Battle of the Bay getting ready to commence

The grinding of teeth as the San Francisco Giants pitcher Caleb Baragar is lifted in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game in Houston after the Astros Martin Maldonado tags Baragar with a three run homer. The Giants host the Oakland A’s at Oracle Park in San Francisco tonight (AP photo)

By Jeremy Harness

The Giants just dropped a series to the defending American League champs. Now they have to contend with the hottest team in the game.

The Giants and A’s will now head to Oracle Park to play a three-game series in front of an undisclosed amount of cardboard cutouts and synthetic, non-authentic crowd noise, a series that starts Friday night.

The A’s are sitting atop the American League West with a 13-6 mark, having won 10 of their last 12 games in the process. The momentum really kicked into high gear when they swept the defending American League champion Houston Astros last weekend.

The Giants, on the other hand, are in last place in the National League West with an 8-12 record, and have dropped eight of their last 11 contests. They have lost games in different ways, with subpar defense, bad bullpen and the meager offense that Giants fans have grown used to for the past few years.

They have also been bitten by questionable pitching changes by manager Gabe Kapler, which was the main sticking point of his getting fired by the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

With all of this in mind, things are not looking good for the Giants and their overmatched lineup, and it does not figure to get any better in the foreseeable future.

Frankie Montas will go for the A’s on Friday, and he will go head-up with Giants starter Johnny Cueto, who had a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his most recent outing, which is one positive that the Giants can take into this series.

If there is another for the Giants, A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano is currently appealing a six-game suspension that he drew after his altercation with Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron over the weekend. He could very well miss part of, if not all of, the weekend series.

Astros don’t need sign-stealing to beat listless Giants 5-1

Houston Astros’ Martin Maldonado hits a three-run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By Jeremy Harness

The Giants got off to a nice start on Wednesday, but they could not get any further momentum going, and they fell to the Houston Astros, 5-1, at Minute Maid Park.

In the process, they dropped two of the three-game series to the defending American League champions, who have been found to have used different elaborate forms of sign-stealing over the course of at least three years, including the World Series-winning 2017 season.

After Alex Dickerson singled in Mike Yastrzemski to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the Astros, who didn’t need the help of a banging garbage can to tell them what pitch was coming, began to tee off on the Giants’ bullpen starting in the fifth inning.

Houston tied it in the fifth on Alex Bregman’s single off Dereck Rodriguez scored George Springer.

The following inning, the Astros continued to tee off. Carlos Correa, who last week was struck out and then mocked by Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, which touched off a benches-clearing confrontation (social distancing was not maintained, by the way), scored on a wild pitch to give Houston the lead.

Martin Maldonado quickly followed with a three-run homer off reliever Caleb Baragar to extend the lead to four runs.

The only thing that the Giants did well following the fifth inning was that they did not get into a benches-clearing incident – unlike the Astros and Dodgers last week – to put themselves in danger of contracting COVID-19.

On the other hand, things were so good for the Astros that starting pitcher Zack Greinke called out a pitch he was to throw to Mauricio Dubon – yeah, he actually did that – and Dubon took the gift and promptly flied out to center to end the inning.

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Harding Park: Cal product Morikawa captures title

Collin Morikawa holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By Jeremy Harness

Collin Morikawa is a rookie on the PGA Tour. But the only rookie move he pulled this week came when he nearly dropped the championship trophy after his triumph at TPC Harding Park.

The 23-year-old from the University of California started Sunday’s final round two shots behind leader Dustin Johnson but came up with the shots and the putts when he needed them, as he fired a bogey-free, six-under round of 64 to claim the PGA Championship crown in only his second-career major start.

“It’s amazing,” Morikawa said. “It’s been a life goal, obviously as a little kid, kind of watching everyone grow up, all these professionals, and this is always what I’ve wanted to do. I felt very comfortable from the start. As an amateur, junior golfer, turning professional last year, but to finally close it off and come out here in San Francisco, pretty much my second home where I spent the last four years, is pretty special.”

On the back nine, he had a chip-in for birdie at the par-4 14th, and two holes later, he drove the green at the driveable par-4 16th and then sank the ensuing six-footer for eagle, and that proved to be the difference.

