The Giants lost three games last year in which they had 15 hits or more. So it’s not exactly right to pretend this game ended when everyone in gray uniforms started knocking baseballs all over the place. It’s possible to lose the 15-hit games. The Giants proved that last year. Even if the gray uniforms keep hitting, the screwing-around-with-Photoshop uniforms don’t have to stop trying.
But last year was an anomaly. In, oh, about 38 different respects, but specifically here when it comes to losing the big-offense games. Some seasons go by without one of those losses. Sometimes a couple seasons in a row. It’s a game like this that makes you think, without fear, something like this:
Yes, when a team gets 15 hits, they should win.
It wasn’t just the 15 hits, though. The Giants had a perfect bullpen, too, with four innings, one hit, two walks, and six strikeouts. Whenever the Diamondbacks gurgled with life, the resolution was quick and painless. Fifteen hits and a perfect bullpen will almost — almost — always lead to a win.
Which means we have the first game of the 2017 season that doesn’t remind you of that other season. This is just a new game in a new year, man. The past is the past, and you should stop living in it like a paunchy old ex-high school quarterback. In this new era of Giants baseball, the relievers do their job, and the hits fly all over the yard.
Most importantly, though: This looked like the kind of Giants team that we were expecting before last season, the ones from the end of 2015 that filled us with confidence once the starting pitchers arrived. Technically, the margin of victory came from the four runs batted in from Gorkys Hernandez, who is Justin Maxwell who is Tyler Colvin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t crow about some of the other participants.
For instance, imagine if Joe Panik has an All-Star-caliber season again. He was an All-Star before, remember. He was a sweet-swinging career .309 hitter with doubles power before last season, and he was just 24. Injuries punched everyone right in the hope last year, and suddenly it seems easy to hope Panik is merely okay, not an obvious gift. But what if he’s the 2015 pre-injury Panik again?
I’ll field that question myself, thanks. It would be pretty cool. It’s not a stretch to say that 2015 pre-injury Panik would have changed all sorts of things for the 2016 Giants, but without some nanobots and a time machine, we’ll have to hope for good things from this year’s version. So far, so good. There were line drives all over the ballpark.
The Brandons were magnificent, as they can be. Brandon Belt turned a quiet start into a two-hit game, and Brandon Crawford turned high fastballs into a pair of extra-base hits. His home run was a splendid example of reverse-benardism, a hitter catching up to a fastball that he probably should have taken:
Eduardo Nuñez added two hits. Hunter Pence had three hits, including a fetching double on an outside fastball that he was clearly looking to take to the opposite field. Even the two players who were hitless contributed: Buster Posey with two walks, and Chris Marrero with a sacrifice fly.
It was the kind of offensive performance that made you think the Giants’ strength was going to be seven or eight hitters who could drive pitchers batty*, just like it was supposed to be last year.
It didn’t matter that Johnny Cueto made mistakes, even after he was incredibly fun to watch for four innings. Instead of something like the A.J. Pollock homer on Sunday, the lineup made it perfectly acceptable for Cueto to miss with his location on a pitcher or two. Ha ha, these things happen, chap! The offense will bail you out! And the bullpen, too! Good show.
What I’m trying to say is that this is the best win of the 2017 season so far, and I’m not willing to debate the point. The Giants went from .000 to .500 and they’re in a weird-as-heck four-way tie for second place.
I’ll take it.
Cueto was so very good for three innings, shimmying, quick-pitching, and hesi-pausing his way to low-pitch perfection before allowing a pair of runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. There was nothing in this game that made me worry. Nothing that suggested, gasp, he wasn’t the same Johnny Cueto. He was. There were some early-season, short-spring hiccups, but the first three innings were a cold, refreshing beverage on a summer’s day. I remember that guy.
And while I never thought that I would watch anything as joyful and mesmerizing as watching Johnny Cueto pitch, I’ve discovered something: Johnny Cueto running from first to home on a double.
This video doesn’t quite do it justice, so hopefully there’s a director’s cut coming soon. Dude was shimmying, but in a straight line right into your living room.
Now all I want to see is a foot race between Cueto and Jean Machi.
The bullpen was perfect, and it’s worth singling George Kontos out.
Kontos came in to face David Peralta with a runner on and nobody out in the seventh. It was the kind of situation that made you pull the blanket up to your nose and sink into the couch, even with a four-run lead. After Peralta flied out to center, making us all uncomfortable, Kontos got to face Paul Goldschmidt, history’s second-most pleasant jerk, after Clayton Kershaw.
The sequence went like this, according to MLB GameDay:
That’s from the catcher’s perspective, and it goes like this: cutter (fouled), cutter (fouled), slider (waste pitch), fastball (motoring toward Goldschmidt’s face while he’s looking for a slider).
That brought up Jake Lamb, who was pitched thusly: cutter (ball), absolutely perfect slider just below the zone (swinging strike), absolutely perfect slider just below the zone (swinging strike), hanging slider that sailed over the outside corner, whistling and carrying its possessions in a handkerchief tied around a stick (called strike).
I swear, it’s like a secret to Kontos’ success. His ERA is 2.49 over his last 159 innings, even as he’s striking out just 6.0 per nine innings and his FIP is much higher. My working theory is that his wild-card cement-mixer slider is like a knuckleball, and it spits on your FIP and DIPS theory. When the hitter hits it, it goes a long way, but when it’s mixed in with perfect sliders, it’s unhittable.
Just a working theory for now. If he wanted to throw more perfect sliders, that would be cool, but I’m coming around on these hangers. They’re sneaky-smart in the right spot, and when it works, I’m a fan.
When it doesn’t work, I’ll be right back here to tell you about it, friends. Because the season is already two games old, and I have nothing better to do. As is, the Giants won because they got a bunch of hits, and the bullpen was perfect. I’d like to write that a lot this year, if it’s all the same to you.