October 2012

Until the Last Out

It’s more than two hours before game time. We’re about to go out to batting practice. Will this be our last BP? You try not to think about it. You try to do what all of us have been doing since we were down 0-2 to Cincinnati: Focus on just this game. Forget what happened yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It has worked for us so far.

If you walked into our clubhouse right now, you’d think we were about to play a game in August instead of the fourth game of the World Series. Everyone’s relaxed and low-key. There’s loud music playing through the speakers. Some guys are sitting at their lockers, half-dressed, with headphones on and iPads open. Some are watching football on TV. The usual.

I’m guessing, though, that most of the guys didn’t sleep real well last night. I woke up three times. I kept thinking that I’m in a dream. I can’t take it all in. I think I’ll be sitting at my house one day about a month from now and say to my wife, “I think I was in the World Series.”

I also thought last night about my triple in the second inning that scored Hunter for the first run of the game. I was so excited when I reached third base. I hit a triple in the World Series! It was funny, too, that right before that, while I was in the batter’s box, Miguel Cabrera kind of yelled at me for calling time as the pitcher went into his windup. Mostly he was yelling at the umpire. “He can’t call time out right there!” he said. “You got to do a better job!”

Miguel was just playing mind games. I stepped out of the box because Sanchez, the Tigers’ pitcher, was trying to throw too quickly. He does that to knock the batter’s timing off. So I stepped out to slow him down. I guess it worked because he threw me a curveball that I lined into the gap.

Cabrera and I are good friends. He played with my brother when they were 14 or 15 years old, and everyone already knew Miguel would be a star. We played together in winter ball in Venezuela in 2007 and in the World Baseball Classic three years ago. He’s a great player and a great person. We talked and joked during batting practice before Game 2. He was saying how great our pitching staff was and how loud our fans were. He also joked that he would be stepping it up that game so watch out.

I’m happy about the triple, but not happy about the mistake I made in the seventh inning. I hit a chopper to Cabrera at third. The throw was low and Prince Fielder had to stretch and, as it turned out, he pulled his foot off the bag. I was called out, though replays showed I was safe. But I’m mad at myself for sliding into first. It’s the dumbest thing you can do. I had no intention of sliding but I wanted to get to first base so badly that I just found myself diving for the bag. Hunter told me as soon as I got back to the dugout that it makes no sense to slide into first. “I know, I know,” I said.

I didn’t write a blog after Game 2, so I’ll share a few things about that. Yes, I was actually trying to hit Crawford with my relay throw. We practice that play a lot, but I think Brandon was farther out in the field than usual. I threw to the spot I usually throw to, closer to the infield. Marco was there and made an unbelievable throw to nail the runner at home.

As for the bunt that stayed fair — of the thousands of bunts I have hit in games and practices, from the time I was a kid until now, I have never, ever hit a bunt that perfectly. I knew a good bunt right there could change the game. I told myself to calm down in the batter’s box. Be patient. As always, I asked my mother for help. And the ball seemed to actually flutter off my bat and die right inside the line.

There is definitely something special at work with this team. It’s like how the interaction of certain kinds of electrons produces energy. We’re a bunch of the right kinds of electrons interacting in a way that generates good energy. When I’m out in the field, I pray for the pitcher to throw a good pitch. When I’m in the dugout, I pray for the batter to get a hit. Praying is like sending energy. Angel, Marco, Joaquin, Crawford – they all say they pray during the game. I actually feel it when I’m at bat and in the field, like everyone’s with you when you’re in a pressure situation.

When we win, I look to the sky and thank God and my mother for hearing my prayers.

Today, after my restless night, I woke up at around 11. My family and I ate at P.F. Chang’s then I took the bus to the field around 3. For so many guys in here, this is the most important game of their lives. It certainly is for me. W know our pitchers and defense have saved us. But we have to score more runs. The Tigers can do a lot of damage at any time We have to face Miguel and Prince Fielder four times each. That’s a tough thing. One pitch to either one of those guys can change the whole game.

I like that the last two games have been so close. That’s what the World Series is supposed to be. The best teams fighting until the last out.

Pablo’s Hogging all the Hits

A reporter after the game asked me what the big headline would be in the Venezuelan newspapers tomorrow.

“I think the big headline will be about my two catches.’’

That made him laugh. Obviously it’s going to be about Pablo. None of us could believe what Pablo did tonight. Even Pablo couldn’t believe it. In the dugout after the third consecutive home run, he said, “I feel like I’m dreaming right now.’’

He had three major factors against him tonight: Verlander, AT&T Park and the World Series. It’s tough to hit a home run facing any one of those, and he conquered all three. Three times!