“It just fit my eye,” Morikawa said. “We were just hoping for a really good bounce, and we got it, hit a really good putt, and now we’re here.”

Johnson, who held the 54-hole lead, got off to a nice start by birdieing the first hole on Sunday, but he traded a birdie for a bogey at the third and fourth holes and could not get any real momentum going.

He suffered a damaging bogey at the par-4 14th but he got some rhythm back with a birdie at the 16th and another at the 18th, but by then, it was too late.

Paul Casey made a bit of a charge, but like Johnson, came up a little short and finished tied for second, two shots behind Morikawa.

He birdied both the fourth and fifth holes, and then ran off three more birdies on the back nine. His only blemish is a bogey at the par-4 13th, where he failed to get it up and down.

“I played phenomenal golf and there’s nothing I would change,” Casey said. “I’m very, very happy with how I played. Great attitude. Stayed very calm and stayed in the present. Wasn’t enough. The glorious shots Collin hit like on 16 to make eagle, you have to tip your cap. When he popped up on Tour not that long ago, those guys who were paying attention like myself knew that this was something special, and he’s proved it today.

“He’s already sort of proved it but he’s really stamped his authority of how good he is today.”

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: DJ takes lead, but Koepka still in the hunt

Dustin Johnson hits from the fairway on the 18th hole during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

By Jeremy Harness

Dustin Johnson grabbed the 54-hole lead on Saturday, shaking off a damaging double bogey with an impressive back nine in the hopes of winning the second major title of his career.

Johnson, who won the U.S Open in 2016, dropped two shots at the par-four ninth hole while having trouble around the green but rallied very quickly thereafter. He birdied the 10th and picked up three more shots in a four-hole stretch to card a five-under round of 65.

“I putted really well,” Johnson said. “That was key. But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks because the flags are tucked. The greens are firm and fast. So I did hit a lot of quality iron shots.

“Tomorrow I think I need to go — I definitely need to hit some more fairways, because it’s really tough playing this golf course from the rough. Obviously the bunkers, too, are very tough. A couple — had a few nice up-and-downs out of the bunkers, but also a few poor ones.”

One shot behind him, however, is another long hitter in Sacramento native Cameron Champ, who has made a steady climb toward the top of the leaderboard after a first-round score of 71.

He rallied the next day with a 64 and finished Saturday’s round at TPC Harding Park with a three-under 67 that featured six birdies against three bogeys.

“I’ve been really feeding off my driver,” said Champ, who won last year’s Safeway Open in Napa. “That’s been the key for me. Obviously today, I missed a few more fairways than I did yesterday, but I still was able to manage it from the rough. The drives I did hit well and I did hit in the fairway, I was able to take advantage of and make some putts.”

Among those a shot behind Champ is Brooks Koepka, who has won the PGA Championship twice in a row and is in the hunt for a third.

He was two-under for the first 12 holes but got on a bogey train on holes 13 through 15 before hopping off with a birdie at the par-4 16th. He finished his round with a birdie at the 18th to finish with a one-under 69 and well within striking distance.

“I thought I played a lot better than my score reflected,” Koepka said. “Really made one bad swing. But I left it in a good spot and just hit a poor chip. The other ones I was in the semi a lot, and I think sometimes in the semi, it can come out without spin or it can come with spin, and if you’re going to do that in the wind, it’s kind of tough to judge.”

“Maybe took a little bit too aggressive of lines on those out of the semi, but I just missed them in the worst spot possible, but they were good shots, so I felt like I played really well, putted really well, and the driver I hit great. It’s just sometimes they didn’t move with the wind, hit them too good.”

Koepka certainly has experience on his side going into Sunday’s final round. Of those who are currently in the top-six, only Koepka and Johnson have won majors, as Koepka also has two U.S Open titles to his credit.

Also at seven-under for the tournament is Cal product Collin Morikawa, who played TPC Harding Park numerous times during his tenure as Golden Bear and has a little local knowledge going for him.

