Right as the game was starting, I messaged my new boss, Bryan, to complain (note: I do not advise doing this at your place of work). I chided him for giving me my first recap on a day where Nick Hundley was batting cleanup.
The lesson, as you either know or are about to learn, is that I don’t know what in the world I’m talking about.
Hundley went 4-5 with two doubles, an opposite field home run, four runs scored, and three runs batted in.
So maybe the real lesson here is find things to complain about and you’ll be rewarded, as long as you’re fine looking stupid. Hey, I’ll take that trade-off any day.
The biggest thing for the Giants on getaway day was their ability to capitalize on opponent mistakes, which I’m fairly certain they never did last season.
In the first inning, after a one-out single by Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria hit a ground ball to his counterpart at third, Christian Villanueva. It should have ended the inning; instead, Villanueva kicked it (not using baseball parlance here, he quite literally kicked it), and it put two on with one out. Hundley capitalized by singling in a run. Brandon Belt drew an outstanding walk. And Austin Jackson - whose bat finally appears to be emerging from hibernation - knocked in a pair with a double.
Three runs scored, when none should have. You can say the Giants got lucky, but most teams get lucky with great regularity. You have to convert that luck into runs, and seeing San Francisco do that was not something anyone was used to after the great disaster that was 2017.
Before the first inning was over, it felt guaranteed that the Giants were going to win.
And better yet, they actually did! 9-4, which gave them a fourth consecutive series win, something they (not surprisingly) didn’t accomplish at any point last season.
Derek Holland earned his first win as a Giant, but really, the game highlighted how much more comfortable Bruce Bochy is in a not-close game. Holland looked to be losing it in the fifth inning, but with a 7-2 lead, Bochy’s willingness to let his starter try and gather a victory was not a bad thing.
Bochy has a tendency to leave his starters in a bit too long, and sometimes a little longer still, and in close games it can be fatal. In not close games it’s pretty great, builds the confidence and comfort for his players, and keeps the bullpen well rested. This backs up my long-running conspiracy theory that Bochy looks like a better manager when the team is doing well.
Holland was not particularly sharp, but gave up only one baserunner per inning, and everyone will live with that (except the Padres).
But really, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Derek Holland got the win, while Nick Hundley hit cleanup, and Gorkys Hernandez hit leadoff. This is a team that began the season (and the month!) with legitimate postseason aspirations, and they started Derek Holland, hit Nick Hundley cleanup, and hit Gorkys Hernandez leadoff.
Of course, injuries and required off days forced their hands, so it’s not like we should be mad at anyone for that lineup, unless you want to be mad at the front office for not giving Bochy better depth options. Which, if you do, that’s your prerogative, but I’m going to wait for a day when they don’t win 9-4 while starting four players who were never supposed to be starters.
As the game was starting, the broadcast duo spoke about the importance of winning this game, which gave the team a strong 7-3 record on the homestand, as they prepare for a very difficult road trip. Mike Krukow pointed out that 7-3 means you’re playing great baseball, while 6-4 means you’re playing good baseball.
I’m not quite as keen to put so much weight into the final data point, but it’s easy to understand what Kruk was implying. If you want to be playing relevant games in September, you need to string together a handful of 7-3 stretches, especially when they come against teams you expect to contend for the postseason. The Giants did exactly that.
Speaking of Kruk and Kuip, I feel obligated to point out that they were very complimentary of Belt when he drew a first inning walk. One remarked that Belt “has some guts” to take a close ball four, while the other asserted (accurately, I might add), that Belt “knows the strike zone better than most umpires.”
For some weird reason, Belt started the season riding a lot of pine, and hearing a lot of critique. For at least one week, both of those things have - thankfully - dwindled.
While the win is very nice, the brightest part of the day was the return of Will Smith, who pitched for the first time since 2016, following Tommy John surgery. Other than his beard color, there was no rust to be found, as his fastball was strong, and his breaking balls were sharp. He did walk the first batter he faced, but retired the next three with a pair of strikeouts and four swing-throughs.
That should dramatically help a bullpen that is in strong need of top-end reinforcements. Welcome back, Smith - it’s good to have you here.
Hopefully this wasn’t a gain-a-player, lose-a-player game, as McCutchen left the game after being hit by a pitch on the elbow. Fingers crossed there. And I won’t say anymore because I already cursed Johnny Cueto.
And just because the Giants have been weird all week, Bochy used Ty Blach as a pinch hitter. In the fifth inning, no less.
It doesn’t get any more Giant, or something.