By Michelle Dingley
On Tuesday night, the baseball world was topsy-turvy. Normally, I will drown my sorrows after a San Francisco Giants’ loss by watching the San Jose Giants dominate their opponent. But on Tuesday, the previously anemic major league team beat the Padres for their third consecutive win, while the nearly invincible Advanced-A team faltered. San Jose’s season ended with their 4-2 loss to the Stockton Ports in the California League North Division finals.
Click here to see photos of the game.
The Giants dropped game 1 of the best-of-five series in San Jose. Giants ace Craig Westcott gave up a fourth inning grand slam to the “beer batter” Mitch LeVier, giving Stockton a lead they never relinquished. However, the Giants didn’t go down easy, putting up 3 in the bottom of the 4th, and plating a runner in the final frame of the game to pull within one run of forcing extra innings. San Jose lost by a final of 7-6.
San Jose came back with a vengeance in game 2. Chris Heston threw seven shutout innings and received plenty of run support. Tommy Joseph and Jarrett Parker smashed two homers each. Joseph and Gary Brown both had two doubles as well. The Giants crushed the Ports, 13-1.
Game 3 was all Ports. Giants starter Kelvin Marte gave up nine hits and four runs over just four innings of work. San Jose managed only 4 hits and one walk in the game, striking out 12 times, while three Ports pitchers combined for a shutout. The Giants never had a baserunner before two outs were recorded in each inning. The Ports won this one 7-0.
Now we come to Tuesday, game 4 and the potential elimination game for the Giants. The Giants handed the ball to Andy Reichard, while Dan Straily took the mound for Stockton, the home team. The game started as a pitching duel, with the first 12 batters of the game retired. San Jose’s Luke Anders was the game’s first baserunner after drawing a walk in the top of the third. The first hit of the game came in the bottom of the inning off the bat of Stockton’s Dusty Coleman, a blast to right field that put the Ports ahead 1-0.
The Giants answered back in the top of the fifth. Back-to-back doubles from Gary Brown and Ehire Adrianza tied the game at 1. In the next inning, Jarrett Parker’s big fly caromed off the left field foul pole, putting the Giants ahead 2-1.
The drama escalated in the bottom of the seventh. After a leadoff single, a close play at second base went the Ports’ way, awarding Ryan Lipkin a double. San Jose manager Andy Skeels argued with the umpire to no avail. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Edwin Quirarte came in to relieve Reichard. Quirarte promptly hit Michael Gilmartin, loading the bases with no outs. The first out was recorded with a strikeout to Dusty Coleman. After Mitch LeVier’s RBI single and a wild pitch, the Ports had taken the lead 3-2. With runners on second and third with just one out, second baseman Ryan Cavan limited the damage, making a diving stop and throwing out Gilmartin at home, Tommy Joseph applying the tag well ahead of the plate. Myrio Richard then grounded out, ending the inning.
Ports reliever Anthony Huttenlocker, who entered the game in the seventh, carved up the heart of the order in the eighth, striking out the 3-4-5 batters. The Ports came back up to the plate, and a walk, a throwing error and a single brought in another run.
The Giants had some work to do, now behind 4-2 and just three outs from elimination. But a comeback was not to be, as Ports closer Jose Guzman pitched a perfect ninth for the save. The Ports converged in the infield to celebrate, while the Giants started the slow walk out of the stadium to the team bus for the long drive home. Their season now over, they would not three-peat as Champions, a feat yet to be accomplished in the California League.
The San Jose Giants failed in the postseason where they had succeeded all season. Their excellent pitching staff had a few off nights, and their never-say-die offense couldn’t come through in the clutch. One distraught San Jose fan remarked that San Francisco was stealing their mojo. San Jose is not a team that scores 2 runs a game. That’s been San Francisco’s problem for months. But suddenly, SF was scoring big – 8 runs on Sunday and 8 more on Monday – and San Jose was having trouble getting a crooked number on the board. We know these kids want to be big-leaguers, but that’s not the part of the game they should emulate. It is a shame that San Francisco and San Jose switched places as such an inopportune time. The San Jose fan had already given up on SF’s playoff chances, but San Jose was so close to the finals she could taste it – and, like Municipal Stadium’s Turkey Mike’s barbecue, it was delicious. San Jose had been fabulous all year, though the formerly red-hot Giants cooled down a bit in the last months. They ended the second half 39-31 after a 51-19 first half. Still, they finished the season 90-50, the second best record in all of the minor leagues, after the Double-A San Antonio Missions (94-46). A season that great, no matter the ending, is nothing to be ashamed of.
The San Jose Giants came up a bit short, but they had a fantastic season. The players are young, so full of promise, potential and energy. They wanted so badly to win, and they took the loss hard. Several times I heard a helmet thrown in the dugout after a player struck out. It may be little consolation to them now, but throughout the season, they played like champs. They are just starting out, and they are so young that they have plenty of time to win a championship. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will get that close again, and there is definitely no guarantee that each player will have a long and distinguished baseball career. I understand the frustration. These guys are competitors. You can’t devote your entire life to playing baseball unless you have that drive to go out there and play to win every day. Ryan Cavan played on the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in 2009 when they won the Northwest League Championship. When he described the dogpile, his eyes lit up with such joy and pride. It was never so clear that winning the title is the reason these boys play ball. To not reach that plateau, no matter how great a season the team or individual had, feels like a disappointment, even failure.
These players are so talented that most, if not all, of them will make it to the playoffs again. They probably won’t do it as SJ Giants, but maybe as Flying Squirrels, or Grizzlies, or even SF Giants. They are in a strong farm system. This was not their last chance.
The seasons will change, spring will come again, and a new baseball season will begin. It’s cliché, but it’s true: there’s always next year.