the league, since he doesn't issue a lot of walks or home runs, and takes roughly 2.4 seconds between pitches. The Giants weren't hitting either, so we reached the eighth inning with the Reds ahead 2-1, and the time of game at a brisk 90 minutes or so. Even with Barry Bonds resting on the bench, we had faith that the team could come back. And so did the British kid sitting behind me.
Brief digression: The Giants are pretty sucky this year, outside of Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds. They do not play especially good defense, they don't have any star hitters besides Bonds, and their relief pitchers have been nightmarishly bad all season. Bonds and Schmidt are so good that their presence alone makes the team a contender, but the dropoff after them is quite steep. Still? Way better than the Reds. /Digression
The British kid behind me provided a great deal of entertainment with his enthusiasm, accent, and total lack of familiarity with the game of baseball. Throughout the afternoon, he repeatedly asked his American friend to explain the confusing parts of the game. During the endless eighth inning, I began listening to the British kid more than I did my co-workers. He proved to be remarkably (if unintentionally) insightful about the Giants and their major weaknesses.
1. Inconsistent defense
After catcher A.J. Pierzynski missed an easy foul pop, the British kid and his American friend had this exchange:
British Kid: Now, the chap with the mask - he's the receiver?
American Friend: He's the catcher.
BK: Catcher. Brilliant. So, the catcher - is he permitted to touch the ball when it's in the air like that?
2. Crappy, crappy relief pitchers
This took place after the unfortunately-named Merkin Valdez had walked his second consecutive batter with the bases loaded, making the score 7-1.
BK: It does rather seem like a lot of points.
AF: Actually, it's runs.
BK: (Thoughtful pause) Should they use a different pitcher, then? Have they got anyone else?
3. No quality hitters, besides Barry Bonds
This occurred in the bottom of the ninth, with the Giants trailing 12-3. American Friend was explaining how, in general, a team batted its best hitter fourth, in the "cleanup" spot.
BK: Got it, thanks.
(Giants "cleanup" hitter Pedro Feliz grounds weakly to the pitcher)
BK: (Another thoughtful pause) So that's their best batter, then?
The Giants should hire that kid as an adviser. He'd probably work for fish and chips and the occasional takeaway curry. He was the highlight of the afternoon, along with the fine companionship, and Ken Griffey's bases-loaded strikeout, during which he probably pulled one of his hamstrings again. Ken, if you want that presidential fitness medal, you gotta focus a little more on the sit-and-reach. It was a far cry from Oakland's earlier 17-8 thumping of Cincinnati this year on a Two Dolla Wednesday (eight cents per run!), but I'm still always glad to be taken out to the ballgame, even when it's a shame.