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Giants announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow thought the Giants were
ready for their matchup with Josh Beckett. After all,
in
the 20 days leading up to Saturday night’s game, the Giants had faced a
string of pitchers with the following credentials: 12 Cy Youngs, 1 MVP,
1
Rookie of the Year, 3 post-season MVPs and 37 All-Star Games. With the
help of Noah Lowry, they outdueled 2005 Cy Young
candidate Dontrelle Willis 1-0 on Friday. Could they
overcome Beckett, who at age 25 appears to finally be over his
destructive
blisters and is on pace for career highs in starts, innings pitched,
wins
and strikeouts? We shall see.


CF Randy Winn
SS Omar Vizquel
1B J.T. Snow
LF Pedro Feliz
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
RF Todd Linden
2B Deivi Cruz
C Mike Matheny
P Brett Tomko

That lineup won’t help much. If the season ended today, a .500 record
would win the NL West. Given Barry Bonds2004 VORP was worth more than 14 wins alone, it’s fair to say a healthy Bonds all year could be enough for this ugly Giants team to win it
anyway, warts and all. As is, Bonds is out for the year, their second- and
third-best offensive players–Moises Alou and
Ray
Durham
–have fought injuries all season, and perennial Cy
Young
candidate Jason Schmidt has turned into a pumpkin. And
yet one five- or six-game winning streak–especially with underrated
shortstop Khalil Greene going on the DL for the
sub-.500
first-place Padres–and they’d be right back in the race. So as cruel
as a
Josh Beckett-Deivi Cruz matchup may be to the fine
folks
of San Francisco, the Giants will do as much as a team with the
second-worst offense in the majors possibly can…

…Which is to say not much, early on. Randy Winn
lines
out to left on the third pitch to him, Omar Vizquel
grounds out to second on the second pitch, and J.T.
Snow

lines out to center on the first. Six pitches, all fastballs, for three
outs. Bring back J.R. Phillips!


CF Juan Pierre
2B Luis Castillo
LF Miguel Cabrera
1B Carlos Delgado
RF Juan Encarnacion
3B Mike Lowell
SS Alex Gonzalez
C Matt Treanor
P Josh Beckett

Brett Tomko‘s ERA is a run and a half higher than
Beckett’s, his peripherals are nowhere near as good, and if the Marlins
ever traded Beckett for Tomko, South Florida would erupt in rage, break
off from the mainland and start steaming toward Cuba. That said, they
do
have somewhat similar styles. Both are big, strong guys who can sling
the
fastball into the mid-90s. Both use breaking stuff that when effective
can
be thrown for strikes in any count. Beckett just possesses better
command
and more movement on his pitches. Sure, that’s a bit like saying ice
cream
and gravel are the same but for the difference in taste, but it’s still
true. And hey, Beckett never got traded for Ken Griffey
Jr.
in his prime.

Tomko gets the same results in the 1st, too. Using almost all fastballs,
Tomko gets Juan Pierre to ground out, before giving up
a
single to Luis Castillo that kicks off the pitcher’s
glove and into center field. But Miguel Cabrera, he of
the .380 average and nine homers since the All-Star break heading into
game, rolls over on a high fastball, into an easy 6-4-3 double play.

Beckett’s aggressive approach backfires when a first-pitch fastball
aimed
at the inside corner catches too much of the plate. Pedro
Feliz
deposits the belt-high pitch over the left-field wall
for a
1-0 Giants lead. Though the Giants didn’t know it at the time, Beckett
would follow the homer with 12 straight batters retired. Giants radio
host
Larry Krueger’s comments about the giants “brain-dead” Caribbeans that
got
him fired weren’t only offensive–they were flat-out wrong.
Dominican-born
Moises Alou leads the team in on-base percentage by a wide margin for
one.

More significantly, the Giants don’t discriminate by background when it
comes to their hacking ways. Deivi Cruz (Dominican Republic),
Mike
Matheny
(Ohio) and Omar Vizquel (Venezuela)
all
get themselves out on first pitches over the next four innings. Beckett
needs only 44 pitches to cruise through the first five innings, Feliz’s
homer the lone blemish on his record.

