Livan's been a Giant at the plate

We all know it's nothing new this year for a San Francisco Giant to make headlines with his bat.

But the Giant we're all worked up about this week does not wear No. 25, dangle two-inch earrings from his ear lobe or claim any relation whatsoever to Willie Mays.

Yes, after the show Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez has put on lately -- in the batter's box, that is -- the only question we can ask is: Barry who?

Heading into his start Friday night against the Braves, Hernandez was working on the greatest offensive reign of terror by a pitcher in at least the past quarter-century. He was 8 for his last 8. He was 12 for his last 13.

So that means he's now had as many 8-for-8 streaks in his career as Tony Gwynn. Sheez. How absurd is that?

But that's not all. Hernandez also was working on a streak of four consecutive multihit games -- something Jason Giambi hasn't done this year.

And he'd gotten at least three hits in three of his last four games -- something Larry Walker hasn't done this year.

And he was coming off a 4-for-4 game last Saturday at Wrigley Field that included hits off four different pitchers. So that gives the amazing Livan more four-hit games this year than Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Giles or Carlos Delgado, among about a million others.

"Basically," Giants hitting coach Gene Clines told Week in Review, "we're asking: `Who is this guy?'"

Well, it's not as if Hernandez had never gotten a hit before this year. He's a .251 career hitter, which is the highest lifetime average of any active National League pitcher. In fact, it's a higher lifetime average than three of his four catchers the last two years (.186 hitter Edwards Guzman, .224 hitter Bobby Estalella and .230 hitter Doug Mirabelli).

But 8-for-8? And 12-for-13? That's ridiculous.

"Yeah, it is ridiculous. That's what we all want to say," Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter told Week in Review. "Except he's 12-for-13. So it's hard to say anything."

And it's especially tough for Rueter to say anything -- because he's mixed up in a regrettable little bet with Hernandez over who's going to get the most hits this season.

"I think it's safe to say," Rueter said, sadly, "that it's not much of a bet right now."

No kidding. Hernandez versus Bonds might be a better bet the way Livan is going.

But it actually isn't even Rueter's bet -- fortunately. During batting practice one day, reliever Felix Rodriguez was trying to give Hernandez a hard time and decided to bet that Rueter (a respectable .156 lifetime hitter) could get more hits than his pal, Livan.

Except that they decided Rueter deserved some kind of handicap. So the bet wound up being that Hernandez would get twice as many hits as Rueter would.

Well, it seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.

"We actually had the same number of hits a little while ago," Rueter said. "But that 12-for-13 barrage kind of put me in the hole."

Amazingly, though, that hole was not the size of the Grand Canyon. Going into the weekend, Rueter was 9-for-45 at the plate this year, and Hernandez was 20-for-60. So it's closer than anyone would have believed. But to keep it close, Rueter has had to go 5 for his last 7 himself.

"Yeah, but I just make contact," Rueter said. "I get, like, infield hits. I even bunted once. He gets good hits. He hit a home run Saturday, so I can't even say they're a fluke."

And Hernandez wouldn't let him, anyway. After every hit, if you look closely, you'll see Hernandez peering into the dugout, trying to find Rueter.

"He does. He looks in there," Rueter said. "He wants to make sure I know he got a hit. Then he'll come in and tell me how many more hits I need. Saturday, he said, `I got 4.' I said, `That's OK. You got four. I only need to get two.'"

But at the rate Hernandez is going, it's two every game. And for a fellow pitcher, that's more pressure than trying to pitch a shutout every time out.

"I'm trying," Rueter moaned. "That's why I pulled my hamstring Sunday -- trying to leg one out."

But if he thinks this is getting embarrassing for the other pitchers, how about the Giants' hitters?

After Bonds hit his 50th home run Saturday earlier than any player in history, guess which Giant got the commemorative lineup card from manager Dusty Baker? Hernandez. Of course.

So what, you may be wondering, did Bonds get?

"A `Way to go,'" Baker said. "And a `Keep it going.'"

"After Dusty took Livan out of the game," Clines said, "Eric Davis had to pinch-hit for him, after he got four hits. Eric said, `Hey, what do you want me to do? How am I supposed to follow that act?'"

Hmmm. Good question. For the entire sport.

Clines used to think his biggest claim to fame as a player was the year the Pirates called him up for the first time, in 1970, and he hit .405 in September. He went 15 for 37 for the month. Now one of his pitchers has just gotten 12 hits in four games.

"I thought I was hot," Clines chuckled. "That's a bunt compared to what he's doing."

If there's one Giant who could claim not to be impressed by all this, it's Bonds. But after that 4-for-4 game, even he accused Hernandez of "embarrassing all of us" -- and announced: "Livan's our hitting coach now."