“I felt really good,” Morikawa said. “I didn’t practice yesterday after the round, but I kind of had some thought of what I wanted to do before the round. Obviously playing with Adam Scott, great ball-striker, great swing, and it kind of helps when you play with someone like that just to kind of get the momentum.

“I hit some really good shots off the first few holes and had a little stumble on 12 and 13, but knew I had to regroup especially with 15 coming up, or 14 coming up. It’s not an easy hole. So definitely want to get out with at least a par. But overall, I felt really good. Rolled the putter really well, and keep that into tomorrow.”

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Li takes lead, but former champs in hot pursuit

Haotong Li chips to the green on the seventh hole during the second round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on Friday. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

By Jeremy Harness

The PGA Championship has a new leader, and it is not one of the usual suspects, and not a name that one would expect to be atop the leaderboard of a major championship.

Haotong Li shot a bogey-free round of 65 to take the 36-hole lead by two strokes. He got off to a hot start on Friday, birdieing three of his first five holes before knocking down a birdie at the par-4 ninth. He followed that up with a birdie at the par-5 10th and then parred out the rest of the way to maintain that two-shot lead.

“Well, I’ve got no expectation actually,” Li said. “Because you know, (for the) last few months, (I’ve) stayed at home doing nothing. I just want to go out here and have fun.”

Li is being closely followed by a pair of former PGA champs, Jason Day and defending champion Brooks Koepka, as they are tied for second trailing by two shots at six-under overall.

Starting on the 10th hole on Friday, Koepka got the momentum going with a birdie at the par-5 10th but gave it back with a bogey at the 13th. He picked up a little steam with a birdie at the par-4 18th and quickly followed that with a birdie at the par-4 first.

He then played the remaining eight holes even-par with a birdie and a bogey to finish the second round with a two-under round of 68.

“I’m pretty happy,” Koepka said. “I felt like I probably could be ten right now. Hit a lot of good putts, just didn’t go in. A couple of them, if I just hit them, they’re in. But driving it pretty well. Iron play, I’m pretty pleased with. You know, I like where I’m at.”

Day also had an erratic Friday round, which was marred by a double bogey at the par-4 12th. He picked things up considerably with a stretch of three birdies over four holes. However, Day gave some momentum back with a bogey at his final hole, the ninth, for a one-under round of 69.

“I definitely feel good,” Day said. “I’m to the point now where I’m nitpicking my round and before I really wasn’t. Before I was just happy to get inside the cut, you know, and get on to the weekend, and sometimes you need those weeks to just make it and get some confidence. Certainly have gained a lot of confidence over the last three times I’ve played, and you know, I’m just going to try and tidy up the putting for this weekend hopefully and hit it a little better off the tee.”

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Day, Todd tied atop lead at Harding Park

At the PGA Championship golf Tournament at Harding Park in San Francisco Tiger Woods launches a tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the tournament on Thu Aug 6, 2020 (AP photo)

By Jeremy Harness

It has been very weird watching sports for these past few months, with teams playing without any spectators in attendance, with the exception of a few essential employees.

The PGA Championship, the first golf major or the 2020 season that kicked off Thursday at TPC Harding Park, is no different. The eerie silence, which has been commonplace without the authentic crowd noise that typically accompanies big events such as this, was just as prevalent in the first round.

But hey, at least the PGA Tour had enough sense to not include the cheesy fake crowd noise that has plagued MLB games over the past month.

As for the golf, Jason Day and Brendon Todd finished Thursday’s opening round tied for the lead after firing five-under rounds of 65.

Todd, who has been brilliant for the first 54 holes for many of the tournaments this season but has faltered in the final round, got off to a great start, going three-under on his front nine. On the back nine, he thwarted two bogeys with four birdies.

Day, on the other hand, was bogey-free on his round, recording three birdies on his front nine and a two more birdies on the back side.

There are nine players that are tied for second, including defending champion Brooks Koepka and former Masters winner Zach Johnson.

Tiger Woods is in the mix as well, after his two-under round of 68 on Thursday, as he is currently tied for 20th. He was one-under for the first nine, with three birdies against two bogies, and turned in a one-under second nine with two birdies and a single bogey.

