Stanford’s home-opener win streak snapped in 35-32 loss to Colorado

By Morris Phillips

STANFORD, CA–Until someone figures out Jarek Broussard and the Colorado run game, the good times could hang around Boulder for a while.

And Stanford? The physical, hard-nosed bunch always hanging around their football facility for the last decade might not be currently enrolled in school.

Stanford survived a rough first half in which they couldn’t finish anything offensively while the visiting Buffs cleaned up with their quick-hitting run game. But somehow quarterback Davis Mills and kicker Jet Toner kept the Cardinal within range, down five, 14-9.

The appearance of competitiveness disappeared quickly to start the third quarter, as Colorado struck for two touchdowns on their way to a 35-32 win at Stanford Stadium.

“Everybody’s buying in,” fifth-year senior quarterback Sam Noyer said. “Guys are having fun out there. It’s good to see that again. I haven’t seen that in a couple years.”

Noyer ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more, including a 34-yard pass play to Jerry Rice’s son, Brenden that put the Buffs up 28-9 just six minutes into the second half.

Mills did his best to rally Stanford, throwing for 327 yards and a touchdown, but the senior misfired on 25 pass attempts and failed to convert 11 of 16 third down opportunities. Mills’ uneven performance was indicative of his lack of practice and game reps due to COVID testing procedures that the Pac-12 admitted this week contained errors and should not have forced the Cardinal to hold out Mills and three others that missed the opener at Oregon.

“He was in isolation essentially from Saturday afternoon until Thursday night,” coach David Shaw said of Mills. “He was able to come in and get one practice and it showed. There’s not much we could have done about it, but to say that it didn’t affect his performance I think would be inaccurate.”

Mills one-yard touchdown pass to Scooter Harrington cut the Colorado lead from as many as 19 to three with 2:45 remaining. But the Buffs salted away the remainder of the clock, allowing Stanford just 10 seconds and the final play of the game which resulted in a fumble.

The Buffs got 121 yards rushing from Broussard, and 177 yards total on 45 carries. That didn’t include a swing pass that turned into a 55-yard touchdown by Dimitry Stanley, one of several big plays where the Stanford defense was caught uncharacteristically napping.

The Stanford run game underperformed, managing just 70 yards on 21 carries, in part due to Mills needing to throw on nearly every down when their deficit grew to three scores. Still Austin Jones paltry production stood out as the sophomore followed up a 100-yard performance at Oregon with nine yards on nine carries.

The Cardinal fell to 0-2 after finishing last season 4-8, by far the worst stretch of results in the last decade under Shaw. Stanford also dropped their home opener for the first time after 12 consecutive wins.

Cal’s season opener against Washington canceled due to COVID

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The Washington-Cal Bears football game scheduled for Saturday night has been canceled due to a player’s positive COVID test, and the subsequent quarantining of the Cal players in his position group.

The decision to quarantine the infected player’s position mates was made by the Berkeley Public Health Department in keeping with their mandates through contact tracing. The player registering the positive test remains asymptomatic, but those student-athletes who were deemed to be in close contact with him must quarantine for 14 days, the period of time in which the virus could surface due to the contact.

That means along with Saturday’s cancelation, the Bears’ game at Arizona State scheduled for November 14 could also be in jeopardy once individual timeline’s are determined for each quarantined individual based on their most recent contact with the athlete registering positive.

“I think part of this is tough to swallow because the players and our athletic department, coaches, athletes tried to do the best we can with the information we had. And unfortunately, it didn’t quite do the job because they still were contact-traced. They don’t talk to us about those specific scenarios,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.

Only 20 student athletes at Cal have registered positive tests since on-campus activities resumed along with regular testing on June 4. This was the first positive test within the football program, and couldn’t have come at worse time with two games of the team’s abbreviated six-game schedule jeopardized without the possibility of being rescheduled.

Further, the Bears had received positive reviews from Pac-12 journalists who touted the team’s experience and talent relative to their conference opponents. The outset of the season also gave the entire athletic department hope that they could lessen the financial issues within the program caused by a series of annual financial deficits.

A’s win season finale, 6-2, host the White Sox on Tuesday in playoff opener

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Losing five of seven to close the regular season isn’t ideal, but winning the season finale is for the A’s.

“More than anything, it’s been a difficult season on some guys,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s a new, clean slate. You can really make up a lot of ground by having a good postseason.”

