My job is to look for narratives, unfortunately. It's kind of a cliché, but it's true. Most baseball games mean about .06 percent (1/162) of what you think they do, but I'm still supposed to figure out what the game means. I spend all game looking for it. It can be exhausting, and there are times when the game is one of those Valu-Pak envelopes filled with coupons that you immediately throw in the recycling bin. Like, it means nothing.
This was not one of those games. There were so many narratives, and each of them quickly disappeared, replaced by the next one. For example:
Why is Cole Hamels pitching against the Giants?
Yeah, that's a narrative. Because a) he should be a Giant, dammit, and b) the Giants aren't even playing a team in their own league. They're facing one of the better pitchers in baseball, who was suddenly beamed onto that team's roster? Gaaaarbage. And, like last night with Madison Bumgarner, the first two pitches were questionable strikes. Angel Pagan made a classic Angel Pagan face to the ump, and then he struck out. He had no chance. Hamels, coming off a no-hitter and leaking adrenaline out of his ears, was going to dominate. It was so obvious.
And it was totally unfair, considering that he was a total ringer. Who in the heck gets a veteran for next season at the trade deadline, anyway? What kind of do-your-Christmas-shopping-in-May crap is that?
The Giants started hitting Hamels, though. A little bit, at least, enough to make him and everyone in the ballpark just a little uncomfortable. That wasn't the narrative. Hamels is a little too refined against the Giants, a little too in the strike zone. It works a lot of the time, but the last couple of times, it hasn't. The Giants can hit strikes; Hamels can throw strikes. No, no, look for something else.
The Rangers had a plethora of bullpucky hits
Yeah, you read that right. Bullpucky. Even though Chris Heston was getting away with sinkers up in the zone for most of the night, the Rangers were scoring their runs on broken-bat hits to drive in runners who reached on broken-bat hits. It was nonsense, but you have to check yourself in situations like that because you know that if the Giants did it, you would giggle and giggle. You can't be mad at the other team. You just have to roll your eyes and grumble something something something about next time.
Then the Rangers couldn't stop lining into outs
Karma isn't supposed to work like that. There isn't some sort of fairness-arbiter poltergeist roaming around every ballpark, making sure that the bullpucky hits are made up for in the next inning. The Rangers were hitting the ball hard off Yusmeiro Petit, Hunter Strickland, and Santiago Casilla. All three of them made some good-to-great pitches, mind you, but they all gave up some screamers.
It looked like the rotten luck of the Rangers was going to be the story, which is weird, considering that an inning before, it was the rotten luck of the Giants' pitchers that was the story.
Wait, the story of the game is probably that the Giants can hit
Bingo. Two outs, nobody on? It's corny to say that the Giants had them right where they wanted them, but it's nice to know that they're not helpless in those situations. The middle of the order? Nine-for-20, with two homers, four runs scored, and six RBI. That's not even including the dude with two homers on the night.
While I'm keen on Buster Posey's homer, and while Hunter Pence's homer saved us all from 18 innings of moist, warm pain, nothing gives me greater pleasure in the 2015 season than the Joe Panik/Matt Duffy combo attacks. They're especially enthralling because they shouldn't exist. What's a Joe Panik? He's the guy drafted in the bottom of the first round with a utility player ceiling, a one-tool marvel who might stick at second. About a year ago, give or take, the Giants intentionally chose to play Dan Uggla at second base over Panik. Look it up. That actually happened, just one year ago.
Matt Duffy was the guy behind Panik on that Uggla decision, too. He's never had an at-bat in the Pacific Coast League. He's never hit in Triple-A. He came up straight from Double-A last year, and he forced his way onto the bench this year. He was supposed to be Ryan Theriot with a fatter cat, no more, no less. It's a nice player to have, but it's not like it's a crucial player to have. Instead, he's hitting third. Literally hitting third for one of the best lineups in the National League.
So when their Wonder Twins powers activate, form of rally, it's especially pleasing. Posey's the best, the kind of player we'll remember in 50 years, I get it. Pence is a fan favorite, someone who will still get standing ovations in the coming decades, even though he passed through two other cities to get here.
But Panik and Duffy are my favorite poisons right now, mostly because they shouldn't exist.
Down by three. Two outs. Behind in the count. A limp grounder to the right side would have made sense there. Game over, welcome to August.
Instead, a Duffy hit a double down the line, as we're getting used to. Inning extended. Run in. And a chance, a glimmer of a chance ...
No, seriously, the Giants can hit ... especially when Brandon Belt is locked in
People were actually putting Belt in their pre-deadline fake trade packages. Okay, so, we give them Belt and Crick and some PROSPECTS, and that's how we get David Price. I read so, so many people on Twitter and the Internet who were okay with yanking Belt out of the lineup, making Posey a full-time first baseman, and starting a new era.
It's probably time to take a stand. Belt, after five seasons, all of which featured above-average production, just might be good? Dunno. Maybe we should wait for the next five seasons, just to make sure.
He still strikes out every fourth at-bat, I get it. And occasionally, his helmet will fall off, or his shoulders will slump, and it will look worse than it really is. But he's hitting .277/.351/.479 on the season. That's good for a 135 wRC+. The average NL hitter is hitting .253, more than 20 points lower. They have a .314 on-base percentage, which is almost 40 points worse than Belt. That average hitter has a slugging percentage of .391, almost a hundred points lower. And that's all before accounting for Belt hitting in AT&T Park as a left-hander.
He's probably good? He's probably good.
The Giants' lineup is probably good. If you're not convinced, here's a four-dinger night and a nine-run game, in which they came back in the late innings.
Good dinger. Good call.