Giants edge Rox 4-3

San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Belt rounds the bases after hitting a three run home run against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By Jeremy Harness

There are not a lot of expectations for the Giants for this traveling fiasco otherwise known as the 2020 baseball season, but at least for one night, the team had a reason to feel good.

For one thing, someone other than Donovan Solano or Mike Yastrzemski got a meaningful hit, which is certainly noteworthy.

After Solano and Yastrzemski reached base in the fourth, Brandon Belt pounced on a hanging slider from Colorado starter Jon Gray and flew it over the right-field wall for a three-run homer that gave the Giants a one-run lead.

Belt wasn’t done with Gray just yet. He added a double into the gap in right-center, and second baseman Wilmer Flores scored him with an insurance RBI single in the sixth, and the bullpen held on to nail down the Giants’ 4-3 win over the Rockies at Coors Field Wednesday night, before a crowd of about 50 cut-outs of former Rockies players directly behind home plate.

For his part, young righty Logan Webb kept his team in the game and was rewarded with his first win of the season, giving up a pair of runs – one of them earned – on four hits. He struck out four hitters on the process and did not walk anyone.

However, the defense remains an adventure. The Giants spotted the Rockies a run in the first inning, when Solano booted a grounder at shortstop to allow leadoff man David Dahl to reach base. Two batters later, Charlie Blackmon singled in Dahl to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.

Dahl knocked in Sam Hilliard two innings later to double that lead.

Giants’ comeback falls short in extras lose to Pads 12-7

The San Diego Padres Jurickson Profar tagged a two run sixth inning homer against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night at Oracle Park in San Francisco (AP photo)

By Jeremy Harness

SAN FRANCISCO – Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I feel it in the air, summer’s out of reach/ Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone/I’m driving by your house, though I know you’re not home.

Those lyrics, from Don Henley’s 1984 hit “Boys of Summer,” actually describe the 2020 baseball season – not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic that caused this state – pretty accurately.

The delayed fake crowd noise, the carbon-fiber cutouts – for what it’s worth, 4,712 cutouts were counted – that are concentrated behind the plate but are also dispersed along the base lines in the first two decks. The instrumental version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” during the seventh-inning stretch with no vocals to be heard, not even the synthetic crowd noise that should have followed.

For the first six-and-a-half innings Thursday, the Giants looked more like the Boys of Bummer, falling behind by five runs before rallying in the seventh and eighth innings to tie the game. Unlike Wednesday night, they could not complete the comeback, as the San Diego Padres exploded for six runs in the 10th inning to come away with a 12-7 win at Oracle Park.

Starter Kevin Gausman got in trouble in the third and ultimately yielded a run when a wild pitch allowed Ty France to score. It got worse for Gausman and the Giants the very next inning. Right fielder Steven Duggar got completely turned around in the fourth inning, allowing Trent Grisham’s long fly ball to bounce off the wall in right-center for a leadoff triple.

Grisham scored when the next better, Manny Machado, singled through the right side of the infield to bring him in. Two batters later, Jurickson Profar, knocked Machado in with a single of his own to give the Padres a commanding 3-0 lead.

Gausman lasted only 4 1/3 innings and surrendered three runs on six hits, although he struck out eight and did not walk a single batter.

The Giants got a run in the fifth, but they didn’t exactly earn it. With one out, Grisham made a diving catch, and Brandon Belt, who was on first, had gotten past second base and looked like a sitting duck. However, the Padres managed to screw up the relay to first and allowed Belt to somehow slide back in safely.

This also allowed Mike Yastrzemski to tag up from third and get the Giants on the board.

That was quickly nixed when Profar, the former A’s infielder who entered Thursday’s game 1-for-15, hit a two-run homer off reliever Caleb Baragar.

The Giants got three runs in the bottom of the seventh to cut the lead to two, and then tied things up in the eighth, when Yastrzemski tripled to score Duggar and then Donovan Solano drove him in with a sac fly.

Giants game wrap: LA smashes Giants 8-1 in season opener

San Francisco Giants’ Tyler Heineman, second from left, dives back to third before being tagged out by Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner after he was caught between third and home during the fifth inning of an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Los Angeles. Mark J. Terrill/AP

By Jeremy Harness

The Giants hung in there with the heavy favorite Los Angeles Dodgers for six innings, but the Dodgers broke it open in the sixth and kept pouring it on.