That appointment came as news to Clines. But that doesn't mean he was altogether opposed to the concept.

"He can have this job," Clines said. "But the more I think about it, Barry may have a point. If he keeps getting hits like this, I may have to talk to him. First thing I'll ask is: `What's the secret?'"

And if he could just take that secret and bottle it?

"I wouldn't be here right now," Clines said. "I'll tell you that. I'd be in the Bahamas -- taking it easy."

Miracle of the Week
It is almost two weeks now since the Comeback of the Century, and Omar Vizquel still has a hard time believing he saw what he saw and lived what he lived.

It's a good thing we have the videotape to prove that the Cleveland Indians really did come from 12 runs behind Aug. 5 to beat those 50-games-over-.500 Seattle Mariners, 15-14. If not for that videotape, nobody alive would believe it.

"If you had to sit down and tell that to somebody," Vizquel told Week in Review, "they'd think it was one of those fantasy books you read to people. It was 14-2 and we came back to win? Righhhtttt.

"I sit there and try to think how everything started," the always dazzling Indians shortstop went on, "and I don't remember. It just kept building and building and building."

And by the time it was finished building, it was the Empire State Building of baseball comebacks.

It is almost impossible for any team to blow a 12-run lead with seven outs to go. Can't happen. But what were the odds that a team that was 50 games over .500 would blow a 12-run lead with seven outs to go?

And what were the odds that a bullpen that had given up eight runs in the previous month would give up more than that in 2 1/3 innings? Heck, you'd get better odds on Wiki Gonzalez leading the league in stolen bases.

We asked Vizquel if he would have gone to Vegas and bet on his own team's chances at that point. He laughed for about 10 minutes.

"No way," he said. "Nobody is going to bet that game. Nobody thought we could win. So many of my friends told me they fell asleep in the fifth, sixth inning. Then they woke up the next day and said, `WHAT?'"

For that matter, the Indians themselves woke up the next day and said, "WHAT?" When you trail, 12-0, in the third inning, you don't win. When you trail, 14-2, with two outs in the seventh, you can't win. Can you?

They had almost gotten to a point, in fact, where they weren't even trying to win.

Both teams had reached a stage where they were just playing this thing out for formality's sake. The rules said they had to play all nine innings. So they kept playing. But that's all they were doing. And who could blame them?

It had been 76 years since any team blew a 12-run lead and lost. It had happened twice since 1900. That's twice in more than 200,000 games -- no times in the last 170,000 games. So as we were saying, who could blame them?

"Seattle took all their regular players out," Vizquel said. "We had a pitcher in his first game in the big leagues (Mike Bacsik, who gave up seven runs and threw 96 pitches in relief). And we just let him stay out there and throw, just to watch him, to see what he's got. I mean, they had 14 runs. We didn't bring anyone else in to pitch until after the eighth inning."

But there was a good reason they didn't bring anyone else in to pitch -- because this wasn't a real game anymore. It was a spring-training game.

Lou Piniella took out Ichiro, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud. Charlie Manuel took out Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and Ellis Burks.

So by those last three innings, this was a Charles Gipson versus Jolbert Cabrera kind of evening.

Until it suddenly turned into one of the 10 most amazing games ever played.

Heading into the seventh inning, the Indians hadn't scored three runs in an inning in over a week (64 innings, eight games). They hadn't scored four runs in an inning in more than two weeks (125 innings, 15 games). They hadn't scored five runs in an inning in almost three weeks (154 innings, 18 games).

So what were the odds that they were going to score three, four and five in back-to-back-to-back innings, in the seventh, eighth and ninth, to tie this thing?

"All the stats about this game are just unbelievable," Vizquel said. "You put that together with the stats on their bullpen and all the other stats, and there was no way we were going to come back."

No way, huh? Way.

First, the Indians nicked Seattle starter Aaron Sele for three runs in the seventh. Big deal. They were still nine runs behind -- against a bullpen that couldn't give up nine runs if all the right-handers threw lef-thanded and the left-handers threw right-handed. Uh, could it?

"'The seventh inning, and you're down 12 against their bullpen?" Indians GM John Hart told the Lorain Morning Journal's Jim Ingraham. "'If you were going to bet the farm, that was a pretty good farm bet."

"But you know what? I don't think they were really into the game," Vizquel said. "You know, when you're playing a game like that, you start talking about: `What are you going to do after the game?' Or: `Did you ever have fun in high school with some girls?' You start talking about anything but baseball, man. You let down your guard a little bit."

But even when John Halama and Norm Charlton gave up four more runs in the eighth, it was still 14-9. And the Mariners hadn't blown a five-run lead in any loss all season.