Winning or losing the final contest of a pandemic-truncated season prior to the start of an expanded postseason is just one aspect. The crazy world of major league-mandated tie breakers is the other confounding piece of this unique 2020 season.

The AL West champions rebounded from a 2-1 deficit on Sunday to defeat the Mariners, 6-2, and appeared set to host the Astros, a familiar and dangerous opponent, despite their losing record (29-31), the worst of the AL qualifiers.

But 45 minutes after the A’s win, the Twins fell to the Reds in Minneapolis, 5-3 in 10 innings, and that bumped the A’s to the two-seed and a matchup with the Chicago White Sox, the third-place qualifier from the AL Central with a record just one game inferior to the A’s (36-24).

Wait a minute. How’s that? The A’s moved up a seed, but drew a far more accomplished opponent in the process? Well, in the word of Rob Manfred, yes.

The pairings follow a familiar pattern: the eight qualifiers in each league are seeded 1-3 for the first place teams, 4-6 for the second place teams, and 7 and 8 for the best remaining records. What makes the process disjointed is the mixing of two seeding philosophies where the final two qualifiers aren’t the two best, third place clubs with a 60-game schedule that had each club playing just nine of the other 29 big league clubs.

Because of that, only one of the eight, opening series involve clubs that have played each other in the regular season (Blue Jays versus Rays). That leaves a lot of uncertainty, especially in the 48 hours leading up to the wild card openers.

Would the A’s rather see a familiar opponent with a losing record, or one with as good as record as themselves that they haven’t seen since March 3 in spring training?

We’re about to find out. This aspect will be appealing to them: instead of one opportunity in front of 50,000 adoring fans, the A’s will get three shots to win twice in the their stadium with no fans.

The winners of the Astros-Twins series and the White Sox-A’s series will advance to a ALDS pairing at Dodgers Stadium. Again two opponents with no recent familiarity in an unfamiliar ballpark.

The A’s have starting pitching options in Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers, Mike Minor, Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas, who enhanced his stature with a career-best 13 strikeouts in six innings on Sunday. Montas had muddied his postseason outlook with an ERA of 10.88 over his previous six starts overlapping the birth of his child and a subsequent paternity leave.

“I was going to take him out after five, but I really needed him one more inning,” Melvin said of Montas. “He came in before I said anything and said, ‘I want one more’ and then struck everybody out. I think that’s going to do wonders for him going forward.”

Chad Pinder returned from the injured list and entered the game as a pinch hitter, than designated hitter getting three at-bats. Pinder last played September 12, and he gives the A’s another option to fill the big shoes of Matt Chapman at third base.

The primary option at the hot corner, Jake Lamb homered leading off the seventh inning to give the A’s the lead for the first time, 3-2. The former Diamondback has 12 hits–seven for extra bases–in 13 games for the A’s.

Rockies strike back, pin critical 5-4 loss on the Giants

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Gabe Kapler immediately turned his focus to Friday’s doubleheader, and the biggest 14 innings of the season for his Giants.

And what of Thursday’s agonizing 5-4 loss to the Rockies that could have had his club in the driver’s seat regarding the postseason heading into the weekend?

Kapler simply avoided any reflection–emotional or analytical–involving the Giants.

“They got the job done, and you have to kind of tip your cap to them,” Kapler said of the Rockies. “They did pull out all the stops. They put the five-man infield out there. They extended Bard, I’m guessing, probably beyond the most comfortable space. That was a good effort by their ballclub.”

What the Giants hope to achieve with 14 flawless innings on Friday, they basically failed to achieve in 11 uneven innings Thursday afternoon. The Giants jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings, only to trail 4-3 after seven. Brandon Belt’s homer got the Giants even after eight. Then the Giants put themselves on the precipice of victory with a bases loaded, one out situation in the tenth, only to stall and then see the Rockies take control in the 11th.

Kevin Gausman essentially admitted what Kapler would not regarding the frustrating affair.

“We don’t really have the luxury of sitting around and feeling bad for ourselves,” Gausman said. “We’ve got a doubleheader tomorrow against the Padres. If we can win both those games that would be huge. Just try to forget about it.”

The Giants’ offense wasn’t as decisive as its been at Oracle Park. After their early flurry, the Giants scored one run over the game’s final nine innings. They failed to fully capitalize on five extra-base hits, and the bases-loaded failure in the tenth could have given them control of the game. The team’s improving bullpen held up, but allowed the game-winning run in the 11th.

