That was the liveliest Friday night game they’ve had in a while, but it was yet another game in this young season that showed a tougher, livelier squad than at any point in 2017. I’ll allow for the possibility that the Giants just get up for the Dodgers, but I consider it an overwhelmingly positive sign for the season’s outlook that they’re able to get up at all. The fog of last season has dissipated.
Tonight, they overcame a rough start to win a game you could argue they had to have and they did it because of their pitching and then because of a Brandon Belt bunt. That’s right. A bunt against the shift was the spark that ignited the Giants’ offense, the preseason formula for success thanks to a series of trades and signings. And while Evan Longoria’s bat continued to heat up, it was holdovers Belt, Gorkys Hernandez, and Kelby Tomlinson who delivered the biggest hits late in the game.
They’re not finished.
Football gets the whole “it’s a game of inches” talk these days, but never forget how an inch in one play of one half inning could affect the next 10 outs and the entire course of a game and even a series. Baseball is great because of its free radicals. It encourages a sort of zen you can’t find in the other sports. Football is the Type A personality’s nuclear assault on anxiety -- control, control, control. Baseball is all about doing the best you can in the moment and seeing how it plays out. Sometimes you can cover the extra inch, and sometimes you can’t.
Here’s what happened on tonight’s episode of Game of Inches...
Evan Longoria just missed a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning that would’ve tied the game 4-4; Yasmani Grandal thought he hit a mammoth home run in the top of the 7th inning, but instead he flied out against the brick wall at the entrance to Triples Alley; Hyun-Jin Ryu deflected a Buster Posey knock up the middle that knocked him out of the game forcing tender belly of the Dodgers bullpen into the mix; Pedro Baez committed a balk by falling off the mound when maybe an inch difference in the way he landed would’ve prevented it; Puig’s RBI double in the top of the 4th that had fan interference — an extra inch of neurons might’ve led to a better decision on the fan’s part there; Derek Holland’s pitch to Ryu not sure what the pitch was, either a bad slider that looped right into Ryu’s slight wheelhouse or a fastball that just got clobbered; Top of the eighth Farmer hits a bleeder past Crawford and then Seager hits a pinch hit bleeder past Kelby Tomlinson.
What was amazing about Tomlinson’s pinch hit appearance in the bottom of the seventh (that had him in the game for that bleeder in the eighth) was that he watched the first pitch from Cingrani — a middle-in fastball — go by. My personal book on Tomlinson is that he’s almost always looking to hit the ball to right field and, so, he simply missed a great pitch to pull. But then, he got the same exact pitch two pitches later and roped it past Buck Farmer down the left field line. Would a Corey Seager / Justin Turner left side of the infield secured the win by never letting through Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson’s grounders in that bottom of the seventh? Inches.
Although I had no doubt that Chris Taylor was going to make that belly catch to close the eighth inning. It’s important to remember that the Dodgers are a really good team except wait, wait, let’s talk about that bullpen of theirs.
You know how the Giants have Josh Osich? Well the Dodgers have Tony Cingrani! You know how the Giants have Cory Gearrin? Well the Dodgers have Pedro Baez! Trust me: Pedro Baez is not well-liked in Southern California.
This is why the forward-thinking Bullpenning concept makes me shake my head. I get it, I like the idea behind it, but I also look at relief pitchers, who are usually good at one pitch and bad at everything else related to pitching (Cory Gearrin can’t hold runners, Josh Osich can’t hit corners or deceive anybody, Sam Dyson has no idea where his pitches are going), and think that baseball games are not supposed to be 9 innings of what the hell did I just watch. Tonight, it was the Dodgers’ ‘pen that had the brain farts and odd footfalls, but that could very easily be the Giants as soon as tomorrow, and it’s important to remember that nobody actually enjoys watching that kind of baseball. Making games more heavily reliever-based would make all games the relievers in the middle innings-type of game.
The bunt is always bad, but tonight... tonight, the bunt... was good. Brandon Belt bunted against the shift with the Giants down two runs to start the seventh inning rally. Even though he got thrown out running to third base (after advancing to second on a wild pitch), the hits kept coming because of shaky relief from the Dodgers. Getting on base to lead off the inning really did set the tone. Not allowing a new pitcher to settle in has emotional and psychological impact. Relievers already come in with their adrenaline up. Now you introduce additional stress into the situation and suddenly there’s too much nitro shooting through the mental chambers. It’s psychologically valid, man. Get in the pitcher’s head.
But back to the bunt... why didn’t Austin Jackson bunt in the bottom of the 8th with runners at first and second and nobody out? For one thing, Austin Jackson doesn’t sacrifice very often (he had 14 in 2011 and 15 total since). For another, Bruce Bochy wants to give him opportunities to dig out of this performance hole. So far, those opportunities haven’t paid off, and Austin Jackson has looked like a player who needs to... work on some things.
He’ll have the weekend to work through it, though, because the Giants won’t stop facing left-handed pitching and because it’s all hands on deck. Because this weekend... we’ll be seeing the Dodgers in our dreams. They’re everywhere. This was a fantastic schedule made up by major league baseball. Have I mentioned that?