LOS ANGELES – The next Melky is out there. He's playing right field for your team or batting fifth or pitching the eighth inning.
He's beating the system today. His teammates admire and trust him. He's slugging .516 and learning to run a phony website.
And that's just the way it is.
What he'll one day leave behind – or risk leaving behind – is something like the San Francisco Giants, who Monday night were forced to choose between Gregor Blanco and Justin Christian in left field. Blanco was hitting .154 over the past month. Christian, 32, had 132 major-league at-bats.
"You know," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "it's a tough call between the two. Decided to throw Blanco out there to see if we can get him going."
The regular guy out there might have won the batting title or been an MVP, but he could only beat the system for so long. Now the Giants' left fielder is batting eighth, trying to push an inning or two into the pitcher's spot, hiding there.
Bochy went with the left-handed hitter – Blanco – against lefty Clayton Kershaw in what so far is the biggest series of the season for the Giants, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just an average offensive team in the best of circumstances, the Giants got a little more average when Melky Cabrera's time ran out, and when his alibi got everybody to giggling, and maybe too late for them to do anything about it.
"Just plain selfish," is how one Giant put it.
They've mostly gotten over that, or will if they can knock off the Dodgers for the next couple nights and run it to the end of September. The season keeps coming, and the Giants can still beat you on plenty of nights on pitching alone. They'd rather not have it come to that, of course, but hard times call for hard sliders.
"We've moved on," Bochy said. "You gotta deal with the ups and downs. … So we've moved on."
The Giants are 3-2 since Melky moved on. They've scored 25 runs, which is plenty for them. Two were enough Monday night, hard earned as they were against Kershaw, because Madison Bumgarner went eight scoreless innings.
Maybe they do go out and pry a corner outfielder from a non-contender, hit on another Cody Ross or Pat Burrell like they did two years ago en route to a World Series title. Maybe Alfonso Soriano changes his mind about coming West, or Jeff Francoeur can be had, or even Juan Pierre. Maybe Gary Brown, the 23-year-old center fielder from the 2010 draft, will take to left field in Double-A, and by September be a reasonable offensive option for the big club. It would seem a lot to ask.
For the moment, however, they scrounge for baserunners and get a couple balls up in the zone from Kershaw and make it stick. They bunt a man over with the second batter of the game, they ride Bumgarner, they match up in the ninth inning to survive that, too, and they beat the Dodgers, 2-1.
It shouldn't be this difficult. They should be deeper in the middle of their order. But it's not like they haven't lived like this for years, failed like this and celebrated like this. These are the Giants, who generally don't do easy. And this is the Giants versus the Dodgers, which is almost never pretty. With six weeks to go, the NL West is one of only two divisions that could change leaders in the span of a series.
True enough, the Dodgers arrived up a half-game and left down a half-game, primarily in the span of 123 pitches by Bumgarner. The Giants outran two throws to the plate by Dodgers left fielder Shane Victorino – first on a sacrifice fly by Pablo Sandoval and again on a soft single by Sandoval – for their runs, and the rest of it was their usual slog against Kershaw.
The Giants saw it coming, too. When Angel Pagan doubled to open the game, Marco Scutaro followed with a bunt to get him to third base. Scutaro didn't even wait for a sign, but had made up his mind when Pagan's ball fell in left-center field.
"You have pitching like tonight, I don't care if it's the first inning," Scutaro said. "You have to score a run for our guy. It's hard to predict in baseball. Some people don't like to bunt early. But maybe that could be the difference. In the beginning, you never know."
No, you don't, not when you're down a man, not when left field has become offensively so soft after 4½ months of production. It happens. Players get hurt. Hitters go cold. The game gets hard again.
But it stinks, really stinks, when the deficit is self-inflicted. Worse, to suspect there's more of it out there, plenty more, and all you can do is wait for the next one.
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- San Francisco Giants
- Gregor Blanco
- Clayton Kershaw
- Melky Cabrera