I can’t even hit a single and he hits three home runs and a line drive.

I remember watching the Pepsi Home Run Derby on TV two years ago. It’s a big competition in Venezuela, and Pablo won it that year. He just blasted one home run after another. Nobody had seen anything like it. He put on a show for the whole country. Tonight he put on a show for the whole world.

He was already a big star at home. When he got off the airplane after the 2010 World Series, when he didn’t even play very much, there were so many reporters he could barely move. Now it’s going to be unbelievable. People will be mobbing him everywhere he goes. Maybe he won’t go back!

As for me, I hope I hit better tomorrow. But if I don’t, I always know I’ll contribute with defense. I cover a lot of ground in the outfield. I love that. It’s really fun to run down a ball and making a diving catch and hear the crowd explode. I can’t begin to describe what that feels like.

Part of the reason I get to so many fly balls is that I get a great jump. I have it in my mind what’s going to happen when the hitter makes contact. I can see the catcher’s sign so I know what pitch is coming. I know the hitter either from facing him before or watching video. Is he a pull hitter? A line drive hitter? A slap hitter?

Sometimes I’m moving before the pitcher even throws the ball

Am I wrong sometimes? Yes, but not often.

Today before the game, my dad and brother were filling me with advice on how to face Verlander. “He’s going to challenge you with his fastball,’’ my brother said. “Try to bunt!’’  I tell them, “Don’t tell me too much! Just let me play!’’

Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the day my mother died from brain cancer. She also had breast cancer and ovarian cancer in the years leading up to her death. So I was really touched that I could hold up her name on the Stand Up To Cancer sign. I wrote, “MaMa, this is for you.’’ I believe she saw it and was really proud. Tomorrow I’ll light a candle in memory of her.

No Doubts. No Regrets.

All we’re thinking about right now – and what we’ve been thinking about since the end of the season – is playing game by game. It sounds so simple. But that’s what it takes. You can’t think about tomorrow’s game. Or that you need three wins in a row to move on to the next round.

​Just one game.

​This team always believes it can win one game.

​There was no doubt in our minds we would win tonight. You could see the confidence in every face right from the start. Everyone’s relaxed. There wasn’t even a speech before the game because we’re already on the same page. We’re playing hard for each other and we’re having fun

​Even when I struck out today in a big situation, I didn’t worry about it. I knew someone would step up. I didn’t know it would be Vogey, but there you go. That’s our team. He makes the Cardinals pay for walking Crawford intentionally. He smacks a grounder that the shortstop misplays, and suddenly we have our second run in and we’re teed up for Marco to drive both runners in with a double to left.

​That’s how it works with us.

​We’re 27 outs away from being in the World Series. Just saying that out loud is amazing. I know I say this a lot but that’s because I think about it every day – I’m so thankful to the Giants for giving me a chance. I feel so blessed to be here right now. It’s been the best experience of my life.

​And it’s not over. We have no doubts going into Game 7. None. We know that we can control only one thing: How hard we play for each other. When we do that, we can have no regrets.

​Go Giants!

Luck, Mostly Good and a little Bad

Almost all of the reporters were asking about Holliday’s slide into Marco Scutaro. I haven’t seen the replay, so maybe I’ll change my mind about it. But from where I stood in centerfield it looked like he went in hard but it didn’t seem like it was over the top. That’s the way you play baseball, or at least the way I learned how to play. You try to break up the double play. If I was going into second base – especially in a game that means as much as each of these games mean – I’d be doing whatever I can to keep that guy from throwing that ball to first

At the same time, Holliday’s slide really fired us up. He hurt our guy. We were mad. I don’t know how Marco is right now, but I’m glad we have a day off tomorrow so he can rest the leg.

And it was perfect that Marco came through with the big hit in the fourth to drive in three runs. That’s how things happen sometimes. A bad thing happens, then something good.

There’s more than a little bit of luck in baseball. Sometimes that’s what it takes to win a game.

Like my high chopper over David Freese’s head at third base in the fourth inning.

Luck.

Then Crawford followed my bit of luck with some of his own. He hit a dribbler that should have been an easy out but Carpenter, the pitcher, made a bad throw to first. He’s safe at first, I’m safe at second.

Crawford looked over at me at second and we both kind of laughed, like “Do you believe this is how we’re mounting a rally?’’

