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Vlad Jr. awakens, the opener backfires

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his first and second home runs, and the Giants still gave up three runs in the first despite using an opener.

Toronto Blue Jays v San Francisco Giants Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

The Giants risked losing what good will they have left with their season ticket holders and change-averse fans by having Nick Vincent pitch the first inning. The Giants starters have been atrocious in the first, giving up 42 runs in 40 innings. The performance has been bad enough that Giants were willing to risk a veritable avalanche of poorly spelled Facebook comments and tweets excoriating them for caving to analytics. But hey, the benefit was that they could finally stop the bleeding in the first and give Tyler Beede an easy start against the middle of the Blue Jays order, right?

lol no

Of course, Nick Vincent gave up three runs in the first. It doesn’t matter that Vincent hadn’t given up three runs in an outing let alone an inning since July 29, 2018. Because he was pitching in the first inning while wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform in the year 2019, he got shellacked. As as the first run came across the plate, you could hear the collective clacking of people typing out “hows that opener working out???”

Okay, maybe Vincent was off because he needs those first five or six innings to get in the right head space. Maybe relievers really do need clearly defined roles in order to perform well. Maybe the adrenaline of taking the field to the rousing cheers of all the people in the Bay Area who don’t care about basketball got to Vincent.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe the opener isn’t a panacea for whatever ails your pitching staff. Maybe it’s just a strategy that grants a marginal advantage, but whose efficacy depends on the actual ability of the players performing it.

If the opener was going to fail, at least it failed spectacularly. At least one part of that first inning will be played in highlight reels 30 years from now when Vlad Jr. will be joining Vlad Sr. in Cooperstown. After 55 plate appearances, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finally went deep.

I hadn’t sat down to watch to Vlad Jr. since his debut, so I almost forgot how hard he swings. It’s not like how when Cody Bellinger swings hard, you can tell that’s he swinging as hard as he absolutely. Vlad Jr.’s swing has the same kind of violence and potential for devastation, but he looks like he’s just swinging normally.

What his swing reminds me of is the Mountain when he’s fighting Oberyn Martell. Every swing of his greatsword threatens to split Oberyn in twain. Watching that scene makes my heart pound with terror and it’s the same feeling I get watching Vlad Jr. swing a bat.

Later in the game, Vlad Jr. fouled a ball that Kruk and Kuip said was clocked at 120 mph. Had it been fair, it would have been the hardest hit ball all year. When Beede walked him to load the bases in the fourth, Mike Krukow said, “That’s a mistake.” Was it though? Loading the bases with a walk is never good, but when the guy can hit the ball harder than any other living person, maybe it’s not the worst thing that could happen.

A walk is certainly better than what he did to this slider from Reyes Moronta which is hit a 451-foot homer.

Vlad Jr. was going to awaken eventually. Struggles don’t last for long for a person with that much raw power. I don’t mean power in the conventional baseball sense, I mean, crackling lightning sparking from the finger tips, eyes glowing red, a maelstrom swirling around their levitating body sort of power.

Vlad Jr. is here, and no is safe.

Pablo Sandoval hit his fifth homer of the year bringing his slugging up to .608 after 76 plate appearances. Even more remarkable is that Sandoval drew his first walk of the year and as Kerry Crowley pointed out, his first walk since June 20, 2018. But he wasn’t done there. He walked again in the seventh to bring his on-base percentage above .300.

He was going up against the right pitcher to do it. Trent Thornton has problems hitting the strike zone as evidenced by the fact that he issued three four-pitch walks tonight. His zone percentage ranks about the same as Tyler Chatwood’s, but somehow, Thornton has only walked around four batters per inning.

The only other run the Giants got came on a Mac Williamson double in the eighth. That was his first extra-base hit since his 2019 debut. Heck, the single that he hit in the fourth was just his second hit in general since his first game of the season. In a game where the Giants failed to threaten at all despite getting five walks out of the opposing starter, Mac Williamson going 2-for-3 with a walk is a welcome consolation.

Tyler Beede had exactly one good inning. In the third, Beede struck out the side and looked masterful as he did it. The curveball bit below the zone and the fastball zipped across the letters. In 2 1/3 innings, Beede struck out five batters. If he could just put the ball where he wanted, he would be unstoppable.

But he can’t put the ball where he wants, so he also walked three in just over two innings. I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a pitcher who can look go from looking incredible to terrible as quickly as Tyler Beede. Just look at this curveball he threw to Johnathan Davis.

How are you supposed to hit that?

But Beede can go from eminently watchable to frustrating and dull in the span of an inning. I like it better when he’s throwing 97 across the letters. He should do that more often.