Los Angeles came away with an 8-1 win over the Giants, in a season opener that, frankly, had the feel of a glorified scrimmage, despite the cutouts dispersed in the lower as well as the upper deck to go along with fake crowd noise.

But again, beggars can’t be choosers, and at least this was live baseball that one did not have to wake up in the middle of the night to watch, as was the case with the Korea Baseball Organization.

Speaking of the KBO, it was announced that the league will begin to allow fans into the ballparks starting Sunday, after months of playing games with no fans, giving hope that MLB will able to move on from the without-fans phase sooner rather than later.

As for the game, Clayton Kershaw, was scheduled to be the Dodgers’ starter on Thursday, but he suffered from back tightness that forced him out of action, as he was replaced by rookie Dustin May.

The Giants had a real opportunity in the third inning, loading the bases with nobody out. However, the Giants only were able to get one run across, via sac fly by Pablo Sandoval.

The Dodgers tied the game in the fourth when Kike Hernandez knocked in Corey Seager, and then dropped a five-spot on the Giants three innings later. Hernandez added a two-run homer in the eighth to cap off the scoring.

The starters held their own, as Johnny Cueto gave up only a run on five hits over four innings, and May surrendered only a run on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings.

Giants preview report: Amid pandemic, baseball is back…. with plenty of questions

By Jeremy Harness

So many questions, so few answers. And a lot of these questions, frankly, have nothing to do with baseball.

How much longer will players be forced to play inside empty ballparks, with the exception of a few employees, cutouts and teddy bears?

The Giants and A’s played a two-game home-and-home exhibition series earlier this week, and the two teams went about this issue in slightly-different ways. The first few rows of seats behind the plate at Oakland Coliseum were filled with said cutouts, which supposedly could give a pitcher a certain sense of support but seemingly have no other purpose.

Oracle Park, on the other hand, did not have any of that, instead relying on the regular public-address announcer as well as fake crowd noise that all teams are employing, to give the impression that these games – and this season – are, but in reality are anything but.

Normal.

Who will emerge with the tightest mask game?

Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth while in an active sports competition is a concept that not everyone has warmed up to – a local driving range just this week made wearing masks mandatory while hitting golf balls – but expect it to be a thing throughout the coming weeks and months.

Only a portion of players wore masks during MLB’s exhibition series, aka Summer Camp, but that number is expected to grow as well. And just like shoes – or any other part of clothing, really – masks come in different forms and can be certainly be used as a fashion statement or to get a certain message across. Which brings us to our next question.

How many players will choose to kneel for the national anthem?

In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward African Americans, and was soon joined by fellow NFL players such as his teammate, safety Eric Reid, as well as safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The next year, A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel. Fast forward three years, and following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that involved law enforcement and the ensuing re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the number of players has increased considerably. Giants manager Gabe Kapler as well as three Giants players and a pair of coaches knelt during the national anthem during the recent Giants-A’s exhibition games.

This has also occurred around the league, as Joey Votto was among a number of Cincinnati Reds players to take a knee. Even though the silent protests did not catch on in baseball back in 2017 when Maxwell broke the mold, this has certainly gained momentum, as has the movement in general.

Last but not least, will even this abbreviated season be cut short once more should the COVID-19 pandemic spike to the point where mass shutdowns are to occur?

This has obviously been the most unprecedented, uncertain four-month span of our generation, so to expect anything different for this upcoming baseball season would be absurd. There have been recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, particularly in California, and there is no guarantee that there will not be any roadblocks that arise during this shortened season.

Just like with anything regarding everyday life, we have to take a wait-and-see approach. With that, the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers will convene inside a mostly-empty Dodger Stadium on Thursday to begin a season that was nearly scrapped entirely amid wrangling between the league’s owners and the MLBPA.

With all the questions that are out there, at least one can be answered at this point: There will be baseball to be played, and watched, around the country, and that’s a good start to possibly getting back to the place that we had known for so long but has since been taken from us.

Normal.