This was not how this game was supposed to go. Max Scherzer was supposed to be completely and utterly dominant. He was. Derek Holland was supposed to be good-not-great. He was. The Nationals were supposed to win. They did not. The Giants won.
The Giants won?
Against Max Scherzer, hitters not named Pablo or Brandon were 1-for-22 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts. Scherzer pounded the strike zone with five different pitches that all had sickening movement. While a hitter was gearing up for a 96 MPH fastball, he’d drop a paralyzing 78 MPH curve at the belt. His slider looked just like a middle-middle fastball until it’d dive below the zone. At one point, he struck out six batters in a row, but you couldn’t even be mad. Scherzer was unhittable.
The lone hit was a lead-off double off the bat off Austin Jackson. Naturally, the double was wasted because Derek Holland couldn’t get a bunt down and the next two batters were not named Pablo or Brandon.
Against hitters named Pablo or Brandon, Scherzer was not the same guy. Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford combined to go 3-for-4 with two walks, a double, and a home run against Scherzer.
The one out they made occurred when Sandoval popped out swinging at a first pitch curveball. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out Thursday and Bryan Murphy expanded upon, Sandoval hasn’t swung at the first pitch very often this year. This was only the fifth time he’s swung at a first pitch this year, and it came after he had walked twice.
It makes sense he would swing at the first pitch. He had seen two first-pitch fastballs previously, and he probably figured Scherzer wouldn’t want to walk him again. Maybe Scherzer reads Fangraphs and knows Sandoval doesn’t swing at the first pitch anymore and he could get a middle-middle fastball by him.
But I guess Scherzer knew he knew, so good on him and Pedro Severino for going with a curveball there.
The only mistake Scherzer made today was the belt-high cutter he threw to Crawford. Crawford, unimpressed with Scherzer’s stuff, took an upper decker on it. It sounded amazing. I want an ASMR track that’s just the crack of that dinger played every three seconds.
Yeah, that’s the stuff.
Crawford wound up being a triple away from the cycle for, I think, the third time this season. Jon Miller said it best after Crawford hit his second double: “It’s more of an oddity. You can have a better day without hitting for the cycle.” Crawford was 4-for-4 with two doubles and a dinger, so he was just one total base away. Crawford’s day probably won’t be part of any trivia questions, but this was just as good as hitting for the cycle.
Crawford also contributed with his glove, too. Again, it wasn’t the kind of play that was going to make the front page of mlb.com because it wasn’t especially flashy (and required a bit of a screw-up by a baserunner), but it was a smart play.
In the seventh, Michael Taylor had second stolen off Sam Dyson. Buster Posey had no chance to throw him out and hurried the throw, bouncing it into second. Crawford dug it out, which was a nice play in and of itself to keep it from getting by him. Taylor’s foot came off the bag for half a second, and Crawford stuck the tag on him to secure the out.
Another shortstop might not have kept the tag on him. The Nationals couldn’t keep the tag on Mac Williamson who came completely off the base. (It was an admittedly much worse throw, but Crawford would have gotten him out.) If Taylor steals that base, it (probably) completely changes the outcome of the game. With another out, the Nationals manage to scrape that run across. They add on another run in the ninth against Hunter Strickland, and the game goes sixteen innings. The Giants lose on a walk-off balk.
But that didn’t happen.
Of course, for Crawford’s homer to be enough, the pitching had to be excellent. Derek Holland couldn’t make it through the sixth, and he got into trouble a couple of times, but for the most part, he pitched effectively. His curveball command was there when he needed it. When he missed, he missed away from the plate. Other than that, he kept his pitches at the edge of the strike zone, and the Nationals couldn’t hit the ball hard against him.
It’d be a bit much to say he outdueled Max Scherzer—Scherzer threw more innings, had more strikeouts—but Holland’s mistakes weren’t the kind that get blasted into the upper deck.
Because Holland only lasted five innings, that meant the bullpen had to hold a two-run lead for four innings. Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson, and Hunter Strickland combined for four innings of shutout baseball. The only two baserunners they allowed came by way of the walk.
After the last two years, it is such a welcome change to feel confident in the bullpen. They’re not quite a three-headed monster, but they’re a long way from being eight personifications of hand-wringing and collar tugging.
Perhaps the most impressive outing came from Strickland, who had to go through Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Mark Reynolds. He did so on just 9 pitches, 7 of which were strikes. His match-up against Harper was uneventful, which is somewhat bittersweet. One of these days, Harper is going to burn Strickland, and I really just want him to get it over with. I don’t want to wait until the first time the Giants and Dodgers face off in an NLCS. With a two-run lead and nobody on, this would have been a great time to do it.
The Giants took 4 out of 6 from one of the best teams in the NL, and they did it by taking down the best pitcher in the majors. They’re a game above .500 heading into a four-game series against the Marlins. Now watch them get swept.