In the bottom of the fifth, Freddie Freeman lunged at a Madison Bumgarner slider off the outside corner. It was the seventh pitch in an at-bat that ended with him pabloing a high slider to the opposite-field for an out -- certainly the exact opposite of what he want to do when he walked to the plate.
In that at-bat, Bumgarner made Freeman look uncomfortable. Freeman's a good hitter. He's still learning, but he's a good hitter. But Bumgarner had him thinking, "Dammit, what now?" They'll have more match-ups over the next 10 years, and Freeman will have at-bats where he has the count-advantage, and he'll make it work. But for tonight, Bumgarner kept calling paper when Freeman was throwing out rock. And Freeman looked uncomfortable.
Do you know how long it's been since a Giants pitcher has made a hitter look uncomfortable?
Okay, Matt Cain last night. And there's always Chad Gaudin, sweet staff savior. But the idea of a Giants pitcher regularly making hitters look uncomfortable feels almost antiquated by now. Hitters look comfortable against Tim Lincecum most of the time, just as they looked comfortable against Cain too many times in the first two months of the season. And over the last month, even Bumgarner was starting to show that unwelcome tendency, too.
Every hitter should approach his at-bat against a Giants pitcher like I did when I stepped in against Hector when I was 14. Hot damn, did Hector throw hard. I was lost. Usually, so are hitters against Giants' pitching. But for a while, it wasn't like that for Giants pitchers. For the first time since the Matt Morris Era in 2007 -- Russ Ortiz made eight starts, too! -- hitters were starting to look forward to facing the Giants.
That, of course, was a bunch of bull puckey. It wasn't the way the universe was set up. We all bought charter-seat licenses in the front row of good pitching, and we'll be damned if we don't get what we paid for (in varying, self-regulated amounts).
Which means that it's about time that Bumgarner looked like that, with a sustained burst of excellence. It's about time that a Giants pitcher followed up a great performance with another inspiring start. They used to do this all the freaking time. It's hard to remember because they can score now, and it's messing with our expectations.
Or to put it another way, 2009 Giants pitching + 2013 Giants hitting = 105 wins. Okay, maybe 100. Fine, 95. But it would have been one of the best teams in the San Francisco era.
With Cain and Bumgarner over the last two nights, there's been a little glimmer that we might get that over the final three months. It would be unlikely, just because anything that perfect, that cosmic-tumblerly good would be unlikely. Bumgarner was that magic pitcher that he can morph into every so often. Cutters on the hands, sliders on the outside, cutters on the outside, sliders on the hands. It was fun to watch.
It used to be fun to watch all the time, you know. It will be again. Starting with, oh, Friday night, June 14 @ Atlanta.
Interesting note from Dave Flemming during the TV broadcast: Gregor Blanco describes himself as a hitter who is anything but natural at the plate. Blanco described Chipper Jones as a natural hitter, dangerous even when he was slumping. But Blanco says he needs all 76 steps of hitting a baseball to be rock-solid from one to 76 if he's going to do well, give or take.
Kind of explains the streakiness of Blanco. At this time last year, he was an Andres Torres-like darling -- a minor-league free agent blowing the Giants away for the second consecutive season. Then he settled down, and even though he did good post-Melky work, he wasn't ever going to be a long-term solution.
Then the Giants basically handed him the left-field job (at least the left-handed side of it) in the offseason. That was an amazing vote of confidence from a team that doesn't usually trust younger, unproven players.
Looks pretty good now. And how. One of the first things I ever did at Waiting for Boof was dig through 300 players on a Baseball America minor-league-free-agent list and see if there was anything interesting for the Giants. I dug and dug and dug, looking for players who might have been exhibiting a skill that wasn't being valued properly. I think I came up with Colter Bean. That's a real name.
What I was really looking for was a player like Blanco. Can play all three positions. Runs well. Can hit enough to make pitchers honest. Power that's above the Burriss line. Can get on base, as shown by his brief major-league trials.
Blanco was the perfect minor-league free agent. And he got to show why against one of the teams that let him get away in the first place. Well done.
And on a day where I chided the Giants for batting Brandon Crawford fifth, ahead of Brandon Belt, Crawford was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. Belt was 0-for-4 with seven left on base (though he hit a rocket in the fifth).
Until the day that Crawford's OPS and Belt's OPS pass each other like ships in the night, I'll stop making fun of the wacky Bochy lineup decisions regarding the two. And they will pass each other. I'll say July 6. But until then, I'll shut up, just in case I really don't know what I'm talking about.
(I probably know what I'm talking about.)
(Start hitting as well as Brandon Crawford, dammit.)
(Though if that hard-hit ball in the fifth fell in a gap, Belt would be 1-for-4 with a double -- .250/.250/.500 on the day! I'll take it.)
(Start hitting as well as Brandon Crawford, dammit. I have a reputation on the line, here.)