LOS ANGELES – A Dodgers fan, overheard on the escalator while I was on the way down to the Giants clubhouse Wednesday night…
“If that’s the real Matt Kemp, we’re in trouble.”
Kemp was 0-for-10 in this season-opening series as the Giants took two of three. He came up with runners on base four times – four chances to break the game open like a forgotten beer in the freezer – and he didn’t drive in a single run.
Three isolated games? Sure. But then you look at his offseason shoulder surgery. And a spring in which he cooled the lower boxes at Camelback Ranch with his strikeouts. And the fact he’s now hitless in his last 25 at-bats against the Giants, dating to last season.
And you begin to wonder.
There was no bigger spot for Kemp to go all sudsy on the Giants than the sixth inning, when left-hander Jose Mijares left a bases-loaded, no-out cleanup on Aisle 3 for George Kontos.
Kontos had memories of Kemp. For all the big pitches the Giants’ right-hander had to execute in three rounds of the postseason, the confidence builder that meant the most to him was a situation in the 161st game of the regular season when the Giants already had clinched. He faced Kemp with the tying run at third base and struck him out on a slider.
His comments that night: “I was telling some of the guys that was the most adrenaline I’ve had on a baseball field. It was my biggest moment in professional baseball.”
It was the moment that Kontos knew he could step into a big situation, take a deep breath and focus on the target.
So Kontos was composed when he faced Kemp again in a 5-3 game Wednesday. He missed with a fastball in and a slider away to fall behind, but came back with another one that crowded him.
[RECAP: Giants 5, Dodgers 3]
“With that closed off stance, he doesn’t get to that inside heater too well,” Kontos said. “He put kind of a defensive swing on it and luckily he rolled it over and we turned two.”
Now Kontos can board the flight home and not think about the homer he allowed to Clayton Kershaw – the only one the Dodgers hit in the series, by the way.
“It made me feel better just to know that Bochy and Rags put me in that situation,” Kontos said. “That’s awesome for me.”
It was hard to shoehorn any great quotes out of the Giants after taking two of three from their archrivals in a series that deserved baseball’s attention.
But Tim Lincecum acknowledged that “a lot of guys were looking forward to it. I know I did, personally.” And all the talk about the Dodgers’ expensive additions?
“A lot of us took it to heart,” he said.
Well, I guess you can check off the “left-handed hitting” box when it comes to Pablo Sandoval’s elbow. Go ahead and check off the “can still hit the eye-level fastball” box, too.
“I’m getting to see it on a daily basis and it’s amazing,” said Hunter Pence, who hit his own remarkable home run by going opposite way in the thick night air here. “If you’re a fan of the game, it’s something you’ve gotta see because Pablo’s unbelievable.”
This is the most unbelievable part: Sandoval entered the game with all of two left-handed at-bats in the previous two weeks.
“Special talent,” Bochy said. “He hasn’t really had many at-bats here lately, and he looks good with his timing and his balance up there.”
I’ve covered a lot of players and even most veterans seem to press a bit when they come to a new team. Not Chad Gaudin. He looked composed even when his debut came in a fairly leveraged situation.
“It’s not like it’s my first time coming to a new team,” said Gaudin, who has wandered from the Devil Rays to the Blue Jays to the A’s to the Cubs to the Padres to the Yankees to Oakland again, and then back to Yankee Stadium, then to the Nationals and finally, the Marlins before making the Giants on a minor league contract this spring.
“You just do your part and try to get the guys back in there as soon as possible so they can score more runs.”
Gaudin took to Twitter after the game:
Thank you for all the love! Proud to wear orange and black! Go Giants!— Chad Gaudin (@ChadGaudin57) April 4, 2013
Sure doesn’t seem like Marco Scutaro is seeing the ball well at all right now. In one at-bat against Josh Beckett, Scutaro totally recoiled on a breaking ball that was called a strike. He managed just a bunt single in three games here.
After watching Hector Sanchez labor to catch Lincecum on Wednesday, there's no doubt in my mind ... Buster Posey is going to exceed the 111 games he started behind the plate last season.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Cardinals bullpen looks like when they arrive at AT&T Park on Friday. They had to burn 11 1/3 innings out of seven relievers only to lose 10-9 to the Diamondbacks in 16 innings at Chase Field Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
Only Fernando Salas threw more than two innings and just Salas (44 pitches) and Trevor Rosenthal (39) exceeded 30 pitches. And the Cards have a day off Thursday, too. But early in the season, a game like that can linger for a few days.
Maybe the Giants can tire out the Cardinals some more. I don’t know, maybe make them stand on the chalk line for oh, say, 45 minutes or so. Have “Train” come out and perform. I’m sure they won’t mind a bit.
Who’s going to raise the banner on Friday? It won’t be Brian Wilson, I can tell you that much.
It should’ve been Mays and McCovey last time, or clubhouse man Mike Murphy. I’ll put my money on any of those three this time around, too.