The only drawback with that clever MLB 2K9 video game advertisement in which San Francisco Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum offers his animated double some tips on how to behave in the major leagues is this: It doesn't include wisdom from the real Lincecum that helps drag the Giants out of their crappy start.
They limp home this weekend carrying with them one of the game's two worst records. Difference between the Giants (2-7) and the Washington Nationals (1-7), however, is the Giants at least were supposed to have a first-class rotation, and even that's been disappointing.
Some thoughts after a couple of days with the Giants this week in Los Angeles:
- Lincecum's Cy encore is off to a rocky start at 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in two starts. Even at that, Lincecum is the least of manager Bruce Bochy's concerns. The manager's take: Lincecum hasn't yet harnessed his fastball. When the command returns, he'll be fine. Lincecum spent a long bullpen session this week working with pitching coach Dave Righetti on mechanics. In layman's terms, right now, Lincecum's upper body is not in sync with his lower body during his delivery.
- Randy Johnson started the season five wins shy of historic No. 300 and, after two starts he remains five wins away. He's 0-2 with an 11.42 ERA -- but, for now, unconcerned. Johnson pitched very well in his first start, against Milwaukee until surrendering the first home run to a pitcher he's ever allowed. Yovani Gallardo was the villain.
As for Monday's flop against the Dodgers, in which he yielded seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, Johnson produced a thick fistful of charts from his locker during a conversation Wednesday afternoon, charts he keeps on opposing hitters and regularly refers to for intelligence. Among his points: He produced a similar clunker against the Dodgers while facing Hideo Nomo back in May, 2002 (seven earned runs, eight hits, five innings).
"And obviously, I was in my prime then," Johnson said of the season in which he won his fifth Cy Young award. "Bad games happen."
Johnson, 45, is happy and in good spirits because he's healthy. And he remains confident that things will soon get better for him, too.
And as for standing five wins away from 300. ...
"I'm still looking for No. 1 (this year)," he says. "So let's put things in perspective. I'm feeling good, that's the main thing."
Three more strikes vs. the Giants:
- Mentioning Barry Zito's name mostly elicits cringing around here. He was blasted again by the Dodgers Thursday night, his ERA is 10.00 and scouts who have watched him just shake their heads. There still are no answers, and every day it looks more like there never will be any answers.
- The young Giants hitters are pressing badly, as evidenced in part by their embarrassing and toothless streak of going 32 1/3 innings between a real, live base on balls from last Friday in San Diego to Wednesday in Los Angeles "We need to do better in situational hitting," says Giants veteran Randy Winn of a club that has left runners in scoring position in several key places during their six-game losing streak. "For a team that's not going to hit a lot of home runs, those are things we need to do."
- Third baseman Pablo Sandoval had a big spring and looks like a future star. But he's slogging along at .212, and that was after collecting two hits Thursday night. What he mostly looks like now is a young player who is extremely overeager. And that's played right into the hands of opposing pitchers. "I think he's more overanxious," Bochy says. "We know Pablo, he's always in swing mode. But he's expanded his zone even more."
Hanging with the Boss
Two fantastic nights with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band this week at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. It never gets old. It's always fresh. And as I've said before, as the band heads East, catch them if you get a chance. It's like getting a chance to see Ty Cobb, or Babe Ruth, or Willie Mays in their primes. Even if you're not ecstatic with their new disc Working on a Dream , it doesn't matter.
The show is tailored to current events, as it always is (this time the economy and the struggles so many people are facing), and there are so many standout moments. The first encore song is culled (and updated) from Stephen Foster's songbook from the 1850s, Hard Times Come Again No More . A bluesy, gospel-sounding take, it's different and cool.
Mike Ness from Social Distortion was a special guest Thursday night and the band ripped through Ness' Bad Luck . What a moment. Ness, Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren all blazing on guitars midway through the song was outstanding.
No Surrender , Growin' Up , Thunder Road , Backstreets , Racing in the Street , The Wrestler ... so many highlights. One of the moments that stands out, and it's part of what keeps people coming back, came Thursday night when Springsteen collected signs for song requests from the crowd (as he has taken to doing) and picked out Proud Mary , the old Creedence Clearwater Revival chestnut (I've always wanted to use that word -- I feel just like a rock critic or something!).
Hearing the E Street band play that song was cool enough, but the best moments were those just before they tore into the song. Bruce held the sign for the band to see what they were going to play next, and the look of incredulity on the faces of those on stage was priceless. Lofgren was shouting across the stage to either bass player Gary Tallent or pianist Roy Bittan ( I couldn't quite tell which), double-checking the key, grinning widely. Lofgren held his hands together in the form of a D -- key of D? was his clear question -- hollering and motioning as the band scrambled to get its signals straight.
During the guitar solo midway through the song, as Springsteen played, Lofgren and Van Zandt played a few steps back, grinning at each other in amusement or amazement. Maybe both. It's one of the greatest things about seeing the band in concert, and it's the same thing that happens every time you walk into a baseball stadium: You absolutely, positively can never be sure of what you're about to see. You never know what the next moment will bring. And sometimes they're incredibly uplifting.
At the Dodgers' home opener on Monday, I watched Orlando Hudson hit for the cycle. While I've covered two no-hitters (David Wells' perfect game for the Yankees in 1998 and Eric Milton's for Minnesota in 1999), I'd never seen a cycle.
Then, Thursday night, I'm watching the E Street Band scramble to get its signals straight before Proud Mary and then, later in the show, I'm watching 18-year-old Jay Weinberg sit in on the drums for three songs for his dad, Max (Lonesome Day , The Rising and Born to Run ). Max is going to miss six or so shows in Europe this summer -- I believe around the time when Conan O'Brien replaces Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in early June (Max is the bandleader on the show, in case you don't know) -- and Jay is going to play those shows for his pop.
Jay just killed -- the kid is really, really good. And making the moment even more special, I looked about 15 feet to my right as he was playing on Lonesome Day (I was lucky enough to score a spot in the front row in front of the stage), and Max had come around from backstage to watch his son. Watching the band, watching Max watch his son, watching Van Zandt grinning and beaming at Max down front while playing guitar in front of Jay ... wow.
With baseball and at a Springsteen show, you never know when the next special moment is coming. You just know that, when it does, you'd better catch it, and hold on for as long as possible.
Likes, Dislikes and Rockin'
Likes: Baseball as a social institution? Check out this study that says the divorce rate among people in major-league cities is significantly lower than that among those who dwell in cities that wanted major-league baseball clubs but didn't get them. Bet the NFL can't say that. ... Step Brothers has some pretty darn funny moments. I'm not so sure I would have been thrilled paying $10 to see it in the theaters, but it's definitely worth a rental.
Dislikes: Was going to check out State of Play with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams this weekend, but I don't know. I've read two reviews that have scared me off.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"And I count my blessings
"That you're mine for always
"We laugh beneath the covers
"And count the wrinkles and the grays
-- Bruce Springsteen, Kingdom of Days