Shawn Estes reflects on the season at Lampe Park
Shawn Estes was at Lampe Park in Gardnerville instructing youngsters on some of the basics of pitching Saturday afternoon – some 3,000 miles away from New York City, where the start of Game 1 of the World Series was only a few hours away – and the San Francisco Giants pitcher couldn’t help but think of what could have been.
“We felt we had a team that could have been there,” Estes said. “Don’t get me wrong, the Padres had a great season, it’s just that we have high expectations of ourselves.”
Instead, Estes and the Giants saw their season end on the brink of the big payoff they sought – a heartbreaking 5-3 playoff loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field that determined the National League’s wild card representative. So ended a season in which expectations fell short for the 25-year-old Gardnerville product, both from a team and individual point of view.
Individually, it was a far cry from his 1997 numbers when the left-hander went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 201 innings of work, went to the All-Star Game and helped the Giants win the NL West. This year, the numbers read 7-12 and 5.06 in 149 innings.
“With a few breaks, I could have had a lot better year, numbers-wise,” Estes said.
Then again, nobody goes 19-5 every season.
n One pitch at a time. “I didn’t, so no,” Estes said. “I can’t look at it that way. My approach has to be to take it one pitch at a time and to try and get myself physically and mentally ready to go out there every fifth day. That’s all I can control, really.”
The tone of the season was set from the start when Estes lost his first four starts. He only won for the first time on April 28 – a 2-1 verdict over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Shortly after the All-Star break, Estes saw his fortunes take a turn for the worse when he developed a strain in his left shoulder.
“It was unfortunate because mechanically and mentally, I thought things were just starting to come together for me,” Estes said. “Then the Dodger game, that’s when I started hurting.”
Estes was sidelined for 44 games before he returned Sept. 4, in time to try and help the Giants climb back into the hunt for the playoffs. The comeback was unspectacular. Estes was 0-4, including an outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he didn’t get out of the second inning.
“It was just a matter of pitching and getting your feet wet again,” Estes recalled. “Going on the D.L. is like going through the off-season. After being out for two months, you don’t have your rhythm. You have doubts. There are a lot of things going through your mind.”
Doubts regarding any injury can take away from a pitcher’s concentrate on simple things like throwing the ball for strikes, Estes pointed out.
But there was a silver lining at the end. He threw eight solid innings in a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers, allowing one run on Trenidad Hubbard’s first inning home run, only two hits and striking out 10.
n Over the hump. “The Dodger game was pretty good. I finally felt like I was getting over the hump,” Estes said.
The stretch run was memorable for the Giants, who won nine of their last 10 regular season games to make up a five-game deficit on the Cubs for the wild card berth.
“It was exciting on a team level and on an individual level,” Estes said.
Being able to pitch well down the stretch was also a major plus, according to Estes.
“Now I’m able to come into the off-season with less doubts,” he said. “There are not as many question marks.”
As for the World Series, Estes liked the Yankees as he spoke prior to Game 1, though he didn’t count the Padres out.
“They’ll have to play error-free and get the pitching. If that happens, then they’ll have a chance,” Estes said. “The thing is, the Yankees have a great team. Look at their pitching. Most teams have one ace; they have three aces. It’s impressive to see a team send a guy like that out to pitch every day.”
By the way, Estes turned out to be a bit prophetic in his view of San Diego’s chances.
“They’ve (Yankees) gotten this far and they still haven’t been hitting. That’s scary. If that team starts hitting, it’s all over,” Estes said before New York scored 18 runs in back-to-back victories at Yankee Stadium.
How do San Francisco’s prospects look for 1999?
“It’s still too early to tell. There are some free agent signings that are up in the air, and the team will probably go out and try to get a front line pitcher, but we have a pretty good core coming back,” Estes said.
“This just wasn’t my year,” he shrugged. “Hopefully, next year will be my year, and the Giants’ year.”
n Fond memories. Saturday brought back some fond memories for Estes, when asked about appearing at the MeFiYi Foundation Celebrity Baseball-Softball Camp, which attracted an estimated 90 youngsters 7 to 18 years of age for two days of instruction.
“Oh yeah, it’s exciting just because I enjoy working with the kids and Jo Jo (Townsell) has done such a wonderful job with MeFiYi,” Estes said. “Hopefully I can say something that will sink in. I mainly try to make them think I’m just a regular guy. I was out here playing not all that long ago.
“You know, this is a great game. You have a ball, a glove, a bat, you can pretty much do anything you want.”
He even recalled the many spring days when he threw in Northern Nevada, many at locations where the wind was dominant.
“We have one of those, it’s called Wrigley Field. When the wind is blowing out, you haven’t got a chance,” Estes said with a smile.
Coors Field in Denver is another location Estes described as pitcher unfriendly.
“That’s arena baseball,” he said, reflecting back on a disappointing final day of the regular season. “We had a seven-run lead and ended up losing 8-7.”
Even in a 162-game season, that’s one game you can’t forget.
“We lost that one and didn’t win the next day, so you’d have to say that cost us (the playoffs),” Estes said.
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