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SAN FRANCISCO – Of all the teams to grow a conscience about performance-enhancing drugs, of course it had to be the San Francisco Giants. For years, Barry Bonds made Lance Armstrong look like a lightweight, and nobody here did anything. On the Giants' playoff roster today is Guillermo Mota, one of the only two-time offenders of baseball's drug policy, and they're happy to use him in relief.
Then there is Melky Cabrera, banished, shunned but not forgotten. The Giants want nothing to do with him as they float into Game 1 of the World Series, in which they'll host the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night at AT&T Park – a game they have the privilege of playing at home, by the way, because Cabrera won the National League home-field advantage by taking All-Star Game MVP honors.
He is eligible to play, having served his 50-game suspension, only the Giants have no desire to bring him back. Why? It's complicated, yes, more than most PED cases, because of Cabrera's high profile and his idiotic endeavors to cover up his usage through fake websites that MLB sniffed out. And yet the Giants won't apologize for riding his league-leading batting average when he was dirty and were fine with Mota coming back after a 100-game suspension in late August.
This is their choice, yes, though it is sheathed in hypocrisy and selective morality.
"I think they're two different situations, really," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I mean, one happened during the season with Mota, and he was available to help us out during the season. So we made a spot there for him.
"Now, with Melky, we felt when that happened, as far as losing him, the club played very well, and the guys that we had been putting out there have done the job. They've earned this, and this is the way we're going to move forward. It would be, sure, tough for Melky to get game ready, but more importantly, it was how we played and how the guys did out in left field, and they deserve to be out there for the postseason."
Bochy is playing dutiful manager, and considering the Giants are in the World Series, they've done just fine without Cabrera. Still, to say the left-field replacements for Cabrera have been anything more than awful simply isn't true.
Cabrera played 105 games in left field for the Giants this season. During them, he hit .350/.396/.513 with nine home runs and 56 RBIs in 417 at-bats. The other left fielders for the Giants this season logged 228 at-bats. They hit .215/.271/.276 with one home run and 16 RBIs. They struck out 60 times. Cabrera did 61. To say Gregor Blanco is as good as a clean Melky Cabrera strains credulity.
Granted, that muddies the issue: What is a clean Melky Cabrera? Is it closer to the career .267/.328/.379 hitter he was before his breakout season in 2011 as a 26-year-old in Kansas City, or were the PEDs simply an addendum to his finally turning raw talent into production?
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"When you bring him in like that, you don't ever know bat speed, you don't know timing," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "When you've got a rhythm going as it is, you don't want to affect that. When we have what we have right now, we're winning with it. You try to add a guy back to the loop, it could be a media frenzy. There could be distractions. You don't want to deal with that. I think Melky understands that."
Cabrera does – sort of. Friends say he has spent time in Florida and the Dominican Republic lamenting the downfall of what should've been a banner season. He wants to play, yes. He understands why he can't – why people encouraged him to recuse himself from the batting race even though he was qualified and would've won it with a .346 average, and why some Giants are acting like he doesn't exist.
"No comment," third baseman Pablo Sandoval said.
"I don't really want to talk about Melky," injured closer Brian Wilson said.
"We haven't had time to think about Melky, to be honest with you," reliever Javier Lopez said.
Still, all of Affeldt's points are red herrings. Cabrera could have taken plenty at-bats at the Giants' spring training complex and readied himself for major league pitching. The media frenzy is something about which players ought not give a damn anyway. Distractions happen in baseball all the time, and the toughest teams shrug them off.
To add a hitter of Cabrera's caliber, on the other hand, especially going into a series in which the designated hitter will be used, could provide a boost to an offense that will need it against a tough Tigers pitching staff. For more than two-thirds of the season, Cabrera was the Giants' No. 3 hitter, in front of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. If he was coming off an injury, not only would they welcome him back, he would get the loudest ovation at the stadium. Because it's PEDs, suddenly the Giants want to play principled franchise.
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"Everything is sad," Giants backup catcher Hector Sanchez said. "He's a friend. He's a teammate. We've got a great relationship. Not being with Melky in that special moment – it was sad. I feel bad. But we had to keep playing. We had to keep focusing. And now we're in the World Series."
They are, and it's a great story. The comebacks. The pitching. Bochy's deft management. GM Brian Sabean's keen acquisitions. The Giants do things right, which is why their tack with Cabrera is so surprising. Never have they cared about how others judge them. Mota's return proved that.
He said Clenbuterol showed up in his system from children's cough syrup he ingested. The team believed him. He appeared in 17 games after his suspension and another three this postseason.
And while others are reticent to publicly welcome Cabrera back, Mota is steadfast in his support.
"I think the whole team wants him to be there and play left field right now," Mota said. "He was a big part of the regular season. We miss him."
Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Blanco could turn into a left-field Superman this postseason like Cody Ross did two years ago en route to the Giants' championship. He has been getting on base this postseason at a .364 clip and plays well-above-average defense in left field.
Most of all, his name isn't Melky Cabrera.
"We got over it," Affeldt said, and while they did so in grand style – and could cap it with a ring that Cabrera may not get – the suspension that is no more still hangs over their season, a question nobody seems to want to answer.
If he was good enough for them then, why not now?
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