By Michelle Dingley
Before we look ahead to 2012, let’s take a moment to look back on the year that was. Here is part 2 of the most memorable moments of 2011.
#10 – July 12: Hey now, you’re an All-Star
The Panda and The Beard help Bochy and the NL take the All-Star Game.
The Giants were well-represented at the Midsummer Classic. It was the first time since 1966 that the Giants sent 5 players to the All-Star Game. Not only did four pitchers (Cain, Vogelsong, Lincecum and Wilson) and one position player (Sandoval) make the team, but Bochy also brought his entire coaching staff to Arizona. It was well-deserved for them all, as the World Champion San Francisco Giants were honored as such for probably the last time away from the bay.
This game was entertaining on and off the field. During the introductions, Wilson tipped his cap with a strange (and comical) thumb-forefinger grab of the bill. B-Weez introduced the NL lineup, including Carlos Beltran, who at that time was involved in a trade rumor with the Giants. Willie practically called for Beltran to sign with the Giants then and there. In the second inning, Toronto’s Jose Bautista made an amazing catch, sliding into the right field wall to snag a foul ball. In the seventh, the Panda smashed a ground-rule RBI double to the left field corner. He also played defensively at third. The following inning, Heath Bell entered the game by running in from the bullpen and sliding into the mound. Bell is apparently fast for his size, as the Steadicam operator was unable to keep up with him. (When the Giants had a chance to pick up Bell on waivers, I was excited, knowing he had a fun personality.) With runners on second and third with one out in the ninth, Wilson got the call. He pitched a torture-free “one-two” inning for the save. The NL won homefield advantage in the World Series for the second year in a row. The other three Giants did not play. Cain was unavailable because he pitched on the previous Sunday. Lincecum didn’t pitch for the third time in his four All-Star appearances. This was the first opportunity for Vogelsong to be even considered for the Midsummer Classic. I wish Bochy put Vogey in for at least one out, but, nonetheless, it was a great game.
#9 – August 14: Career OBP 1.000
Relief pitcher Santiago Casilla draws a four-pitch walk in his first career at-bat.
This was a small moment in an excellent game, but to me it was the highlight. Santiago Casilla entered the game in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, relieving Ryan Vogelsong. Casilla only pitched to one batter, closing the inning while preserving the Giants’ 5-2 lead over the Marlins. The pitcher’s spot was due up third in the ninth. The first two batters got out, and Bochy let Casilla grab a bat. What ensued was one of the weirdest and funniest moments of the year, and, other than Andres Torres’ 16-pitch walk, probably the best at-bat of the season. For the first time ever in his major league career, Santiago Casilla stepped into the batter’s box. Yes, he was technically in the box, but he could not have been farther away from the plate and still legally in the box. With his cleats just inside the chalk lines of the back outside corner, Casilla gripped his bat and awaited the first pitch. The Marlins’ Jose Ceda was obviously thrown by the positioning and had trouble hitting the strike zone. Neither pitcher nor batter were comfortable. Casilla took a half-step back as the first pitch reached the catcher. It was inside, but a good three feet from Casilla. A few moments later, a Ceda pitch was over the plate but low, and Casilla jumped back on this one too. Casilla had no intention whatsoever to swing. He would have happily taken three straight down the middle. Instead, he drew a four-pitch walk. On the telecast, Kuiper asked the very good question, “Why in the world was Casilla even wearing batting gloves?”
#8 – July 25: Mr. Bochy goes to Washington
The World Champion San Francisco Giants are honored at the White House.
It was a bit overdue (almost nine months after the clinching game of the World Series and four months into the following season), but the Giants were finally recognized as champions by President Obama in late July. It was an honor for all involved. I hardly blame the President for the lateness of the White House visit, but nonetheless it was a shame that so many players so important to the World Series win were unable to attend. The roster had changed so much from November to July. We had only lost two players over the offseason (good riddance), but our lineup was decimated by injuries. Still, the players, coaches, broadcasters, front office personnel and other staff will never forget this moment. They reached the pinnacle of achievement in baseball, and they were honored by the leader of the free world.
#7 – July 14: Panda 2.0’s hitting streak reaches 22
After a sophomore slump, Sandoval’s 2011 season is spectacular.
For the Giants, 2010 was amazing, but for Pablo Sandoval, it was a tough year. His sophomore season was disappointing to say the least after his spectacular rookie season in 2009. He was given an ultimatum: come in next season in shape and ready to go, or you’re going back to Fresno. The Kung Fu Panda took it seriously and dropped about 40 pounds while training in the offseason. He was one of the team’s few offensive high points. Panda closed out the season with a .315 batting average. He remained consistent despite missing about 6 weeks due to a broken hamate bone. He batted .313 before the injury and .315 afterward. He often carried the team offensively. One highlight of Panda’s 2011 season was his hitting streak. He passed Buster’s 21-game streak from 2010, peaking at 22 on July 15. If we were able to count the All-Star Game, it would have been 23.
Another big moment for the Panda came on September 15 when he hit for the cycle. He smashed a two-run homer in the first, a single in the second, and an opposite-field double in the fifth. The hardest leg of the cycle came in the sixth. Pablo roped one to the base of the right field wall. As he rounded first, Panda saw the ball fall in, and he picked up steam, thinking three all the way. The big guy hustled as fast as he could, sliding face-first into third ahead of the throw. Anyone worried about Sandoval’s excess weight can just watch him leg out that triple. That’s proof enough that he is just the right size.
#6 – August 9: Stewart’s first career home run
For the first time in his 10 year career, Chris Stewart goes yard.
When Buster went down, the first worry (after his well-being) was the offensive production we had lost from the catcher position. Whiteside had proven himself to be a good backup catcher (and had the ring to prove it). Chris Stewart was a bit of a wild card – he performed well enough in spring training to merit the call-up, but he had never really hit at any professional level. The first time I saw him throw to second to catch a runner stealing, I knew not to worry about his defense. If only we could get his bat up to speed.
On August 9, the journeyman catcher knocked one out of the park for the first time in his big-league career, driving the first pitch of the fifth inning into the left field bleachers. Mota seemed even more excited than Stewart, meeting him at the top of the dugout steps and throwing his fists in the air in celebration. Stewart himself was grinning uncontrollably ear to ear. So was I. Chris has worked long and hard to get to the majors, and he deserved that moment. It’s one we should all remember.