The 2017 season has been abrupt and jarring so far, but one of the most disappointing parts of April was that baseball never pantsed the other team on the Giants’ behalf. Part of being a baseball fan is loudly saying, “Ha ha, that’s baseball for you!” when something silly and fortuitous happens to your team. When the backup catcher who can’t hit picks the perfect situation to start hitting. When the pitcher called up from Triple-A throws a shutout in a spot start.
When the starting pitcher hits two home runs to help win the game.
The Giants scoring four runs against Clayton Kershaw qualifies as “Ha ha, that’s baseball for you!” It shouldn’t be that quirky if you’re coming from a general place of logic, where great pitchers have off nights, but we’re about 20 Kershaw starts removed from that kind of rational universe. For the third time in 36 chances against Kershaw, the Giants scored more than three runs, and now they know how the Nationals felt when they beat the Mets, 23-5. It feels like I watched something baseball-quirky and unique, something like Randy Johnson hitting the dove and the dove throwing the baseball back at him.
Any win against Kershaw is a fun win by definition. If the Giants won because of an illegitimate balk call against him, it would have been great. Blown calls and a couple of errors? Yeah, I’m game. Three bloop hits in a row with the Dodgers lining into outs all night? Oh, baby.
But this win was encouraging on several levels, mostly because it contained elements of what needs to happen over the next few months. After opening the season with home runs in each of their first five games (seven homers total), the Giants had hit nine home runs over their next 21. This is an organization that can survive without the home run — they were dead last in baseball in 2012, for example — but they’ll still need something from the hitters that have a little power. If Hunter Pence and Buster Posey combine for 12 home runs this year, the Giants probably aren’t reaching .500.
These things come in flurries, though, so it’s not like it was appropriate to skulk around, complaining about how Posey and Pence were never going to hit for power again. The power was coming, he said with a glazed look and a smile. The power was coming.
Didn’t expect it against Kershaw, though! The left-hander made uncharacteristically sloppy pitches up to both hitters, first to Pence:
And then to Posey:
The Pence homer came on the curveball, and I’d like to think that he’d seen a big, flopping curve on a 1-1 count before, and he overwrote some of the data on his memory card just in case it came up again.
Posey’s homer came on a fastball that he absolutely spun on, crushing it in a way he hasn’t done much this year. That’s not just me using anecdotal evidence, either. Posey is down in the exit-velocity leaderboards, tied with Nick Hundley. His exit velocity on balls hit in the air is tied with Gorkys Hernandez. He needed a home run like that.
Kershaw was less than thrilled.
When Pour Some Sugar On Me comes on the radio and no one’s around.
When you’re a black belt who’s been traveling for a year on foot to avenge your father, and you have your back turned to the man who killed him, psyching yourself up.
When you put fire ants down your pants on a dare.
When your invisible burro keeps stopping to eat scraps of garbage and you’re late for work.
It’s such a beautiful image. But I’m still more of a fan of the artsy version.
See, the little Dodgers by Kershaw’s feet represent the oversized importance he has to the organization. The fans at the top, who look like they’re almost behind the outfield fence, are out of proportion because they’re judging his successes and failures. The opacity of the different images represent the ephemeral, almost transient nature of baseball. The baseball going over the fence represents a baseball going over the fence.
I would pay $5,000 for this to be commissioned as a painting, assuming you all crowdfunded the whole thing.
More than Posey and Pence socking dingers at the right time, there were positive signs from Christian Arroyo, who is either good enough to get two hits against Kershaw or too stupid to know that he shouldn’t be able to. Either way is fine for me, really. He’s still hitting just .250/.273/.438, so it’s still appropriate to be skeptical about just how much he can lift the offense up on his own, but he sure has a sense of timing.
The Giants don’t win if Johnny Cueto isn’t the same ol’ jolly, bounding ball of effective fun that we got used to last year. His ERA is under 5.00 now, and it’ll need to come down a couple more runs if the Giants still have a shot. It probably will. My proof is that game, in which he settled down after a rocky start and threw the pitches he wanted to throw. While the Dodgers are filled with uppercutting jerks who stop your heart with every pop up and fly ball, Cueto rarely gave them pitches to punish.
It wasn’t a start that was completely out of the blue — he’d had two 7 IP, 2 ER outings this season before this game — but picked a good time to come back around. The Giants getting four runs against Kershaw and losing because of a poor outing from the starter would have made me push a vending machine down a flight of stairs.
And lastly, the other welcome omen was a nice, quiet bullpen, with Steven Okert doing his best Will Smith impression — or at least, an impression of what I thought we were going to seek from Smith this season — and Derek Law reaching back for 97 mph to fan Yasiel Puig for the one-out save. It can’t be all Mark Melancon saving the day, partly because he’s mortal and can blow them, too, and partly because he’ll need rest, just like he did on Monday.
The Giants hitting homers. The bullpen closing out a one-run game without even using their best pitcher. The kid getting two hits off the legend. These are all welcome glimmers of how things might improve.
And even if they don’t, we can always close our eyes and watch those home runs again. They happened! There’s video evidence! They actually happened.
Meanwhile, in old friends and new situations:
Johnny Cueto's valiant attempt at hitting a baseball pic.twitter.com/IhxKhdqIDZ— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) May 2, 2017
The smiles in that at-bat were killing me. Romo didn’t want to smile back, and I don’t blame him. But how do you not smile back? That’s Johnny Cueto, having fun and inviting you to jump into the ball pit in his heart.
I give Romo a lot of credit. That is one heckuva poker face.