Bay Area Topics
Giants Move on to NLCS
Midway through the black magic act that was this National League playoff game, the thought occurred that the San Francisco Giants simply had a Faustian lock on October. Perhaps the Washington Nationals should just make their peace with that and slink back inside the Beltway.
The tipoff came when Jayson Werth, whose locks and beard make him look like his team’s resident Viking, batted in the sixth inning. He had been a reliable thumper for his 96-win team. But a .067 postseason batting average trailed after him like a can tied to his ankle.
He faced Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, a 37-year-old who stumbled through a horrid September but now pitched with the canny desperation of a farmer whose mortgage was past due.
Werth flicked his black bat and made contact. The ball spun high toward the right-field fence.
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, a 6-foot-4 fellow who wears his black socks so high that his pants resemble knickers, went back and back. Then he took ungainly flight, arm, glove and tongue fully extended. He held on to the ball as he crashed against the mesh wire.
“I was just, like, ‘I’ve got to get that ball,’ ” Pence said afterward.
Werth stopped as if shot. It was as if he knew.
Autumn belongs to the Giants. They earned no style points for this deeply entertaining “Twilight Zone” of a win: They scored three runs on, in order, a bases-loaded walk, a groundout and a wild pitch. The Giants’ 3-2 victory over the Nationals in their division series Tuesday was the team’s 11th win in their last 12 postseason tries. Next they face the St. Louis Cardinals, another not-so-bad October team.
Sharks’ Season Opener
On Wednesday, the Sharks open in Los Angeles against the team that last spring jettisoned San Jose from the playoffs to an offseason spent on the psychiatrist’s couch.
The Kings’ improbable rally from a 3-0 first-round deficit served as a springboard to Los Angeles’ second Stanley Cup in three years.
Now, at the outset of the 2014-15 NHL season, the question is: How long will the hangover last? No, not the one for the champion Kings, but rather for the Sharks as they deal with the burden of the walk not matching the talk of offseason change.
“We have to be better,” forward Joe Pavelski said. “It’s a low point. We look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we’re about.”
Following exit interviews during which general manager Doug Wilson uncovered a dressing room that players described as featuring co-workers instead of teammates, he called the Sharks “a tomorrow team,” and said they may take one step back to take two forward. He announced leadership would transfer to a younger core of players and that no one would bring equity into training camp.
Wilson’s outlook softened as fall approached, and he compared the challenge to his first year of 2003-04 when the team went to the conference finals after tweaking a non-playoff roster the offseason before. This offseason, after hinting at bigger change, Wilson bought out Martin Havlat’s contract, traded Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart, and acquired forwards Tye McGinn and John Scott.
Even with the continued presence of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, former leaders who faced offseason uncertainty, Wilson maintains things will be different.
“We’ll be one of the youngest teams in the league this year,” he said. “That’s just the phase we’ve committed to.”