Then Charlton got the first two outs in the ninth. Fans started gathering their stuff. The clubhouse guys started laying out the food spread. And then ...

Marty Cordova doubled. Wil Cordero walked. Jeff Nelson awoke to serve up a two-run single to Einar Diaz.

Piniella waved for his closer, Kasuhiro Sasaki. But Kenny Lofton poked a single that loaded the bases for Vizquel, whose 5-year-old son was making his debut as bat boy in this game.

Vizquel ran the count full. Twice, down to his last strike, he fouled off 3-2 pitches. Then he yanked a game-tying three-run triple into the right-field corner. And this was officially a game for the ages.

"I have other moments in my career I'll remember," Vizquel said. "I made a defensive play in the sixth game of the World Series that helped push us to a seventh game. I'll never forget that. And it's hard to forget just playing in the seventh game of a World Series. That's what everybody wants to be doing someday ...

"But that triple, that was just magical. I don't think I ever took an at-bat so serious in my life. So many people in the stands were into it. I mean, a lot of people left. But the 25,000 people left in the park -- those people were into it so bad, it was unbelievable.

"After Kenny Lofton's hit, my kid picked up his bat and gave me five right before my at-bat. And that was a great feeling. Then I had a really good at-bat, fouling off all those pitches. And then I hit that triple. I'll never forget any of it."

Nor will Manuel, who made his debut as a psychic on this night.

"He called my shot," Vizquel said. "It was unbelievable. We were still down five. And he said, `Hey Omar, you're gonna hit a ball in the corner, and we're gonna tie the game.' I just said, `Righhhhtttt.' It was the first time he ever told me anything like that. And then I did it. I hope he can tell me something like that again. But he don't say anything now."

Well, what the heck. He said enough. Eventually, the Indians finished this deal, winning it, 15-14, on a Jolbert Cabrera single at 12:19 a.m. It was Cabrera's fifth at-bat -- in a game he didn't even enter until the sixth inning. Whew.

It's now almost two weeks later. But this game won't die.

"Today, I went to lunch at a restaurant downtown," Vizquel said. "And an old couple started talking to me about that game. They said they've watched a lot of baseball, and they've never seen a game like that. Everywhere I go, everybody has something to say about that game."

And what does that tell us about the great sport of baseball -- that one ballgame on a Sunday night in August can continue to reverberate for nearly two weeks?

"It tells me I have to buy a lot more Lotto tickets," said Omar Vizquel, "because you never know. They say one out of every 30 million people win the big jackpot. I think that's better odds than the odds of us winning that game."

Western White House of the Week
We had more evidence this week to support our theory that President George W. Bush would much rather hang around the nearest batting cage than the nearest NATO summit.

Guess who showed up Tuesday night at a Braves-Rockies game in Denver that had not previously been believed to be a threat to national security? None other than the Prez, of course. You were expecting maybe Neifi Perez?

We're still a little hazy about the reason for the president's visit. But that's not important now. What's important is that this provided an important opportunity for Mr. Bush to get his mug on the Diamondvision wearing a Rockies jacket.

That was the good news. The bad news was, there was almost nobody in the park to see that, because just about everyone with a ticket was still in line outside, trying to get through the metal detectors.

"We had a crowd of like 10,000 for four innings," Rockies coach/comedian Rich Donnelly told Week in Review. "Then the other 30,000 people came in. They had to postpone the seventh-inning stretch until the ninth inning because none of the fans were stiff yet."

And no truth, by the way, to the rumor that instead of playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during that stretch, they substituted "Hail to the Chief."

But there was truth to the rumor that when the president comes to the yard, the local ball club can't just leave a couple of tickets at Will Call and go about its business. The president, you see, does not travel alone.

He's a people-person kind of guy. So he tends to bring along lots of friends -- many of whom look as if they all just got finished shopping at the same men's store and ought to wear matching signs that read: "Of course I'm not a Secret Service agent."

"Evidently, the whole population of Guatemala was there, because there were snipers and bodyguards and agents everywhere," Donnelly reported. "They had so much security, I think Dinger (a.k.a. lovable Rockies mascot) was actually one of the Secret Service men that night. He wasn't doing his normal antics. He was just kind of looking around all night. Plus, he had one of those earphones. That was the giveaway."

So in many ways, thanks to the Prez, this was a very uptight evening. Uptight fans. Uptight mascots. Uptight security force. Uptight players. But you won't hear those Rockies complain. No, sir. They're now undefeated in team history (1-0) when the chief of state shows up.

To achieve that undefeated status, they had to rally with two outs in the ninth to tie the Braves, then rally again to win it in the 10th. But that uprising came as no surprise to the politically astute Rich Donnelly.

