Giants ride offense to opening win
Rowand gets big homer; young players contribute
SAN FRANCISCO -- At around 11:30 a.m. PT Tuesday, when nobody knew exactly when or whether the Giants and Milwaukee Brewers would begin their season, Aaron Rowand strode into San Francisco's clubhouse carrying a bat. He had filled his spare time by taking extra cuts off a pitching machine.Pretty soon, the rest of the Giants followed Rowand's example by making the most of their opportunities to hit. Thrusting their punchless 2008 season farther into the past, the Giants recorded their highest Opening Day scoring total in 10 years with a 10-6 victory at AT&T Park, where morning showers briefly cast the game's status into doubt. Once the rain ceased and action began, the Giants established themselves almost immediately with Travis Ishikawa's bases-loaded, first-inning triple. Milwaukee forged ahead, 5-4, before Rowand put the Giants ahead to stay with a two-run, fourth-inning homer. Bengie Molina and Randy Winn also homered to lead off the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, to help the Giants end a three-game Opening Day losing streak. NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum endured unusual struggles and surrendered three runs and four hits while walking three in three innings, which matched the briefest start of his career. But the offense that the Giants piled up to offset Lincecum's lapse might have been unthinkable a year ago. For example: While ranking next-to-last in the National League in scoring during 2008, San Francisco went 53 games before achieving a double-figure run total in a single game. The Giants, who finished last in the Major Leagues with 94 home runs, didn't hit three homers in a game until their 49th contest. San Francisco's first basemen, who were challenged to produce runs consistently, didn't drive in three runs until the season was 10 games old. Ishikawa equaled that with his first-inning swing off Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan (0-1). Ishikawa technically qualifies for rookie status. But in Rowand's practical view, younger regulars such as Ishikawa, Fred Lewis (two runs scored), Pablo Sandoval (2-for-4) and Emmanuel Burriss (one run, one RBI) might as well be veterans. That's due largely to the experience they received toward the end of last season. "More so than anything else, I think you see that these younger guys aren't rookies any more," Rowand said. "They took a lot of at-bats last year. They had a lot of at-bats in spring. They're all confident in their ability. They're not feeling the water to see if it's hot or cold anymore. They know that they can play on this level and they have the confidence to come out and show it." Indeed, Ishikawa anxiously waited out the rain, fearing that the opener would be rescheduled as part of a Wednesday doubleheader.
"I was a little worried that they were going to cancel the game and I'd have to be nervous for two straight days," he said.Jitters also drove Rowand into the batting cage before the game.
"I was just trying to stay loose, take some extra swings and calm my nerves," Rowand said. "No matter how many years you play this game, Opening Day is Opening Day and you still get butterflies."Rowand aroused concern by hitting .189 in Spring Training. He vanquished doubts by pulling Suppan's 1-0 slider halfway up the left-field seats in the fourth before adding an RBI double in the seventh. "It's funny how things go when the lights get turned on," Rowand said, pointing out that he used his Cactus League at-bats to hone his stroke and sharpen his eye, not collect base hits. Overall, the Giants sustained the balanced offense manager Bruce Bochy seeks. Each starting position player except Burriss collected at least one hit, and all eight scored at least one run. Even Lincecum contributed, pulling his bat back on a second-inning bunt attempt and chopping a single to left field that moved Burriss into position to score on Winn's sacrifice fly. This helped the Giants enjoy their most prolific Opening Day since 1999 at Cincinnati, where they scored 11 runs. "It saved us today," Bochy said of San Francisco's offense. So did the bullpen. Right-hander Joe Martinez, the club's only other rookie besides Ishikawa, relieved Lincecum and yielded a pair of fourth-inning runs. But Martinez recovered by throwing a scoreless fifth to earn the decision in his Major League debut. "It was fun," Martinez said. "I think everybody's going to get a little nervous, but once I started throwing I felt OK. The fact that I got a chance to get a win is kind of funny. Everyone pitched well today." Martinez was referring to fellow relievers Brandon Medders, Jeremy Affeldt, Bob Howry, Alex Hinshaw and Brian Wilson, who combined to limit Milwaukee to one run and three hits in four innings. Every reliever except Merkin Valdez was forced to work, but nobody seemed to mind. "I think that's big for us as a group to have such a 'team win' in the first game of the season," Rowand said. "That's something you can build off of."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.