That was fun. It’s certainly a contender for game of the year, and the spectacle was very much contained within the smaller moments. Although there were plenty of big moments, too. It felt like a really great stage play, with all the big story turns built around character motivations and grand emotion.
Pablo Sandoval hit the walk-off single in the 11th inning after Joe Maddon had auto-passed Brandon Crawford to first base and populated the infield with an outfielder, a pile of his dirty hoodies, and a stack of old Sports Illustrateds atop a furniture dolly. I think. I’m not 100% sure of the specifics, actually, but it looked like this:
If you’re going to leave two outfielders out there, shouldn’t they be closer in? Right now a dink could win it, and a sac fly wins it anyway. pic.twitter.com/og29n88lcP— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) July 10, 2018
Now, if you’d watched the whole game, you were rolling your eyes after seeing that formation because (1) Joe Maddon is a quirky guy who plays by his own set of rules, sometimes writing checks his managerial style can’t cash and (2) it felt like it was gonna work.
After Hunter Pence launched a fastball over Albert Almora’s head for a one-out triple in the bottom of the 10th, the Giants promptly struck out twice in a row to end the threat. That felt like it would be the end of it. The Cubs are too good — the best offense in the National League, in fact — and, surely, Ty Blach wasn’t going to keep Javier Báez at bay.
But he did. And in the bottom of the 11th, the Giants’ best hitters (save Buster Posey, whose right hip is clearly bothering him) delivered. We can save the debate for later, but right now, Pablo Sandoval — PABLO SANDOVAL! — is one of the team’s best hitters.
He sprained his thumb yesterday while sliding into third base, and today he delivered not only the game winning hit, but also a booming double to left field in the 2nd inning. He’s fine. It’s unbelievable how fine he’s been, too. This season lacks very little.
We’re not getting the best version of the Giants we’ve ever seen, but we’re not getting the worst, and in addition to the return of Pablo Sandoval and the continuing brilliance of Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, we’re getting fresh and exciting performances from the likes of Andrew Suarez, Alen Hanson, and Will Smith. It’s fun. This is fun. The Giants might not win anything, but the last time they were at or over .500 without making the postseason (2015’s 84-78), they were never actually fun and we didn’t know what there was to look forward to — you can kinda-sorta see something to build towards now.
Andrew Suárez walked 4 batters in 6 innings tonight when he’d walked a total of 4 in his previous 4 starts (25 innings). That’s partly because he couldn’t quite maintain his command and partly because the Cubs just wouldn’t chase a lot of close pitches, but he still wound up giving a strong performance, if only because he didn’t break when the Cubs bent him.
Addison Russell figured him out in the top of the 6th inning and flared a ball to right field for a leadoff double. I’m not sure this is when the following tweet appeared, but it was hard not to think of how dire the situation might get for him:
In his last 18 innings on the mound Andrew Suárez has received two runs of support.— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) July 10, 2018
And with Javier Báez on deck, I thought we were about to watch him get knocked out of the game. Instead, he struck out Báez on three pitches, then got Anthony Rizzo to ground out; and, after a walk to Wilson Contreras, got Ben Zobrist to fly out to end the inning. It was, in traditional parlance, a gritty performance. It didn’t look pretty, but it was effective.
But not Jonathan Sanchez effective, where he was effectively wild or whatever. Suárez kept his rhythm for the most part, didn’t deliberate pitch selection very much, and managed to use most of his repertoire for throughout the start. He has a 2.29 ERA in 47.1 innings pitched since June 2nd (8 starts, which includes tonight’s). He held the best offense in the National League to 1 run. He got his first major league hit, too. Kyle Hendricks’ 88 mph fastball must’ve looked like batting practice to him, but unlike trying to bunt, he made solid contact to smack it right back up the middle.
Andrew Suárez did all that. This rookie we weren’t even thinking about 6 months ago. And now we’re thinking about him for next season. That is fun to imagine. This is fun.
Suárez might’ve put up six zeroes had it not been for Alen Hanson’s high throw to Brandon Belt in the top of the 3rd at the back end of a double play that gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. I almost tweeted out “Alen Hanson TAKETH” because the frustration of his talent is that he turns routine and routine-ish plays into unnecessary adventures but usually makes a spectacular play to make up for it, either on offense or defense. But I didn’t want to jinx him, so I didn’t tweet. One of the few times that’s ever happened, by the way.
But then, Alen Hanson GAVETH —
Alen Hanson scores from first on an errant pick off attempt! pic.twitter.com/66eMrb95CT— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 10, 2018
He did something tonight that we’re told only someone as amazing as Javier Báez could pull off, only Hanson did it and he did it against Báez. Does this mean the Giants have their own Javier Báez? No!
You might call him dynamic, intriguing, flashy, ridiculous, but most of all — I’m going right back to the word — he’s fun. Alen Hanson is fun. Pablo Sandoval is fun. The Giants have the capacity to be fun, win or lose. That’s the best part of this damn hobby is when it’s fun.
Here’s another look at that play.
Alen Hanson going with a Baez slide to steal a run from the Cubs. pic.twitter.com/HnhqrGDtyP— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 10, 2018
Every time the Giants could’ve folded, they didn’t. They played the Cubs tough. There’s a bit more resolve... a bit more pluck in this bunch than what we’ve seen from a Giants team over the past few years. It’s exciting because of the possibilities. But if we just stay in the moment, experience it just in the present, it’s fun.