Today's riddle: How many bases loaded situations do the San Francisco Giants need before they plate a boatload of runners?
And your answer: More than three apparently.
The A's gave the Giants plenty of opportunities to notch a win Friday night. San Francisco managed to fill the bases in the second, sixth, and ninth innings, each time with fewer than two outs. Sum total of the runs the Giants wound up scoring in those innings: One, when Randy Winn grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice in the second to score San Francisco's first run.
So if you're thinking I'm grateful that Oakland got away with one on Friday, you'd be thinking right.
What people will remember about this game, if anything, is the patchwork lineup the Giants were reduced to fielding in the extra frames as a result of some unfortunate injuries and some excessive substitutions early on. (Maybe Bruce Bochy was under the impression this was a spring exhibition.) San Francisco removed two position players from the game in the early going -- Fred Lewis, due to a rib strain, and Bengie Molina on a double switch when it came time to remove a struggling Tim Lincecum in the fifth (though Molina also might have taken a foul tip off his hand, making him an ideal candidate for removal). After Lincecum, the Giants used six more pitchers, several of whom were lifted from the game in favor of pinch hitters.
That set the bench-depleted stage for the decisive 10th inning when everything that could go wrong for San Francisco did. With one out, pinch-runner Donnie Murphy inexplicably broke for home on a ground ball to first -- Ryan Klesko threw Murphy out easily, but not before a collision at the plate with Giants back-up catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Alfonzo came up hobbling -- it looked like an ankle injury from my vantage point in the View Seats, but the newswire suggests it was a sprained left knee. Whatever the injury, Alfonzo was unable to continue and San Francisco found itself suddenly, alarmingly out of catchers.
"You have to have a catcher," Casey Stengel once observed. "Because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls."
So the Giants scrambled -- Pedro Feliz became San Francisco's In-Case-of-Emergency-Break-Glass catcher; Randy Winn, the second most accomplished San Ramon Valley High graduate in the ballpark that night, moved from center to third; Dan Ortmeier, who came into the game after Lewis' injury, moved from right field to center; and Noah Lowry, who can normally be found pitching, served as the warm body to stand in right field.
Whether it was all this shuffling, standing around or just the strain of having Pedro Feliz calling pitches -- perhaps I owe Ray Fosse an apology -- Brad Hennessey coughed up two two-out runs, and the A's had themselves a win they might not have deserved, but they will surely be glad to bank.
Game 60: A's 5, Giants 3 (10)
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- K. Calero (1-4) LP -- B. Hennessey (1-2) S -- A. Embree (6)
Went Deep: No one, though Phone Company Field yields more than its share of triples, as Klesko and Ortmeier will attest.
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: Had we wrapped up things in regulation, this likely would have gone to Travis Buck for his 4-hit, 2-RBI night. But an obscure Star of the Game rule declares that any time Shannon Stewart can come off the bench and rope a two-run single to left giving Oakland the lead, he automatically takes the prize.
The Turning Point: When Ortmeier tripled with one out in the ninth, I muttered "ballgame" to my wife. Following a pair of intentional walks that caused the Phone Company Field crowd to break out their rubber chickens -- folks, there is nothing 'fraidy cat about setting up the force play at home in bottom half of the ninth inning or later -- Kiko Calero was summoned from the bullpen. He immediately threw three balls out of the strike zone to Ray Durham, and the fellow in front of me started putting on his backup in anticipation of a walk-off walk. I can't say that I blame him.
Then, after a just-get-it-over-strike, Durham swung at a 3-1 pitch... and popped it about a mile into the air in the infield. One down. Kevin Frandsen, your last bench player standing, came into pinch hit; three feeble swings later, the A's were out of a jam.
So let's hear it for Kiko Calero, who has had a fairly miserable year out of the 'pen thus far, but who continues to battle and came up huge Friday night. Calero's started hearing it from A's fans, particularly after he played the lead role in blowing last Friday's extra innings game to the Twins -- and not reasonable complaints about performance, but nasty, personal stuff. Nobody asked me, but in light of all of Calero's many contributions to the team's success the previous two years, it seems like the worst kind of front-running. We're with you, kid, until we're against you. It's nice to see him come through, if for no other reason than to show the fair-weather fans where they can stick it.
Curious Tactics, Mr. Geren: Yes, there were two outs, and yes, Mark Kotsay only a few months removed from back surgery, and yes, Billy Beane hates the steal like he hates the flames of hell. But when Kotsay was on first with two outs as Feliz was making his major league debut at catcher, I was moderately surprised that the A's didn't try to swipe a base -- Kotsay danced a little bit on the first pitch to see if Feliz would get rattled, but otherwise remained rooted to first. It turned out to be immaterial -- Jason Kendall came through with a key hit and then Shannon Stewart did his thing -- but the lack of movement on the basepaths seemed odd, given the Giants' staffing issues.
Also odd: Murphy's decision to bolt for home on Kotsay's grounder to first. I don't have the benefit of a replay, but it looked from my seat as if Murphy didn't bolt so much as he gradually left third base; Klesko certainly had plenty of time to make a non-panicky throw to the plate. Perhaps, next time, a different pinch runner.
Curious Musical Choices, Ballpark Staff: To fire up the home crowd for the 10th, the Phone Company Field music crew played Metallica's "Enter Sandman." In baseball circles, this song is perhaps best known as the anthem to which closers sprint in from the bullpen. Mariano Rivera uses it, as does Billy Wagner. Perhaps inspired by this entry music, Alan Embree worked a one-two-three ninth. Perhaps next time, a different song, Giants staff.
Curious Lyrical Interpretation, Mr. Anthem Singer: The national anthem was sung by a scruffy pop balladeer whose name escapes me and who sang "The Star Spangled Banner" as if it were a tender love song to a really hot 23-year-old waitress. As you might imagine, this led to some unique lyrical stylings. Did you know that we are living in The Land of the Fleeh? Well, you do now, and I hope you appreciate that fact -- fleehdom isn't fleeh, you know.
Perhaps I Have Seen Too Much of Larry Davis This Year: When the Giants' wacky morning DJ/P.A. announcer told us that Ortmeier entered the game in right, for a moment I panicked and thought Nick Swisher had been horribly crippled before I remembered that Ortmeier was on the other team's roster. At this point, I guess I just naturally assume that when there's an injury, it invovles an Oakland player.
All in All: A memorable, if frigid, evening at the ballpark. And now it's time for me to get ready for round two.