By: Joe Roderick, Times Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – Should the Giants win the National League West or wild card, they might have to think long and hard about awarding Los Angeles sports psychologist Alan Jaeger a partial playoff share.
Jaeger could be a key ingredient in helping the Giants overtake his hometown club by strengthening Brett Tomko’s psyche. Since Tomko began speaking to Jaeger, he’s 5-0 with a 1.21 ERA, including his most recent success, a 9-2 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
Tomko allowed two runs and four hits over 8 innings, very impressive work considering he allowed home runs on back-to-back pitches to Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman in the first inning. Tomko helped the Giants maintain their half-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card race, while dropping the Astros two games behind. Further, the Giants moved to within 1 games of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the closest they’ve been since July 16.
Tomko could hurt the Dodgers’ chances even more since he faces them twice in the team’s remaining six games – Sunday at home and next Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Tomko was coming off his worst game in the second half, allowing six runs in five innings against the New York Mets on Aug. 21, when he decided to seek help from Jaeger. In his next start, Tomko threw his first career shutout in Florida.
“I think it’s something that’s been missing,” Tomko said. “There’s a stigma (for Tomko) – it’s concentration, being streaky, being inconsistent. It’s something I’ve wanted to do and I took the initiative. There’s not a whole lot of baseball work involved. It’s about breathing and visualization.” Tomko said he talks to Jaeger once or twice between starts.
“It’s more calming than anything,” he said. “It helps me relax before a game. It’s a piece of the puzzle.”
The technique may have come in handy in the first inning, when Tomko admitted his rhythm was too quick. He allowed two hits from there, and was deprived of his second straight complete game when manager Felipe Alou pulled him after he had walked Berkman with two out in the ninth, bringing in Jim Brower.
“It’s my fault,” Tomko said. “I tried to trick Berkman instead of go at him. If he hits it into the Cove, he hits it into the Cove. I understand (Alou’s move). I threw 117 pitches.”
The Giants did not lack for offense. They scored three in the first inning, with Pedro Feliz getting the first of his two doubles and one of four RBI. He has 75 RBI. “Pedro is a guy who has really improved,” Alou said. Ray Durham, Deivi Cruz and Dustan Mohr had three hits each.
With the blowout intact, Astros reliever Russ Springer knocked down Cruz with a pitch in the eighth, then hit Barry Bonds on the lower right leg two batters later. Alou, however, did not believe foul play was at work. “We don’t want any problems with that,” Alou said. “We really don’t want it. We really don’t want to start anything. We’ve got to keep alert. You never know. We do things in a professional manner. You can’t accuse anybody of anything.”
The Giants have 11 games left, two more with the Astros, three with the San Diego Padres and six with the Dodgers. The Cubs have a distinct advantage with a finishing schedule of Pittsburgh, New York Mets, Cincinnati and Atlanta. “This is a time to really zero in, and concentrate on your own problems or needs to win the ballgame,” Alou said. “There is not a lot of room for mistakes. This is an 11-game playoff.”
The Giants are thinking more than just the wild card. “We’d like to win the division,” Mohr said. “You don’t go to spring training on Day 1 saying you want to win the wild card. If that’s what it takes to make the playoffs, that’s what it takes. We need to take care of business.”