The Giants had 30 different runners reach base on Monday night. If that seems like a lot, that’s because it is. They’ve done it just 26 times since 1913. They were, as you might expect, 25-1 in those games.
This would have been the natural pairing, then. This would have been the perfect loss to pin with the triple play and the complete game, a creative and artistic way to remind you that baseball is and always will be a nihilist. The cops would have traced the call, and it would have been coming from inside the death spiral.
Instead, they won, and it took superhuman efforts to get there. Brandon Crawford was the first Giants player in history to get seven hits in one game, and he made superb plays throughout the game, including a sneaky game-saver in the 13th. I’m assuming it was a game-saver because that game was the Mr. Creosote of baseball games, with every additional runner being the thin mint that was going to end the season.
Again, Crawford had seven hits. He’s the fifth player in baseball history to do that. That’s what it took to win a game that shouldn’t have been close. It took five-and-a-half hours and baseball history. The second-half Giants were owed a game like this, even if there was no reason to put us through that.
The most irksome thing about the second-half death spiral is that the Giants have finally moved on from the Ramiro Peña/Grant Green/Conor Gillaspie/Ivan Ochoa lineups. They have a healthy team, they have their reinforcements, and they’ve still looked like one of the worst teams in franchise history. That’s even though they clearly aren’t. Crawford is one of the reasons why this is all so frustrating. Not because of anything he’s not doing, but because he is doing it. He’s one of the best players in baseball. I’m not going to haggle over if he’s top-50 or what have you, but he’s a defensive wunderkind who hits better than his peers at the same position.
Watching Crawford is almost always a fantastic decision. He’s good at everything. And yet the Giants couldn’t win with him. He made three errors in one of the losses, of course.
You can do this down the line. Buster Posey was outstanding all game on both sides of the ball. He was 2-for-6 with a double and two walks, and he was a defensive star, too. He pounced on a weak bunt in the eighth inning for a double play. He nailed Dee Gordon trying to steal in extra innings. He does everything so very well. And yet the Giants haven’t been able to win with him.
Bumgarner, Cueto, Posey, Crawford, Belt, Pence, Panik, my goodness, these are all very good players. And yet the Giants haven’t been able to win with them. That’s why the second half has stung so much. It’s because they carry the curse of high expectations. They’re good players, you scream into your pillow. These are all very good players!
They probably still are. Because that game started in 1982, it’s easy to forget just how unlikely it was for the Giants to come back at all. They had a four-percent chance at one point, give or take.
But that percentage isn’t team-specific. It doesn’t measure that Jose Fernandez was on the mound. It doesn’t measure that the Giants are in the middle of a historically hilarious death spiral. You say four percent. I say .04 percent.
This is the team we were expecting, though. This was a relentless assembly line of singles, doubles into the gap, and walks, and that’s why they were supposed to be good in the first place. The Giants’ hitters bent against Fernandez, but they didn’t break, and they worked the count well enough to force him out after six innings. Forget the five scoreless innings between the eighth and the 14th — with eight baserunners, of course — and remember the comeback fondly.
Also, remember Brandon Crawford’s seventh hit fondly. This was a big one. Maybe the biggest hit of the year.
Joe Panik has four hits since coming off the DL. Hunter Pence has seven. Gregor Blanco has five in the second half. Crawford had seven in one game.
The Giants have had seven hits or fewer in 46 games this year. They’ve actually won 14 of those games. Crawford had seven, by himself, in one game.
The Giants had seven hits in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS. One of them was by Travis Ishikawa. Crawford had seven, by himself, in one game.
And that’s what it takes for the Giants to avoid one of the most grisly fates imaginable. It wasn’t all Crawford, of course. Brandon Belt had to maintain his composure and remember that he’s better at distinguishing balls from strikes than any living umpire. He took a walk after the night was filled with dumb strike zone calls. Do you see the red squares here?
Those are the strikes against left-handed batters thrown by Marlins pitchers. That’s from the catcher’s perspective, and you can see just how wide the zone went. The diagonal slashes represent the normal garbage zone that umpires call against left-handers for whatever reason, and Doug Eddings’ extra-garbage zone extended even further.
Still, it was Belt who scored the winning run because he was patient enough to walk. It was Posey who pushed the winning run into scoring position because he was patient enough to walk.
And don’t forget about the bullpen. Let’s have a drum roll and celebrate the bullpen.
Hold on, Will. You should probably sit over there.
See, the joke is that this new Giants reliever shares the same name as, anyway, after Smith came in and crushed our spirits, hopes, and dreams, the Giants got:
- One perfect inning from Derek Law
- One clean inning from Sergio Romo
- Two clean innings from Hunter Strickland
- Two clean innings from Santiago Casilla
- Two clean innings from George Kontos
Why, Ron Wotus, you old dog. You’re a secret bullpen master, aren’t you? And we saw those bunts. They’re going on your permanent record.
The bullpen was mostly fantastic. That’s eight scoreless innings after the Smith meltdown. (And for the record, Smith is probably still pretty good himself. Be nice. For now.) You were not predicting eight scoreless innings after the Smith meltdown.
It all added up to another day alone in first place. Not sure how the Giants are still there, but they are. This ... this would have been a defining loss. A mutilated rabbit out of a hat that even the most cynical sad sacks among us couldn’t have seen coming.
Instead, Giants win. Brandon Crawford had seven hits, and we aren’t even complaining about Roberto Kelly or Johnny Cueto! Good times.
* * *
Hold on there, Posey. Those were some nice throws, plays, and hits. But we have something to discuss.
It’s okay. He’s fine. You can laugh!
The moment before impact:
I tried sliding this year. Really, I did. It was the first time I tried it in 20 years, and I did it as a demonstration in front of a bunch of seven- and eight-year-old girls. I almost broke four of my own ankles and three knees. So I’m not going to throw the first stone, here. It’s just fascinating to see the moment of reckoning defined so well.
When it’s still 90º at midnight, and you turn the pillow over, and also the pillow is violently trying to kill you.
When you’re wondering if you’re still beautiful.
You are! Everything is! Baseball is! The Giants won a long, spirited extra-innings game, and they’re still in first place.
It didn’t have to be like this. And there’s almost no way I thought it was going to be like this. It fit so well into the pattern. It fit so well into the death spiral.
Maybe ... there aren’t any patterns? Maybe we’re calling a random stretch of games a "death spiral" because our brains are conditioned to assign meaning where none exists?
Dunno. Giants win!