Mariotti: No gumshoe required 

click to enlarge Giants outfielder Angel Pagan is pumped after his triple in the ninth inning, which followed a spat with Padres catcher Derek Norris. - LENNY IGNELZI/AP
  • Lenny Ignelzi/AP
  • Giants outfielder Angel Pagan is pumped after his triple in the ninth inning, which followed a spat with Padres catcher Derek Norris.

SAN DIEGO — With a crazed fist-pump, a WrestleMania pose, a primal scream and a staredown of the opponents, Angel Pagan reminded a doubting baseball world that the Giants are still champions, as they've been most of the decade. He did so as the San Diego Padres, apparently out to change their entire sadsack identity in a single Thursday, first tried to unnerve the Giants with booming, clubbing-loud music in batting practice, then tried to intimidate them with an episode late in a game that felt like September.

And what was the episode about?

"It was something really small," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Literally, small. "If I told you, you're going to start laughing," Pagan said. "Everything was over a piece of gum."

This was one fascinating scene in a four-hour, five-minute sampling of what seems a competitive uprising, a shocking new divisional rivalry unfolding in April, all fueled by a spending spree by a small-market franchise that has slumbered since we can remember. Still, one wild offseason won't transform a basic reality: The Giants have won three World Series in five years for a reason. As late afternoon spilled into night, and after one-third of the sellout crowd had left, pinch-hitter Justin Maxwell, a classic Brian Sabean acquisition, delivered a 12th-inning single to secure a 1-0 victory that defined exactly what the Giants have been in this era.

"These guys have been through this so many times," Bochy said.

Except for the gum.

Leading off the ninth, Pagan was facing all-world closer Craig Kimbrel, the Padres' best and most lethal acquisition in an unforeseen $58 million splurge that raised their payroll to a team-record $108 million. Suddenly, catcher Derek Norris started chirping with Pagan, who fired back. Warnings were issued to both teams. Why? To hear Pagan, he removed a piece of gum from his mouth and tried to toss it out of the batter's box. "But my batting glove was a little sticky, so it got under him, and he started telling me stuff. That's when we started arguing at each other," Pagan said.

His response: a blast to center field in spacious Petco Park, over the head of Wil Myers, to the wall 396 feet away. He slid head-first with a triple, looked into the Giants' dugout, climbed to his feet, then took a long look at Norris and Kimbrel.

"That was part of my anger at the moment," Pagan said. "I got excited. I was really angry. I want to say I overreacted a little bit. I don't think I did anything wrong. [The gum] went under him. It was nothing to be mad about.

"It [landed] where I place my toe. It flipped a little bit and went under him."

Norris' version differed. "I don't know what the piece of gum thrown at my feet is. It's just kind of strange. ... (Pagan) was just being kind of a (expletive)."

Whether Pagan was innocent or was trying some gooey gamesmanship with Kimbrel and Norris, only he knows. And while he didn't score — he was stranded at third after the Mighty Casey McGehee grounded into a double play, part of a rough, two-error night that has the Panda crowd in a huff — the Giants were impressive in their trademark resilience and brilliance under pressure. There was the dazzling glovework of Brandon Crawford, whose dive and glove-flip for a double play illustrates that he's ready to take the next step as an elite, two-way shortstop. There was the solid start by Tim Hudson, who pitched 6¹⁄³ shutout innings. There was great work by the bullpen, no one bigger than Jeremy Affeldt in dousing a fire.

"He truly amazes me," Hudson said of Crawford. "He's one of the best I've played with. He's a wizard over there. Hopefully, we don't take him for granted."

Crawford was nonchalant about the wizardry. "Better chance at a double play that way," he said of the glove-flip.

As for the Padres, you need chemistry and cohesion when you're throwing money at a lineup card. Maxwell's winning hit was set up when shortstop Clint Barmes, backpedaling for a Crawford fly to short left field, dropped a ball when he heard Justin Upton coming hard from left field. The Giants don't make those boo-boos. And when they do — McGehee better be ready for intense scrutiny as a glorified designated hitter playing out of place — they have a way of covering up the mess.

"It just shows the mental attitude this team has. Guys expect to win," said Maxwell, Bochy's pinch-hit selection over Brandon Belt, who is still recovering from a groin strain.

"No one gets overwhelmed with situations, no one gets down on themselves."

Down here near Tijuana, all the surfers, skaters, skinny-dippers and hot-air balloonists have been alerted to a new attraction in town. It's called Major League Baseball, which vanished here years ago, presumed dead. Time was when the cute little ballpark with the big-ass outfield dimensions used to feel like ... San Francisco? Petco was the domain of savvy Giants fans who knew they could plop down behind the visitor's dugout, where disgusted season-ticket holders of the nondescript local ballclub would sell their seats to people in orange and black. Why overpay a scalper on King Street when you could spend a weekend in the warmth and sunshine, at a home game away from the AT&T chill and cha-ching?

Those days, for now, are done. In what stands not only as a potential obstacle to the Giants' playoff chances but the administrative superiority of the Sabean regime, the Padres have become a legitimate operation with a roster that doesn't require a scorecard and Google search. Once known for dumping homegrown players when they were reaching their high-salary prime, including Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres now are owned by Ron Fowler, who commissioned a 37-year-old, Cornell-educated general manager — where have we heard this one? — to fix the franchise. Unlike the typical "Moneyball"-spawned geek pouring over his computer, a 21st-century creature I refer to as Al Gorithm, A.J. Preller decided to spend. And spend. And spend.

Say it again: The Padres have a payroll of $108 million, fueled by major names such as Kimbrel, starter James Shields and outfielders Myers, Matt Kemp and the brothers Upton, one of whom is a major run-producer (Justin) who might want to re-sign here instead of leaving in free agency. At this point, if Kate Upton could help, Preller would spend millions on her.

Thursday, the color orange was minimal behind the Giants' dugout. All of San Diego seemed to take off work for the Padres' home opener — including Ron Burgundy and his dog, Baxter, who were seen in a grassy knoll behind center field that was filled with fans. Above it all, in left field, was a mammoth new video board, largest in the National League. Local columnist Kevin Acee called it "a home opener like none before it."

So, how will the Giants react to it all? As it is, they have to deal with the new front-office Al Gorithms hired to corral the massive budget of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have a repulsive, MLB-record payroll of $270 million and have asked Andrew Friedman and a Billy Beane protege, Farhan Zaidi, to more sensibly handle the bulging books. Knowing how irresponsible the Dodgers have been since their purchase by Guggenheim Baseball, the Giants should be even prouder to have countered the megaspending with more jewelry.

So far this season, through the ravages of injuries and a week-long road trip, they are doing fine. The Champs are 3-1, as Burgundy and all San Diegans are aware.

"WE"RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT! NO, WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!" the music kept blasting in the ballpark. "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT, ANYMORE!"

Well, the Padres just took it.

Where it hurts.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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