The out-of-town scoreboard provided some good news; some bad on Thursday. The Marlins bounced back, beating the Braves to remain over .500 and ahead of the Giants. Meanwhile, the Brewers fell to the Cardinals, keeping them behind the Giants, and along with the Phillies, saddled with a losing record.

Playoff Push: Dubon’s homer gives Giants the edge in 7-2 win over the Rockies

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Winning formulas never get old, so the Giants reached in the well one more time.

Beating sub .500 teams at home with offense has become a reoccurring theme for San Francisco, and it surfaced again Wednesday night in a 7-2 win over the Rockies. The Giants have won 15 of 19 at Oracle Park with most of the wins just like this one.

Mauricio Dubon hit a three-run homer in the seventh to break up a 2-2 tie, and send the Giants to a second win in this critical four-game series starting the regular season’s final week. With the Cardinals, Marlins and Brewers losing in the tightly-bunched NL playoff hunt, the Giants assumed the eighth and final spot with five games remaining.

“You’re playing meaningful baseball and every hit, every run, every home run, every catch you make counts,” Dubon said. “That’s the fun part of it.”

Dubon’s game-altering shot came two pitches after manager Bud Black lifted starter Ryan Castellani in the fifth, in which he allowed a leadoff double to Alex Dickerson, then walked two of the next four batters, allowing the Giants to tie the score, 2-2.

Yency Almonte relieved and watched Dubon send his slider over the left field wall. Dubon’s was the biggest of the Giants 11 hits, five of which went for extra bases including Evan Longoria’s solo shot that got the Giants on the board for the first time in the fourth.

“The pitch to Dubón was a slider the just didn’t get to the outside part of the plate,” Black said. “It didn’t get away from the barrel. The kid dropped the head on it, got it up in the air. He squared it up.”

The Giants have had their way with losing clubs, winning 22 of 33. They’re 27-11 when they score at least four runs.

Mike Yastrzemski continues to mend his calf, which has caused to miss the last five games. His primary replacement, rookie Luis Basabe injured his hamstring on Tuesday, and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season and at least two rounds of the playoffs. Steven Duggar was summoned from Sacramento to replace Basabe.

Caleb Baragar started for the Giants, pitching just the first inning as the opener. Logan Webb took over in the second and pitched five, solid innings to get the win. Baragar’s appearance marked the first time the Giants have employed an opener this season, after Bruce Bochy employed the strategy a couple of times in 2019.

Giants’ playoff push starts off with a nudge in 7-2 loss to the Rockies

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The Giants couldn’t afford to take a night off. But they took one anyway.

The final week of the regular season placed the Giants right where they need to be: at home in Oracle Park where they’ve won 13 of 16. But with starter Johnny Cueto clearly off his game, the Giants fell quietly to the Rockies, 7-2.

The silver lining, if one exists? The Cardinals, Marlins, Phillies and Brewers–the majority of the quintet of clubs the Giants are competing against for the last two National League playoff spots–all lost as well giving all parties a 24-hour reprieve in what figures to be a furious finish that may not be completely decided by Sunday.

Tonight’s lone winner? The Reds, who beat the Brewers, 6-3, winning for the eight time in nine games. The Reds are over .500 for the first time since winning their first game of the season, and currently occupy the seventh seed.

Had the Giants won Monday, they could have moved into the sixth slot. Instead, their back below .500 and a half-game behind a pair of teams that currently hold tiebreakers against them.

Cueto hadn’t pitched since September 13 due to a sore hip, and he didn’t appear healed after allowing a pair of runs in the first, a home run to Kevin Pillar in the third, and balking in a run in the fourth. Cueto’s outing marked the third time in five starts that the veteran has allowed at least six runs. On Monday, he allowed seven runs on eight hits and couldn’t finish the sixth inning.

 

A’s demolished by the Giants, 14-2, division clinching has to wait

By Morris Phillips

It was if the A’s were running late to their division-clinching party. Running late all afternoon.

In a 14-2 loss to the revenge-minded Giants, the A’s just couldn’t get started. And with the Giants piling on early and often, it wasn’t like the A’s got a bunch of chances to chalk up one more home win to capture their first division crown since 2013.

The A’s first hit didn’t materialize until the fourth inning, on an infield job by Matt Olson. Their first runner in scoring position came in the fifth, and Khris Davis couldn’t score. Their first runs were knocked in by Jake Lamb in the sixth, but they already trailed 8-0.