I got lucky again in the eighth when I had to race back to first base when Jon Jay made that amazing catch on Crawford’s fly ball to center. (Crawford was robbed of two hits tonight by spectacular plays. That was his dose of bad luck.) To be honest, I thought I had no chance to get back to first – I was already about five feet past second. But I raced back and dove to the bag, trying to wriggle past Craig’s outstretched glove. The umpire called me safe. The replay apparently showed Craig did, in fact, tag my shirt. The umpire saw it differently.

Luck.

I ended up scoring in what became a four-run inning that put us ahead for good.

​One of the things that always makes me smile during our games is looking into the dugout when I get on base – or when anybody gets on base. You see our guys going crazy – Wilson, Lincecum, Hensley, Huff,  Theriot, Romo, all of them. It reminds me that this is still a fun game and not just a business. Even in the playoffs, everyone on this team is having fun like it’s spring training.

​We get to sleep in our own beds tonight and then be back at the park around 9:30 to board buses to the airport. Our charter flight to St. Louis leaves around 11. I think we go to straight to the field for a workout and then to the hotel.

We’ll see you Sunday, right? I don’t expect we’ll sweep in St. Louis. And we’d rather win the championship here, in front of our amazing fans.

​Keep sending us good luck!

Voices from Home

The clubhouse was really quiet after tonight’s 6-4 loss, but it’s always quiet after a loss. We know it’s just one game in a seven-game series. And we know we’re pretty good at clawing back. But it’s disappointing to lose in front of our fans for the third time in the post-season. We hate to do that because our fans are unbelievable.

We’ll wash this one away and win tomorrow. We know what we can do.

Everyone back home in Venezuela is rooting for the Giants because we have so many Venezuelans on the team. My family’s house is packed every night with relatives and friends to watch the games. The newspapers and sports radio stations are carrying stories because they love baseball back there. It’s been so fun to hear from people I haven’t heard from in a long time. Yesterday I got tweets from two schoolmates. They said they were amazed to see me on television in the playoffs.

My twin brother asked me the other day what it’s like to be a starter in the championship series.

“It’s like a dream,’’ I told him. “I feel like I’m in a dream.’’

My dad told me on the phone that he’s proud of me and he loves me and hopes to see me soon – and to bring a ring! “This is your moment,’’ he said. “You always do well in the biggest games.’’ And that’s true. I don’t know why. I think I’m good at calming myself and not trying to do too much.

My dad and my brother also make helpful suggestions – like not to swing at bad pitches and not to take a called strike three with the game on the line (as I did in the NLDS).

“It’s not as easy as it looks on TV,’’ I tell them. “The pitches move a lot more in the big leagues here than in the Venezuelan league. It’s very different.’’

They say, “Oh, of course! You’re doing great!’’

My mother died six years ago of brain cancer at the age of 47. I keep thinking about how much she would have enjoyed all this. She loved baseball. I think about her every at-bat. I ask her to give me strength to be successful. Every big moment – like my triple in the fourth inning today – I wish my mom could be here to watch me. I wish she could see this ballpark. She would be really happy and proud.

Tonight was just one game. It’s fun just to think about what amazing thing might happen on the field tomorrow or the next day or the next. We never know who’s going to be the spark – one day it’s Buster, the next it’s me or Crawford or Angel or a hitter off the bench. Everybody believes in themselves and in each other.

Keep believing. Thanks for reading!

Sharing With My Brother

My dad can’t make it back from Venezuela for the playoffs – my first in the major leagues. But my 31-year-old brother Edward is here. I call him my brother because he grew up in my house. He’s actually my cousin. My uncle couldn’t raise him so my mother took him in, and we’ve been like brothers ever since. I love him. He hadn’t taken a vacation from his job for five years, so his boss told him to go visit me and see the San Francisco Giants. He arrived three weeks ago – his first visit to the United States. He’s been having a great time in San Francisco. He can’t believe how beautiful it is. I’m so happy he can be here, especially for this weekend. He never played baseball himself, but he loves it.

Pablo and Marco Scutaro have talked to me a little bit about what the playoffs are like. They told me things change in the playoffs – every single pitch counts, nobody’s thinking about their own numbers, all that matters is figuring out how to win. But at the same time, you have to keep doing what you’ve done all season. Not put more pressure on yourself. I’ve played in championship games back home. We had 20,000 people in the stadium instead of 40,000 like here. But the 20,000 are really, really loud. So I think I have at least some sense of what it will be like.

I don’t know when I’ll be playing. But I’m ready. I’m glad we have practice this afternoon so we can all be together and have our usual routines. This team has a great combination of energy and calm. I can’t imagine anything rattling anyone. I’m really thankful to be a part of it, and to have my wife, son and brother here at the park sharing it with me.

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