If you decontextualize this first game at AT&T Park in 2018 — ignore the Giants’ record since the second half of 2016, the injuries and lack of depth in the starting rotation, the wholly absent and nationally embarrassing offense from the first 4 games of the season — then you could very easily imagine a game like this taking place in the first week of June and the Giants just being an average team or maybe even a decent team, and not one that has been a mostly miserable piece of entertainment to watch for a mostly long period of time.
Ty Blach had absolutely no business facing the Mariners’ lineup a third time. That should be the standing order for most of his starts. But he even had a terrible first inning and put the Giants in a 4-0 hole before most people had time to forget that this was the same Ty Blach who had just dominated the Dodgers 5 days ago. Were the Giants not out to prove that last year was a fluke and were today’s game not been the home opener, this would’ve been a headscratcher of a move you would’ve shrugged off and moved on from pretty easily. It would’ve felt like an annoying move made in June. You didn’t quite understand what Bochy was thinking there, but you were mostly thinking about the barbecue happening later on and you weren’t overwhelmed by the crushing failure of the Giants’ recent track record.
It’s not June, of course, and it’s impossible to drain the context from the proceedings, but the Giants did their damnedest to do exactly that by Ready Player One’ing the ever loving crap out of the pregame ceremony. 60 years of San Francisco Giants history came out to remind everyone of the good times. Mays, McCovey, Baker, Bonds... a beardless Brian Wilson throwing out the first pitch... this guy:
Of course the Giants were going to celebrate the occasion and of course they did the exact right thing by having legends of franchise history appear. But the Giants have done such a great job of never letting the legends drift far from our memories or even far from on field ceremonies that it always feels like we’re living through Giants history. And right now, we’re in a dark chapter. It’s hard to forget that, no matter how many Hall of Famers and World Series rings we’re shown. The fanatical brain and the consumer mentality might be staved off with nostalgia and former glory, but the obsessive soul won’t be fully satisfied.
Only winning will do that. And it’s tough to see how the Giants can do a lot of that in the near-term. But it’s also not impossible to imagine. Evan Longoria’s bat woke up with a home run to right field, the outfield looks so much better defensively from last year that it’s hard to believe a professional baseball team decided to let it simply rot for 162 games, and Pierce Johnson flashed some fancy stuff: a fastball with tail and a sharp breaking ball. Joe Panik homered again, too, and it’d be great if he became the story of the season. The Giants had nothing to play for last season, but if this season winds up another bust, we could still have something really neat to keep an eye on like, oh, I don’t know, Joe Panik making enough noise to get MVP consideration. Improbable, but not implausible, and after last season, feels like a safer bet than another Giants playoff push.
About three batters into the first inning I figured out why my brain never retains any knowledge about the Seattle Mariners: their grey uniforms and navy blue colors just make them the drabbest drabbers that ever drabbed, and they just don’t stand out enough to recall. Of course, that’s just me being a snooty fan. It was interesting to see the talent they had in their lineup.
Mitch Haniger, whom I had assumed was a catcher but is actually an outfielder, did exactly what I thought Nelson Cruz would’ve done had he not been injured this series. Whatever switch that flipped after Jean Segura got traded to Arizona has stayed switched on and it’s both weird and exciting to see. Dee Gordon moves like he’s got surplus synaptic energy he needs to burn up and Marco Gonzales was the perfect matchup for the Giants because his left-handedness forced Bruce Bochy to field an inferior lineup.
Oh sure, we can talk about the stated reasons for not starting Brandon Belt -- that it’s good to give Buster an extra day away from catching and he didn’t want Hundley to get too cold after a nice spring by sitting on the bench for so long (he also suggested Pablo Sandoval could be getting a start very soon for the same reason), but this seems like a questionable call by a Hall of Fame manager! One worthy of derision! Coupled with his decision to keep Ty Blach in the game for a batter too long (or a turn through the lineup too many) — a mistake, one could argue, he made in Saturday and Sunday’s games in LA as well — it almost feels like Bochy is subconsciously protesting the coaching shuffle and the public statements about being more SABR-minded as an organization.
Brandon Belt is a SABR golden child. He’s also the starting first baseman. He’s also the Giants’ 2nd best hitter. He’s also a better option against left-handers than Nick Hundley. He’s also a veteran player who’s more than earned any benefit of the doubt. And he didn’t appear in the team’s home opener and he wasn’t used as a pinch hitter. Maybe the season ticketholders (who I believe secretly hold a lot more sway than we’ve ever considered) have made their preferences known and the front office is fine with letting mini #BeltBashes occur or maybe Bruce Bochy is sick and tired of being told what to do with the roster and Brandon Belt will always be his weapon of choice when firing a warning shot.
Or maybe Brandon Belt missed a meeting or forget to post an Amazon review of Bochy’s book even after he promised he would and after Bochy definitely made it clear to him how important those reviews were to the buying suggestion algorithm.
The Giants lost a game they deserved to lose in part because they didn’t put themselves in the best position to succeed. (There were also some killer double plays in there and they drew zero walks for the second time in five games) Yet I contend that the meager talent the Giants managed to scoop up in the offseason did just enough to show us that maybe, just maybe, they can be better than last season. And five games into a baseball season, the hope of that is more than enough.