"I figured we had a chance when the president came," Donnelly said, "because I know he likes comebacks in the southern part of the country."

Horseplay of the Week
It's about this time every year that the baseball season turns into a real horse race.

But not quite the way it did in Rochester, N.Y., last week.

It was there, down in the minor-league wilds of the International League, that the Rochester Red Wings staged the eagerly awaited sequel to one of last season's most memorable pregame promotions.

For the second straight year, they somehow convinced one of their players -- in this case, outfielder Darnell McDonald -- to race a horse.

Ah, but not just any horse. We're talking about the Anthony Young of horses. The Cincinnati Bengals of horses. The Brutus Thornapple of Horses.

Yes, it's the one, the only Zippy Chippy. Lifetime record (against four-legged opponents): 0-89.

Those of you following the legendarily futile career of Zippy know that he also came into this race with an 0-1 career record against humans, too. Last August, he took on Rochester outfielder Jose Herrera in a pregame 40-yard dash -- and lost.

But afterward, Zippy's jockey at the time, Pedro Castillo, charged that this race wasn't fair -- because 1) it was too short and 2) Zippy had to carry a jockey on his back, whereas Herrera didn't.

Castillo's exact words were: "If the horse weighs 1,200 pounds and the baseball player weighs 120, then if the horse has to carry 120, the baseball player should carry 1,200. That would be more fair. Don't you think?"

Well, uh, no. But the Red Wings did feel sorry enough for Zippy to lengthen this year's race to 50 yards. And as it turned out, that set the stage for a very historic evening.

Because, for the first time in any kind of race anywhere -- against horses, humans, tomato plants, three-story houses -- Zippy Chippy finally won.

Unlike last year, when he didn't show much interest in even starting the race, he acted like an actual race horse in this one, bursting out of the blocks and outgalloping poor Darnell McDonald by three horse lengths, or about 20 human lengths.

"I took off," McDonald told Week in Review, "and I was ahead for about 10 yards. Then I heard the footsteps of the horse right behind me, and I knew I had no chance.

"I thought about pulling up and saying I had a pulled hamstring," McDonald said. "But the horse just beat me. It wasn't even close, man."

And had this been any other horse, no one would even have expected it to be close. But this was Zippy Chippy, a horse that could make news if it won a race against a snow plow. So naturally, Darnell McDonald has spent the days since wondering how a man of his customary horse sense ever got himself into this mess.

"They came to me and said, `We did this promotion last year,' and asked if I wanted to do it," McDonald said. "I guess I was the only guy not wise enough to say no. But they told me the horse lost last year by, like, 20 yards. They said he had no chance of beating me because when the race starts, he just stands there.

"So it was cool. I knew I'd win and everything would be all right, and I wouldn't be the first to lose to this horse, and everything would turn out great."

Except everything, in the end, didn't turn out so great.

"I should have known something was up," McDonald grumbled, "when the horse couldn't sit still. I figure that horse had some strong stimulants or something. He wouldn't even get on the starting line.

"You could tell he was pepped up, because even after he won, he still wouldn't sit still. They were trying to get the jockey off him, and he was running all over the place, eating apples and stuff. He was all excited."

That, of course, is not the Zippy Chippy that had been described to him, the Zippy Chippy we know, the Zippy Chippy that had been banned from numerous race tracks for failing to even leave the starting gates.

But his jockey this year, Jorge Hiraldo, declined our gracious offer to speak for Zippy. So feel free to speculate wildly on any and all possible conspiracies from the Zippy camp.

We're sure that to Zippy himself, beating an outfielder was his little Kentucky Derby. But Darnell McDonald, much as he tried to be a gracious loser, did what any of us would do if we'd just lost to a horse that was 0-89.

He demanded a rematch.

"But only if next year, we go back to 40 yards," McDonald said. "I don't think there's a human alive who could beat a horse over 50 yards."

Yes, that's his horse tale, and he's sticking to it -- with the help of his friends, his family and his teammates. Or at least some of them.

"Afterward, everyone was telling me that if it was 40 yards, I'd have won," McDonald said. "But I still go down as the first to lose to Zippy Chippy. Man, my phone's been ringing for a week straight, with people saying, `You lost to a horse that was 0-89.' Hey, I tried to tell people, `He's a thoroughbred.' But they just say, `He's 0-89.'"

Which is a true fact. But a man can gain a greater perspective from all of life's experiences. We know there's some kind of horse-manure saying like that. So for Darnell McDonald, at least he gained a new appreciation for dealing with horsehide, as opposed to horses.

"Normally, I'd definitely say the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a breaking ball," McDonald said. "But that day, I'd say the hardest thing to do was race a horse."

Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com. Week in Review appears each Friday.