“Everybody came to the field thinking, get another ‘W,’ get another win, lock it up,” said A’s starter Mike Minor, who was roughed up and lifted in the sixth. “Didn’t happen. But you know guys are still positive. They’re going to get to LA and do work there.”

Minor allowed a pair of two-run homers, then gave way to J.B. Wendelken in the sixth. The third batter Wendelken faced–Brandon Crawford–greeted him with a grand slam. Down 8-0, all Oakland social engagements were postponed.

The three relievers that followed didn’t far much better as Jordan Weems, Lou Trivino and T.J. McFarland coughed up six more Giants runs. McFarland somehow managed to surrender six hits and three runs in a 24-pitch span.

Manager Bob Melvin had to get creative to explain his bullpen’s bad day.

“They’re used to coming in games where it’s close and every pitch matters,” Melvin said. 

The A’s turn their attention to a trip to Dodgers Stadium, where they could end up if they advance to the ALDS in a couple of weeks. For now, it’s an opportunity to see baseball’s best team in their environment while chasing that next, critical win.

The A’s then return to the Coliseum to finish the regular season against the Mariners.

Flores, bullpen bail Giants out of an early hole in 6-4 win over the Mariners

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Forgotten in the Giants’ chaotic week of uncertainty and inactivity: the team’s bullpen is showing improvement and becoming a reliable force.

Trailing 4-1 after two innings, and reeling from starting pitcher Tyler Anderson’s ejection, and Mike Yastrzemski’s calf injury, just one of the things on manager Gabe Kapler’s wish list was scoreless innings from his relievers.

When it was all done, Kapler got seven of them, and a huge, offensive rally to squeeze past the Mariners, 6-4. Anderson, who drew Kapler’s ire for his ejection, received a huge reprieve as well.

“We were put in a really bad situation because of me, and our guys fought, and that was really great,” Anderson said . “I felt really terrible inside leaving them out to dry like that. But to see everybody step up and have big performances, that was huge for the team.”

Wandy Peralta pitched the third, fourth and fifth innings in the lengthiest and most effective outing of his big league career. Peralta threw 49 pitches while maintaining his velocity throughout, allowing no hits, one walk while striking out three. The reliever’s 207th big league appearance came and went without a hold or a win–or a change on the scoreboard–but it definitely made an impression.

“As tough as (Anderson’s ejection) was, it was equally rewarding, and in some ways inspiring, to see him come out and give us the length that he did and battle. He gave us a chance to climb back into the game,” Kapler said of Peralta.

Rico Garcia, Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Sam Selman followed Peralta, giving the Giants a scoreless frame each. None had it easy in terms of numbers of pitches thrown, but the strikeouts piled up. The Giants recorded 12 on Thursday, and 29 strikeouts in the two-game series.

Evan Longoria’s RBI single kicked off the Giants’ comeback in the sixth. Luis Basabe, the rookie inserted into the game when Yastrzemski departed, gained his first big league hit and scored for the first time on Longoria’s hit. Later in the inning, Brandon Crawford’s sacrifice fly scored Wilmer Flores and the Giants trailed by one, 4-3.

In the seventh, Flores tripled home a pair to give the Giants the lead, and Alex Dickerson’s run-scoring, sacrifice fly gave the Giants some insurance.

The Mariners dropped all four games with the Giants by an aggregate score of 31-13. Playing all four in San Francisco didn’t help, neither did the team’s offense which stalled at critical junctures.

“The Giants had our number this year,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I can’t really put my finger on it. They swung the bats very, very well against us and we struggled to close out innings against them.”

The win was the Giants 10th in their last 15 outings, a sign of team’s ability to stay locked in despite the team’s just completed week long odyssey which resulted in three, consecutive losses and confinement in two hotels. Now, they’ll finish the season with 11 games in 10 days, first in Oakland against the A’s then the final eight at Oracle Park against the Rockies and Padres.

The Giants are above .500 at 25-24 and the Rockies’ loss to the Dodgers Thursday night increased the Giants lead to three games in the important race to finish third in the NL West. The two other third place clubs in the National League–the Phillies and the Cardinals–also lost on Thursday enhancing the possibility that the Giants could finish seventh in the playoff stack and avoid the Dodgers in the postseason’s opening round.

Giants acclimate quickly as Oracle Park visitors, whip the Mariners, 9-3

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The Giants’ offense this season has shown less pop when they’re the visitors than it has when they play at Oracle Park.

Following that equation, Wednesday’s return to McCovey Cove was just what the Giants needed to get things rolling–on the road.

