APTOPIX NLCS Giants Phillies Baseball

Cody Ross takes Roy Halladay deep — twice! — as the Giants take Game 1

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As is so often the case in life, the anticipation was greater than the reward.

Not that Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum were bad or anything. Just mortal.  Lincecum was off his 14-strikeout form and was hit a bit hard early, but he avoided big trouble. Halladay was nowhere near as sharp as he was against the Reds in the Division Series, obviously, but the falloff seemed stark by comparison, as the Giants beat the Phillies 4-3.

Halladay allowed two home runs to Cody Ross, both on inside fastballs. Did he just have a lapse in concentration when he went back to the same spot he hit when Ross jacked the first one, or could he not throw it where he wanted to?  Whatever the case, in the end, all four Giant runs were charged to Halladay and all three Philly runs went on Lincecum’s ledger. Decent. Maybe even solid from both guys. But not what we had been hoping for all week.

The game remained tight throughout, with no inning ending with one team more than a run ahead of the other. And with a close game like this, you’d expect the little things to make the difference. Two little things that did were (a) the strike zone; and (b) Bruce Bochy’s decision to pinch run for Pat Burrell in the sixth inning.

Home plate umpire Derryl Cousins called a tight zone all night, and one pitch that was called a ball made a big difference. In the top of the sixth inning, Halladay had Pat Burrell 0-2 with two outs and a runner on first base. Halladay threw what he, the crowd and most of us watching at home thought was strike three. But Cousins — as he did a lot of pitchers low in the zone and shaded towards the righthanded batters box — called it a ball. Halladay was obviously miffed, and it may have carried over to the next pitch which Burrell drove to the gap in left scoring Buster Posey. At that point Bruce Bochy pinch ran Nate Schierholtz for Burrell. Many managers with otherwise weak offenses wouldn’t have taken one of their best hitters out of a tight game in the sixth like that, but when Juan Uribe singled in Schierholtz a couple of pitches later, it looked like genius.  It wasn’t genius — that move has hurt the Giants just as much as it has helped this year — but it was good fortune, and Schierholtz’s run ended up being the game winner.

But there would still be three innings before it was ultimately won, and in these three innings came the sort of torture Giants fans have gotten used to late this season. The Giants’ bullpen got six outs in this game, five via strikeout, but it felt much worse than that because Brian Wilson went into deep counts with just about everyone he faced. Bending but not breaking was enough to get the job done tonight, however. What about tomorrow? Good question, as Wilson threw 33 pitches in Game 1, meaning that Jonathan Sanchez probably needs to go deep and the rest of the Giants’ bullpen will need to step up in Game 2.

But it’s a good problem to have if you’re the Giants. Who, as they head to their hotel tonight, can tell themselves: “one ace down, two to go.”

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Puerto Rico won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.