Tomko, whose 2.87/9 IP walk rate leads all Giants starters, makes
similar
efforts to challenge Marlins hitters. Lacking Beckett’s near-unhittable
stuff, though, he meets with lesser results. A two-out double by
Alex Gonzalez in the bottom of the 2nd ties the score
at
1. A Carlos Delgado monster homer to left-center makes
it
2-1 in the 4th. A diving catch by Cruz on an extreme Delgado shift
saves
two runs from scoring in the 5th, but Tomko plays with fire for much of
the night.

In the end, though, it’s all Beckett. When a pitcher with no-hit stuff
also brings a solid game plan to the mound, you know the other team’s
in
trouble. After carving up the Giants the first two times through the
order using almost entirely fastballs, Beckett starts mixing in his
big,
breaking curve and an occasional change-up. Pitching to Snow in the
7th,
Beckett starts him with two curves, missing inside with the first, then
painting the inside corner at the knees with the second. After a
fouled-off fastball sets him up at 1-2, Beckett retires Snow on a
flyout
to center, courtesy of a well-placed change. Perhaps wanting to blow
one
by Feliz after the earlier homer, Beckett cedes another hard hit to
him,
this time a single to center. But a first-pitch change to Alfonzo
produces
an around-the-horn double play.

Already leading the league in complete games, Jack McKeon looks for
another one for Beckett. But with one out in the 8th and Linden on second, Matheny slaps a single to center. It’s a tough spot for third-base coach Gene Glynn: Do you send Linden, a runner with average speed at best, against Pierre, a center fielder without a ton of arm strength but often a lot of accuracy? With Durham, the Giants’ best available hitter, on deck to pinch-hit, it’s a doubly tough call–plus Glynn has at most a second or two to react, making it tough to weigh all the information in the moment. Add in Beckett being so hard to hit all night, and Glynn sends Linden. Pierre comes up firing, and delivers a perfect strike to Treanor, in the glove without a bounce, just to the third-base side as Linden comes crashing in. Treanor hands on, and Linden is out.

With first-base open after Matheny advanced on the throw, Beckett works around Durham for a walk. The big righty then whiffs Winn on a huge 12-6
curve
out of the zone to end the 8th. Inning over.

After putting the first
two
on in the 9th, including a hit-by-pitch on a curve that flew way off
its
target, though, a move to the rejuvenated Todd Jones
seems a given. But as he did in the clinching game of the 2003 World Series, McKeon
decides to ride his horse to the end, one way or another. Even in the
9th,
pitching all night in the Florida heat, Beckett’s still thinking out
there. Ahead 0-1 to Feliz, he throws a curve, inducing a pop-up in a
dangerous spot after Feliz tattooed his fastball twice earlier. Ahead
again 0-1 to Alfonzo, Beckett mixes it up with a fastball, good for
another popout to second. With Todd Linden on a 1-1
count, Beckett takes a little off the fastball, painting the outside
corner to go to 1-2. With Linden not knowing what to expect, Beckett
rears
back and fires a 97-mph dart, his 106th pitch of the game. He can only
watch as the ball nails the corner again. Ballgame.

On a night when their star, the he-can’t-really-be-22 Miguel Cabrera
goes
0-for-4, the Marlins look all the more formidable in getting a win.
With
Castillo getting on base, Cabrera and Delgado among the best tandems in
the game, and even Juan Encarnacion picking up much of
the slack left by the declines of Pierre and Mike
Lowell
,
the Marlins lead the NL in batting average and rank third in OBP. A
lack
of power outside their 3-4-5 hitters has them only middle-of-the-pack
in
runs scored, but a return to health by Delgado and a revival from
either
Pierre or Lowell would make them an upper-tier offense.

With three of the league’s top 30 in Support-Neutral
Value Added
in Willis, Beckett and A.J. Burnett as
well as surprise contributions from Scuffy
Moehler
, rookie Jason Vargas and the NL’s
fifth-best reliever in Jones
, it’s a team with the assets to make a
late run and do some playoff damage, as they did two years ago. BP’s Playoff
Odds
Report
gives them nearly a 12% chance to make the post-season
despite
their fourth-place standing. With the Astros (hole-filled lineup),
Phillies (patchy pitching) and Nationals (worst offense in the majors)
all
rife with flaws, don’t count out the Fish just yet.

Set Your TiVos and VCRs: The next Prospectus Game of the Week
happens Sunday, Aug. 21, 4 p.m. ET, as the Kansas City Royals visit the
Oakland A’s. Tune in to Channel 743 on DirecTV as we check out the A’s
for
the
first time since spring training
. Apparently a few things have
happened
since then, or so we’re told.