On Thursday night, the Giants were being sucked into the death spiral, frantically clawing with their free hand and shrieking for help. They got free. Everything worked out. To everyone watching, it looked like a memorable victory, and it surely was. But they had to screw up enough for it to be that memorable. It was a rousing comeback story, and while we all love those, it’s hard to build a championship contender with nothing but rousing comeback stories.
On Friday night, the Giants looked like a normal contender. A talented, confident contender that played good baseball as a rule instead of an exception. They were playing a team that’s had its necktie stuck in the toaster for the last month or three. That doesn’t mean this has to continue indefinitely, or even for the next two games. But the Giants looked like a good team, and I don’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten how to get to thesaurus.com. It’s a simple description with a lot of layers. What is a good team? What does it mean to look like a good team?
For starters, there’s probably a good starting pitcher involved. Johnny Cueto hasn’t been as consistent in the second half has he was in the first, when he was so good that he started the freaking All-Star Game, but he’s still a pitcher who should inspire confidence. He allowed eight hits, while striking out only two, but seven innings and one run allowed is what we got used to. It’s what made us spoiled.
A good team should play defense. This was in question in the top of the eighth inning, when the game was still very much in doubt, 17 hours ago. Brandon Crawford missed a tough, sharp grounder that he normally picks, and Brandon Belt made an ill-advised decision to try for the lead runner instead of the easy out with a two-run lead. Two on, one out, with Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes coming up. Yeeps.
Five seconds later, Belt made another, smarter, more accurate throw to start a double play that was turned perfectly by Crawford. It was the right-click-undo inning, and it reminded us that the Giants weren’t total bozos. It fit with the previous inning, which featured Hunter Pence making a splendid diving catch and Eduardo Nuñez spearing a ball with a dive and making an effortless throw to first. Remember when Nuñez butchered some early plays right after becoming Officially Not Matt Duffy? I’m not going to put him against Nolan Arenado in a steel-cage defense match, but he’s probably not a butcher.
A good team should get runs home. Nuñez was the one who scored the go-ahead run in the seventh, and he did it with glorious raw speed.
It ... I mean, it doesn’t not look like he’s doing something vulgar in that screenshot, but that’s probably your subconscious, not mine.
An aside: I do love that Nuñez gets his helmet fitted at the Willie Mays Store. This is all entertainment, and don’t you forget it.
A good team should have a good bench. Again, don’t worry about getting too cute with the adjectives, because you know what a good bench means. I don’t know if Ehire Adrianza and Conor Gillaspie are a healthy part of a balanced bench, but they did just fine tonight. Adrianza’s intentional-walk-turned-disaster against the Pirates hurt in a lot of ways, but I was extra perturbed because I’m secretly optimistic about him. I think he’s pretty okay. Maybe. Considering. Well, we’ll see, but here was another chance, and he nailed it, driving a ball to the opposite field against their Javier Lopez.
A good team should have a good bullpen. I don’t know if the Giants have one of those yet, but they played the part tonight, and you didn’t even care. I maintain that the biggest problem with the Giants’ bullpen wasn’t that they were a frog-ball of carnal suck, but that they were thrown into close games over and over and over and over again, until something had to break, and it usually did. A good team should have more of these games, where they pull away and nobody notices when a stray reliever decides to give up a few. They didn’t need that cover on Friday night, but it was there if they did.
The Giants played like a team that was good. In a familiar way. They reminded us of the first half. It’s not like they spent three months saying "Huuuurrrrrrrrr uh what is this white orb" while the other teams collapsed around them even more fantastically. They looked like this. Crawford, deep in the hole, got ‘im, and that saved a run. Span into right field, and the game is tied. Cueto gets out of the jam with the help of his defense, and the Giants get back in the dugout. It was so very familiar.
I’m still not sure if they’re good. This last month, well, it’s been a startling mess. But with a game like this, you saw a glimmer, a flash of recognition. Ohhhh, right. That was the team with the BEST RECORD IN BASEBALL BY THREE FULL GAMES AT THE ALL-STAR BREAK, and even if they weren’t that good in terms of raw talent, they couldn’t have been too far off. I can’t explain the second half, and I’m pretty sure the Giants can’t either.
It’s just nice to get a reminder that we didn’t hate this team all year. If you tally it up, we haven’t even hated them for anything close to a majority of the year. It was just all concentrated in the last few weeks, and if I said anything to you that was a little curt, well, I’m sorry. It was really tense around year.
But in this one game, the Giants looked good again. They reminded us why we expect them to be good, and why we’re disappointed when they’re not.
It was a good game. It was a good night.
Also, the Giants are back in first place.