Injuries, inexperience cost Giants late

Injuries, youth factor into Giants' 2006 struggles

SAN FRANCISCO -- Welcome to the season-ending episode of "Giants Anatomy," a stirring, what-might-have-been saga that ended sadly -- cue the mournful, background violin music -- on a hospital bed, soon after the club's great heart weakened.

No National League West division title, no Wild Card berth for the playoffs.

Scene 1: Manager Felipe Alou, graying and a bit stooped from the long, fruitless season, long-ago knee surgery and five decades in baseball, peers at his team lying still on the bed, oxygen tubes still attached, seeing what could be his final Major League team.

Doctor: Hmm, looks like cause of demise was pitching arm calcification. Frighteningly quick, too. What happened? You guys were still in the running with a couple weeks left, but the starters went south, according to the readouts; going 1-8 in St. Louis, Colorado and Milwaukee was the main cause of your demise.

Alou: When we left home for that trip, we were close to the division lead and the Wild Card, but while our home record improved very much [43-38], the road record [33-47] went the other way.

We scored our share of runs on that trip, but how many times did the starters go past the fifth inning? I've never seen so many, four-, five-run first innings in my life. Maybe the starters were tired.

Doctor: Let's see. Here's the sequence: Brad Hennessey two innings, Matt Morris six, Noah Lowry 1 1/3, Matt Cain 5 1/3, Jason Schmidt 4 2/3, Morris 4 1/3, Jonathan Sanchez two and Lowry five.

Alou: Too many innings early from the starters? The Brewers had three guys over 200 innings, and unless we had a situation here with an injury we don't know about, for the most part we were healthy.

When we were winning games, the starters were going into the eighth and ninth, [but at the end] they were not doing that. And having four kids starting, that was not your normal pennant race rotation. Youth and being tired, it was a mix of that.

Doctor: There were some serious injuries that played a big part in finishing only third in the NL West. This looked like Team Triage. Armando Benitez out with knee bursitis early, then out for the season the final two months with arthritic knees.

Setup man Tim Worrell -- lost after a cervical strain and shoulder surgery. And losing catcher Mike Matheny to a concussion for the second half was another factor. Double-A catcher Eliezer Alfonzo certainly kept the team strong when Matheny went down.

The EKG also shows slides when Moises Alou was on the disabled list twice. Not good.

Alou: Losing Worrell and Benitez created a very unstable bullpen situation, but thank goodness Mike Stanton came on board. That kept the team in the race. He proved he can save a game with a one-run lead.

And what Alfonzo did was amazing. At the end, he wasn't making as many mistakes, and his arm got stronger. He's a little hot dog, but he got better and better every day.

Doctor: How about Barry Bonds? His latest medical panel showed weak knees at the onset, but they got stronger as the year went on. His 26 homers over more than 120 games was projected before the year. If he comes back, could Bonds have an even better year?

Alou: He had 11 homers after his [42nd] birthday [July 24]. Yeah, if he's healthy like he is now and they fix that [left] elbow [with routine cleanup to remove bone chips], he'll probably be a lot better.

It took a while for him to get healthy because of the inactivity of losing a full season [in 2005] except for a few weeks. It took him a while to get back -- even being the great hitter that he is.

Scene two, in office, with the men having lunch, Alou sipping a little vintage wine.

Doctor: We just got the lab reports back on second baseman Ray Durham. We were shocked. He's got a long history of injuries, but his career-high 26 homers and nearly .300 average ... wow. He was the backbone of the offense. How did that happen?

Alou: Moving him to the fifth spot was key. I always thought that if Ray was healthy, he could lead the team. He has 93 RBIs and has 100 at-bats fewer than [third baseman] Pedro Feliz [98 RBIs]. He played a lot of games and maintained his good stroke.

He was better when Shea Hillenbrand batted third in front of Barry, Ray hitting fifth and Moises sixth. We always thought with Hillenbrand and those guys back-to-back-to-back, we could score runs. But we didn't always have that combination. That happened late, and then the pitching was shaky. We weren't able to put it all together -- ever.

Doctor: General manager Brian Sabean told me the current use of older players is over. It's the youth movement now. Younger, cheaper, healthier players. Matt Cain might be the rotation ace next year. It could be exciting. Will you be around to share it?

Alou: I don't know. I'll be a free agent as soon as the season ends. I've seen the end of 51 seasons and I'm not worried about it. My one goal is to do what my father did -- be in his mid-80s still fishing. I've always said I won't ask for a job. Whatever happens happens.

Fadeout until 2007

Rich Draper is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.