With the Mariners the designated home team for the game originally scheduled for Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, but moved due to poor air quality enveloping the Northwest, the Giants didn’t assume a secondary role as the visiting team. Batting first in each inning, the Giants immediately made themselves at home by blasting to an 8-0 lead midway through the fourth inning, then cruising to a 9-3 win.

Give the Giants the win, and bonus points for improvisation, according to manager Gabe Kapler.

“We knew there would be situations we haven’t had to deal with in Major League seasons past,” Kapler said. “We have to be good within the construct of whatever the season hands us.”

“It’s definitely a lot easier to deal with this stuff when you’re at your own place,” Brandon Belt said. “It’s definitely a lot more comfortable here for us. We get to go to our own house or whatever it may be. We get to use our own facilities when we come to the ballpark. I think that definitely plays a role.”

The first 31 games of this unusual season went off as planned. Since then, the Giants have experienced it all: social activism, virus outbreaks–and false positive tests–and now poor air quality due to the plethora of wildfires. And the adjustments weren’t initial successes: the Giants were listless in dropping hastily-scheduled doubleheaders to the Dodgers and Padres. But this time, they were ready, and their home park helped in that regard.

Belt, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford each homered in the win, and Crawford added two doubles to his big night, part of the team’s 15-hit parade, seven of those for extra bases. Seattle starter Ljay Newsome was hit hard, allowing eight hits and eight runs– five of which were earned.

Giants’ starter Drew Smyly recorded the first 11 outs–eight via strikeout–in an abbreviated appearance, his first start since landing on the injured list August 1 with a sprained finger. The short outing opened the door for Trevor Cahill, who picked up the win by pitching two innings in relief.

Smyly and six Giants relievers piled up 17 strikeouts, a real measure of the misery suffered by the Mariners, who needed a win to boost their postseason aspirations. Instead the Giants got that win, along with a Rockies loss (to the A’s, 3-1) to get them back to .500 with 12 games remaining.

The Giants returned home having played just three of six scheduled games, losing all three. The silver lining is all three cancelled games are late additions to the Oracle Park schedule, and part of the finishing kick that has the Giants in the Bay Area for the last 13 games of the regular season.

Finishing Kick: Giants hope conclusion of their schedule carries them to the postseason

By Morris Phillips

Alex Dickerson’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child any day now. Complicating matters, his positive COVID test shut the Giants down Friday and Saturday as follow up testing procedures exercised the utmost caution for both the Giants and the Padres. At some point, Dickerson allowed the Giants to release his name, connecting him to the previously anonymous test within the team’s traveling party.

Then a false report printed by the USA Today claiming Dickerson contracted the virus from a family member while in San Diego (a meet up that is prohibited by the strict rules instituted by MLB for traveling clubs) caused the player–and his wife–a myriad of issues.

“When you’re dealing with pregnancy and COVID-19, it is not a good thing to make the assumption that I came in and went and broke protocol and saw family and friends when I’m only permitted to see my wife and she is the only person I saw, and she has been quarantining and on bed rest,” Dickerson said. “It caused a lot of problems, a lot of hate to come towards you and it was kind of unwarranted.”

The Giants had benefitted tremendously from avoiding issues and disruptions from the virus. Just maintaining their schedule as written was big, for them and the rest of the NL West. After all, makeup doubleheaders–regardless of the reduced length in innings–aren’t momentum builders.

That Dickerson’s positive test morphed into a false positive with no other positive tests was frustrating as well. The conclusion? Being a big league club on the road in 2020 isn’t the best. Nine of the 15 National League clubs have losing road records. Isolation and testing are a big contributor to that.

So as the Giants settle into their Seattle hotel on Monday night, two things stick out: the Mariners spent a day/night in the smoke-filled air on Monday, splitting a pair of makeup contests with the A’s. That’s 14 innings for the hosts and none for the Giants, who were idle. Even bigger, with 13 games remaining, these two will be the last two outside the Bay Area involving a hotel and the stringent protocols.

Starting Friday, the Giants play three games in Oakland, then eight at Oracle Park to end the regular season.

That schedule may be enough to keep the Giants from losing their grip on the eighth and final playoff spot, and possibly sending them to Dodgers Stadium for a best of three-game series that would generate a great deal of interest. It also would be their first postseason berth since 2016.

The Giants are 14-9 at home, while averaging better than five runs per game. They’ve struggled with the A’s and the Padres, but might be poised to take advantage of the Rockies.