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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Matt Cain to Start All-Star Game; May He Have Better Luck than Giants Predecessors

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 1:53 PM

click to enlarge Well, it's not quite that bad. But Atlee Hammaker is involved.
  • Well, it's not quite that bad. But Atlee Hammaker is involved.

Some controversy has erupted over the selection of Giants ace Matt Cain to start tonight's All-Star Game over New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. This is a transcendentally stupid matter to get worked up over. If this game was meaningful and important, it wouldn't be held in Kansas City.

Major League Baseball has done its utmost to demonstrate to us that only suckers get worked up about the All-Star Game. Now that, ludicrously, this game decides which team will receive home-field advantage for the World Series, it seems even sillier to debate about who should start. A more relevant debate would be who plays at all. And who finishes.

But we've fallen into our own trap. Hopefully no one is physically or mentally scarred tonight. Because, for San Francisco Giants pitchers, that tends to happen all too often.

You could go back to 1961, when a blast of Candlestick Park wind induced Stu Miller to commit the -- by default -- most memorable balk in All-Star history. But, for brevity's sake, let's pick up this story in 1983. Some of you already know where this is going.

1983: For so many Giants fans, Atlee Hammaker was a man who seemingly had an expletive for a middle name. That all started midway through '83. Heading into the All-Star Game, Hammaker was 9-3 with an Earned-Run Average below two. Then he gave up the first grand slam in All-Star history, capping a nightmarish outing in which he surrendered seven runs on six hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Hammaker finished at 10-9 that year.

He was never an All-Star again (his career All-Star ERA is 94.50). He never turned in a full, winning season again. Four years later, he'd hang that breaking ball to Jose Oquendo in game seven. Some things you don't forget.

1989: Sadly, the Giants' great season will always be remembered for the Earthquake Series -- and the team's Sisyphean attempt against the very best Oakland squad of the 1980s. Similarly, Rick Reuschel's stellar year has been eclipsed by memories of Bo Jackson's mammoth first-inning All-Star home run -- and that guy in the center field bleachers falling face-first while attempting to reel it in.

1990: Jeff Brantley made it two Giants losing pitchers in a row, giving up two runs on two hits in just a third of an inning.

1993: John Burkett gave up three earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning as the American League cracked the game open. Rod Beck wasn't charged with any earned runs but, if memory serves, he was tagged for a searing double in which the ball actually wedged in the outfield wall.

click to enlarge Rod Beck, you are missed
  • Rod Beck, you are missed
1997: When flighty left-hander Shawn Estes stepped into a pressure situation in '97, many a Giants fan had Hammaker flashbacks. Well, guess what? Estes quickly served up a two-run homer that provided the margin of victory for the AL. Yes his career tailed off -- but he pitched, often well, for many years after that.  Still, Estes never again pitched nearly so beautifully as he did in the summer of '97.

2002: The deeply embarrassing 7-7 tie that sets this All-Star Game apart would never have occurred if Giants closer Robb Nen had been able to close out the contest in regulation. The Giants would go on to blow one of the most agonizing World Series of all time this year, and Nen would, nearly literally, throw his arm off in the process. So this All-Star business gets lost in the shuffle.

2008: Sadly, Tim Lincecum never even made it into the game -- which was a feat in a 15-inning contest. The young Giants fireballer was felled with "flu-like symptoms," whatever that entails. The National League lost, per the usual.

Since that time, Lincecum gave up two runs while starting the '09 contest, and Brian Wilson has pitched well on multiple occasions, saving last year's game. But baseball is a game where failure is the norm -- and, in the case of All-Star Giants pitchers, is more memorable than success. Good luck to Matt Cain. He could use a little.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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