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Andrew McCutchen saves your weekend

Andrew McCutchen’s first 6-hit game of his career and first home run as a Giant leads them to walk-off extra innings win against the (Sideshow Bob grumble) Dodgers.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants
Remember when this was a day game... played under sunlight?
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If the Giants had lost tonight, it would’ve ruined your entire weekend, and I can prove it. First, this game should’ve ended in the afternoon. But an historic rainfall in San Francisco yesterday pushed it back to this bizarre 3pm start, smack dab in the middle of your Saturday. So, it’s bad enough your Friday (if you live in the Bay Area) was basically underwater, but now the baseball game you had looked forward to was rescheduled to have some “evening creep”. And anything weird like extra innings would push it fully into your Saturday night. And if the Giants had lost, it not only would’ve ruined your night, it would’ve ruined your weekend, because the only way to salvage a split would be to beat Clayton Kershaw on Sunday. Even if the Giants were to beat Kershaw, it couldn’t have erased the lost Saturday and the tense Sunday of wondering if the Giants could beat Kershaw until they finally did. Therefore, it was an extraordinarily good thing that the Giants beat the Dodgers tonight.

Andrew McCutchen was the hero. Buster Posey homered. The Dodgers were feeling good about themselves and the Giants ripped that away from them at the last possible second. The top of the 14th inning unraveled in an oh-so-familiar way, even if you could forgive Roberto Gomez for giving up the lead. He shouldn’t have had to come into the game, and Kelby Tomlinson is not Brandon Crawford’s defensive equal at shortstop. Yasiel Puig was due and once the Giants took a 3-1 back when the sun was still out, the momentum of the game switched. Yet somehow, after Chase Utley muscled a ball over the right field wall to tie the game at 4-4, the Giants didn’t do what they’d done since July of 2016 and embarrassingly fall to pieces.

In fact, it was Kelby Tomlinson who started that 14th inning rally despite missing a hard hit ball up the middle off the bat of Yasiel Puig. I think Brandon Crawford would’ve gotten to it, but I am also dumb. The bullpen gave up 2 runs in 9 innings of work. There wasn’t a 9 inning stretch last season where that happened (do not fact check this). Andrew McCutchen had the first 6-hit game of his career... as the pressure mounted, the Giants didn’t wilt. It’s not a matter of this team “remembering how to win” but instead “relearning how to be a Major League Baseball team”. After these first seven games, you can’t say this is the same team as last year and you can’t say the Giants aren’t competitive. Every tool of that success was used tonight and the result was that they walked off the Dodgers to send their rival to their worst start in 45 years.

Back when this was a normal game and my game notes were of the normal game variety, I was going to make the recap all about how this game turned on the battle of the fastballs. Chris Stratton and Rich Hill were both in the top 5 of spin rate for major league curveballs last season. Both pitchers rely on it as their out pitches. Stratton’s drops out of the zone so it’s far more deceptive whereas Hill’s tends to spin from one side of the zone to the other (or, in some cases, from one batter’s box to the other), so it’s more like a power pitch.

Last week, Hill threw the fastball 23 out of 24 first pitches, clearly as a means to setup his curve. Stratton tends to mix his pitches more, varying fastball first pitches with curveball first pitches, but he also has something Rich Hill doesn’t: a third pitch. His slider is another look at a breaking ball for hitters that he can throw in that curveball situation or when he thinks the hitter’s looking for a curveball, and it can be effective, it’s just simply not as great as that curve. But both pitchers need their fastballs to make their other pitch(es) work.

The Giants seemed to be aware of Hill’s penchant for first pitch fastballs and used that knowledge to get the jump on Hill early in the count — Andrew McCutchen’s double in the first inning to put the Giants ahead 1-0 is one such example. Hill’s stuff was as good or better than it was last weekend in LA, but the Giants were more comfortable against him this weekend, and Buster Posey was able to crank his first home run since August 8th of last calendar year (!) because of a fastball.

Stratton, meanwhile, was trying to use the curveball to setup the high fastball — he struck out Cody Bellinger in the fourth on a high fastball using this strategy. But, ultimately, he struggled with his command, not able to dot corners as effectively as Hill (although, in my opinion, Alfonso Marquez behind home plate was calling a different zone for Hill, but whatever, that’s baseball) and was fortunate to get double plays in the first two innings to end possible threats. But that fortune ran out as he continued to surrender walks. Lead off walks here! Lead off walks there! His start was a strong reminder that he’s still pretty green and far more like a minor leaguer than a major leaguer, but he wasn’t helped out by his manager...

Which, look, ragging on the baseball manager is a time-honored tradition that Grant Brisbee managed to lay off of doing for most of his tenure, but it’s hard for me not to bring that up here. Bruch Bochy has twice this week left his pitcher in to face a lineup for a third time, and both times, it blew up in his face. It was far more damaging, runs-wise, versus the Mariners on Tuesday (handicapping their comeback efforts) than today, and the Giants’ offense had sev-uh-rull opportunities to win this game following Chase Utley’s home run which had nothing to do with Bochy’s managing, but it now feels like something that needs an eye on it going forward.

After a 98-loss season and most of his staff being fired or shuffled around with the intention of rejiggering the team’s on-field mindset, Bochy’s gut managing has already proved costly in only a small sample. Stratton wasn’t mowing down the Dodgers, which might be an argument he and his defenders make for keeping Stratton in and the Giant’s bullpen was well-rested. Not only that, it has been effective, particularly against this Dodgers team (which we did get to see, of course, but probably could’ve done it in far fewer innings). Does a clean inning give the world a better Josh Osich? Does Cory Gearrin not get crossed up with Buster Posey on the pitch signals if there aren’t runners on base? Hard to know for sure, but what’s clear is that managing the game the same old way has, thus far, produced the same results as before.

But, yeah, about that bullpen... I need a name for a Tony Watson fan club. He gave up two hits, which means he’s not invincible, but he stayed calm, cool, and collected to mow down the rest of the batters, so it means he’s still utterly impressive. As our good friend Doug said:

Pierce Johnson’s inning was so clean and boring that I feel it’s important to remind you that his name is Pierce Johnson, which is not only a name but a job description.

And, Reyes Moronta not only struck out 4 in his two innings of work, his last pitch of the night was a 97 mph fastball blown right by Corey Seager.

But, mainly, this happened.

Go to sleep thinking of this tonight. And not Clayton Kershaw. Just this.