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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

MLB: Giants aim to continue home advantage

By Andrew Baggarly
San Jose Mercury News

While the Giants snapped a streak of four consecutive losing seasons last year, they accomplished something else that was no less important.

They recaptured a home-field advantage.

The Giants were 52-29 at AT&T Park last season, the best home record among National League clubs. They will seek to preserve that advantage beginning with Friday's home opener against the Atlanta Braves.

"It's nothing we'll take for granted, I'll tell you that much," Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "I knew we played well at home, but most of the guys in here couldn't have told you we had the best record. Right there, that tells me we won't make any assumptions this time around."

They cannot afford a letup in their cream-colored uniforms, especially because their prime NL West foes have a similar advantage in home whites. The Colorado Rockies (51-30) and Los Angeles Dodgers (50-31) were bunched behind with the next-best home records in the NL.

Jonathan Sanchez, whose no-hitter at AT&T Park was the first by a Giant in 33 years, must overcome the jitters attached to the home-opening assignment. He will have to subdue rookie sensation Jason Heyward while matching up against Tim Hudson, who is no slouch as a No. 4 starter, either.

"It's an honor," Sanchez said. "I'm ready."

The Giants' waterfront ballpark still looks brand new, but Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the first regular-season game at Third and King streets. Yes, a decade has passed since Dodgers infielder Kevin Elster's three-homer performance spoiled the festivities.

The one-game assumption was that Pacific Bell Park, as it was called at the time, would be a hitter's park. On warm nights and sunny afternoons, the ball carries as well as anywhere.

But those splash home runs haven't come in bunches. There have been 69 of them in all, 50 by Giants and Barry Bonds owns 35 of them.

When the Giants staged the Home Run Derby at the 2007 All-Star Game, none of the left-handed sluggers including Prince Fielder and defending champion Ryan Howard reached McCovey Cove on a fair fly.

It makes sense that the Giants were 258-148 a .635 winning percentage in the first five seasons at their waterfront home. They had the one player in baseball whose left-handed power wasn't neutralized by the 25-foot arcade in right field and the stiff breezes through the archways.

It also makes sense that the Giants' advantage began to wane along with Bonds' decline. They were 156-168 at home from 2005-08.

Yet they aren't always happy at home. Former hitting coach Carney Lansford usually didn't stay quiet when one of his hitters squared up on a ball that landed harmlessly in a fielder's glove. It's one of the main reasons he wasn't retained.

Already, new Giants Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa are joking about the warning-track outs they're bound to make this season.

They might be interested to discover that AT&T Park actually has leaned slightly toward being a hitter-friendly park since 2003, according to data compiled by the Total Baseball sports reference.

But reputations are hard to break especially among free agents. Other than their annual debt service payments, the Giants' biggest price of playing in their jewel box by the bay is that free-agent hitters don't want to sign there.

Not everyone struggles at AT&T Park, though. Pablo Sandoval hit .361 at home and .301 on the road last year. Juan Uribe was a better hitter at home (.361) than on the road (.241), and even cracked nine of his 16 home runs there. Travis Ishikawa had the craziest split, batting .349 at home and .162 in road grays.

Is there an explanation?

"Yeah, home cooking," Bochy said. "You should play better at home. You're more acclimated to the conditions. You know the background. The fans are behind you. It's your park. That's what you're used to.

"And it's a beautiful ballpark. It's my favorite park."