There was a moment...
... right after Evan Longoria smashed a single to left field where I got excited about the possibility of a slightly above league average season from the slugging third baseman. A moment where any of us could channel the excitement of a new baseball season into our fanatical imaginations. He’s 33 and he’s had a whole season to adjust to a new team and league. Even with all the injuries last year, maybe he still has one good season in him?
... just as Buster Posey flied out to center to end the first where it looked like he was swinging pain free and you were allowed to feel wholly optimistic about his chances of being the Giants’ All-Star.
... when Madison Bumgarner struck out Ian Kinsler, Manny Machado, and Franmil Reyes in the first inning where you could embrace the thrill of possibility. Hey, his stuff looked good. Those were all swinging strikes! Is the ace back?
... as I was taking a walk through my neighborhood before the game (this job is so much sitting, just all the time with the sitting — too much sitting) that a wave of fresh spring air hit me right when Duane Kuiper said “it’s a clean slate” and anything felt possible in that moment. Anything’s better than last September, and the whole point of embracing hope is the power it gives you to reject the depressions of the past. Or, to be less hyperbolic — surely, the Giants couldn’t look as bad as they did at the end of last year.
There was a moment today when it all felt different, before it turned out to be exactly the same. These are the Giants of yore, the Giants you know, the Giants you abhor, and the only good thing to say about today’s loss is that it figures to be the status quo. Maybe for the rest of the year, maybe not, but for some good chunk of your valuable time over the next six months, the 2019 Giants are going to look, feel, and play like the 2017 and 2018 Giants.
We’ve already seen the best baseball we’re ever going to see out of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner, but let’s not mourn or rage against the passing of time. Let’s appreciate what happened and that the Giants offense is so inert, so pointless, so empty and boring that these games aren’t going to last very long anyway.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. This was the Padres’ Opening Day, and it came after the biggest offseason in franchise history. Manny Machado is a mega star. Fernando Tatis Jr. is the kind of prospect who makes fans excited about their team and the team’s farm system — a pivot that tells front offices they’ve converted casual fans into mega fans. It was a sellout. Ian Kinsler got the first hit of his career against Madison Bumgarner. The Giants have a lefty-heavy lineup and today’s starter, Eric Lauer, is coming off a great spring (12 strikeouts in 10 innings, and a 0.00 ERA). It was destiny.
Right down to Andy Green managing the game with maximum obnoxiousness. If you didn’t watch the game, he used three pitchers in the seventh inning to stifle the Giants’ mini rally. Trey Wingenter started the inning in relief of Lauer, and after Posey singled and Crawford erased Posey on a bungled force out by Wil Myers, Bruce Bochy pinch hit Gerardo Parra for Connor Joe because Connor Joe is a rookie in a late game situation, so rather than let him try Bochy went with a veteran because it’s his final year as manager and so why change now? Green responded by inserting Aaron Loup to face him, then pulled him to get a righty in there to face Michael Reed, only for Bochy to pinch hit with Yangervis Solarte, because he’s always been an annoying manager, so why change now?
I’m not only ready for the new three batter minimum, I’m ready for Andy Green to become a bench coach in a sim league. Anyway, taken together, exactly what was supposed to happen is exactly what happened.
We got to witness the debut of Fernando Tatis Jr., and the kid lived up to the hype. He also didn’t kill the Giants, so, best of both worlds there.
Connor Joe made his major league debut, too, and in front of his friends and family.
Connor Joe draws a walk in his first big league plate appearance. Pretty special day for the 26-year-old. Rancho Bernardo High and Univ. of San Diego product making his major league debut in his hometown— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) March 28, 2019
That walk came after one out in the second inning and given the state of the Giants’ offense, was definitely the start of their only rally. Ted Barrett looked to miss a lot of strikes belt and up but was being very generous with the zone down and away — at least in the early going. That’s how Joe was able to basically look at 5.5 strikes and still get on base:
He looked patient at the plate, and I know that because his batting stance aims him almost straight at the center field camera.
Connor Joe’s stance. I’m digging it. pic.twitter.com/uClzNosnln— Jessica Kleinschmidt (@KleinschmidtJD) March 24, 2019
You can see why he’s a Farhan Zaidi Favorite — a Farhvorite? — and, as Duane Kuiper noted in the post-game wrap: “he looks like a Navy SEAL. He looks like he could kill you nine different ways.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, though, Ian Kinsler tested his arm on a hard hit ball to left field that hit off the base of the wall. In a mirror of the exact play that ended the top of the sixth — Evan Longoria tried to get to second base after smashing a ball to left, but Wil Myers allegedly threw him out (more on that later) — Joe went to throw out Kinsler and... well... the result definitely killed the Giants in one of those nine different ways. It was a bad throw. We’ll have to see if that’s his genuine arm strength or if he was just caught off guard by Kinsler’s hustle play that setup the Padres’ second run.
But let’s not end this recap on Connor Joe’s throw or even Evan Longoria getting tagged out trying to stretch that hit into a double. He was totally safe even if the replay umps didn’t think so, but oh well — the Giants have “been bad” at replay this whole time, too.
Besides, it almost didn’t matter what happened after Wil Myers crushed that home run to right center field in the third to give San Diego a 1-0 lead. The Giants’ offense just isn’t capable of scoring runs. That’s been the case for the past two and a half years. Nothing has changed except the calendar. Instead, let’s talk about Nick Vincent, one of the last signings before spring training.
Every pitch of his had movement and purpose. The slider looked crisp and the fastball darted all over the place. He hit corners effectively. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but you don’t need as much velocity if you have movement and angles and oh baby does Nick Vincent have movement and angles. If Bruce Bochy limits him to just getting work late in games when the Giants are trailing, we still might see him 60-70 times this season, but it might be worth it because he just exudes competence.
And let’s close with the best part of today’s game for the Giants: Madison Bumgarner.
There was a moment when I wondered if we were going to even catch a glimpse of his former dominance this season. We saw it today. If not vintage Bumgarner, then “adapted to his new present circumstances” Bumgarner.
He opened the game with a three-pitch strikeout of Ian Kinsler. He probably had Wil Myers struck out looking were it not for the wonky-ish zone (it was at least consistently wonky), and then he struck out Manny Machado and Franmil Reyes to end the first inning. He added a bloop single later in the game and left with this line:
Bumgarner had only three starts of seven innings last year and the most strikeouts he had in a game was eight. This was the Padres’ day, but they could’ve made it worse by revealing that Madison Bumgarner was a shell of himself. Instead, he gave them his best, and his best looked fantastic. There have been moments when it’s looked like those days were over. It’s nice to know not everything about this group is ancient history.