The Giants can’t hit the ball. So they gave up and hit the Phillies instead.
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Yes, one of baseball’s burgeoning rivalries begat a brawl of moderate severity Friday night. Ramon Ramirez plunked Shane Victorino with what sure looked like a purpose pitch during the sixth inning of Philadelphia’s 9-2 win. The benches cleared, and San Francisco catcher Eli Whiteside — the former high school quarterback from Mississippi, perhaps trying to impress Jim Harbaugh — put a textbook form tackle on Placido Polanco to touch off the scrum.
Ramirez and Whiteside were ejected for San Francisco, Victorino for Philadelphia. Fines and suspensions are certain to follow. Far more significant, though, is this: In a little more than 24 hours spanning Thursday and Friday night, the Giants lost two ballgames, the moral high ground and a healthy portion of the edge that comes with being the defending world champions.
Even more than Whiteside’s prizefighter-like hop before he wrapped up Polanco, or Victorino’s chucking of umpire Mike Muchlinski (and later Phillies batting coach Greg Gross) so he could join the fray, the most telling image associated with the donnybrook may have come after it was over.
As the crowd dispersed, a number of Giants players stood off to the side, surely engaging in a tradition shared by playgrounds around the world. Dude, did you see what I did? At one point, San Francisco shortstop Orlando Cabrera looked toward his own dugout and smiled, because, hey, there’s a certain thrill to causing mayhem with your buddies.
But there was one man among the more than 40,000 at AT&T Park who had a sour expression on his face at that moment and for a good time afterward: Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
It’s apparent now his team is in trouble.
This weekend’s series — which continues today (MLB on FOX, 4 p.m. ET) — was supposed to be the 2010 National League Championship Series Part II, a preview of the postseason rematch to come. Instead, it has merely showcased that the Phillies are October-ready and the Giants are not.
And those trends aren’t exclusive to the past two days. Philadelphia has won eight in a row and is 7-0 since new right fielder Hunter Pence arrived. San Francisco has a losing record since the All-Star break and is just 2-7 with Carlos Beltran in the lineup.
Another major concern for the Giants: With Buster Posey lost for the season, they can ill afford to further deplete their catching depth. But now it’s likely that Whiteside, the current starter, will need to serve a suspension in the middle of a pennant race.
There’s a chance, of course, that the Phillies will retaliate today. If they do, the Giants would be wise to consider the matter closed. Their interest should be in scoring runs, not settling scores.
Bochy acknowledged after the game that his team is in a "funk." Perhaps that was part of the reason Ramirez lost his cool. Whether because of happenstance or not, Ramirez hit the first batter who stepped to the plate after Philly leadoff man Jimmy Rollins stole second base with his team ahead six runs.
As a Bay Area native, perhaps Rollins should have known a six-run lead against the Giants’ lineup is akin to Oregon going up 35-0 against Yale. But I have a hard time blaming Rollins for this. The proper response for Ramirez would have been to throw strikes and get outs. That’s what a championship pitcher is supposed to do. Ramirez, who had a 0.67 ERA for San Francisco last year, should know that.
Instead, he incited a brawl and didn’t stick around to explain himself to reporters afterward.
Whiteside said he didn’t think the Phillies did anything that would necessitate that sort of retribution. "I just called for a fastball inside," he said. "And (it was) a little too far inside."
When Beltran was asked whether it was disrespectful to steal with that big of a lead, he replied, "You should ask Jimmy Rollins about that."
But would you have done it?
"I wouldn’t have," Beltran said.
As a six-time All-Star, Beltran’s opinion on the matter carries some weight, even if he’s been a Giant for about 10 days. And let’s not forget he has a little history with Rollins. As a Met in 2008, Beltran famously arrived at spring training and declared, "To Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat."
But Beltran also knew Ramirez owed his teammates (and everyone else) an explanation.
"The guy you should ask is Ramirez," Beltran said. "I don’t know what happened. … He’s the one who can tell you what happened, if he did it on purpose or not."
Ramirez’s lack of accountability was one thing, but the team’s lack of execution is the far greater concern. The Giants don’t look like champions right now. The Diamondbacks, even without Stephen Drew, are playing a better brand of baseball and have closed to within a half-game in the NL West. Even before hitting Victorino, Ramirez committed a mental mistake by failing to back up third base on a single to the outfield. Earlier in the game, Rollins’ alert baserunning allowed him to score on a ball Beltran didn’t charge aggressively.
To borrow from the hockey analogy: The Giants aren’t going into the dirty areas to get loose pucks. As a result, the Phillies have outclassed and outscored them by a 12-2 count the first two games of this series.
None of this means the Giants’ season is doomed, but Friday’s ugliness wasn’t the sort of thing they allowed to happen last year. If this becomes a reality check about what made them great in 2010, then perhaps the brawl will have served a purpose.
And if it doesn’t? Then their reign atop the baseball world is going to be brief.