This was an incredibly off-brand game for the Giants. First, they did all their scoring in the first, and they looked feckless from there on out. Second, they compiled a spirited comeback in the ninth inning that actually came through.
Coming into the ninth inning, the Giants were trailing 3-1 and the Braves had Luke Jackson on the mound. Jackson has gained some notoriety because of his gnarly slider that drops like a curveball. Baseball Savant unveiled some new pitch movement tracking numbers today, and according to those metrics, Jackson’s slider has the largest drop compared to the average slider. It’s highly unusual that a slider thrown that hard breaks vertically so much.
You didn’t need the Statcast data to tell you that. You could watch the pitch trying to burrow itself into the earth, travel all the way to the core where it would cause all the earth’s volcanoes to spew forth liquid hot magma.
The Giants were trailing 3-1 in the ninth inning and if they were going to come back, they were going to have to do it against that pitch. Considering how feckless they looked against the Braves’ lesser pitchers, that seemed an impossible task.
Evan Longoria, who had driven in the Giants only other run of the game with a booming double, led off the inning with a groundout. Brandon Crawford worked to a 2-2 count and eventually singled on a tough slider just below the zone. At that point, the single only appeared to delay the inevitable as Steven Duggar followed that up with a strikeout.
Crawford advanced to second on defensive indifference. His run didn’t matter of course. The only runner that mattered to the Braves was Kevin Pillar. Pillar hadn’t had a hit since Friday, so Jackson disrespected him with three straight sliders. After seeing the pitch enough times, Pillar managed to send it back up the middle.
Pablo Sandoval, pinch-hitter extraordinaire, then stepped into the batter’s box. This was only possible because in the seventh, Pillar grounded into a double play. Had he not ruined the Giants’ chances in the seventh, Bruce Bochy would have used Pablo Sandoval to pinch hit there. Instead, he used Tyler Austin and opted to save Pablo Sandoval for a more crucial point.
This was that point though it quickly appeared as if Sandoval’s pinch-hitting magic had been used up in Arizona. Jackson got him down 0-2, but on a fastball above the letters, Kevin Pillar stole second base. Jackson is one of those closers that thinks, “I don’t care if you steal off of me. I’m just going to strike out the guy at the plate.” But maybe he should care. Just a little.
The tying run was then in scoring position and on the next pitch, Sandoval poked a ground ball to the left side. Josh Donaldson managed to keep the ball in the infield which prevented Pillar from scoring, but he couldn’t get the out.
Mac Williamson pinch-ran for Sandoval and Joe Panik stepped to the plate. Panik’s 17-game on-base streak came to an end last night, but he made up for it tonight. He had already reached base three times in the game. At one point, Kruk and Kuip lamented that Panik had only scored once. He had been doing everything he could to give the Giants a chance to win this game, but his teammates were screwing it up for him.
Panik, like Pablo before him, also fell to 0-2, but if there’s one thing that Panik does well it’s make contact. He fouled off two extremely tough pitches and he laid off three more. His discipline has been exceptional lately and it really paid off tonight. Even if the Giants had lost, I wanted to take a moment to write about what a spirited at-bat Panik had.
Jackson went with one last curveball, and he couldn’t have thrown it any better. If Panik swung, he was likely to put it on the ground or miss it entirely. If he took it, it would have been strike three.
Panik gets the credit for being the hero, but the winning run wouldn’t have scored if Mac Williamson hadn’t stole second. It was a completely heads up play and it really shifted the balance of the game. Jackson was taking an eternity to deliver the pitch, and the middle infielders weren’t being wary. He stole second uncontested. It looked like a defensive indifference play, but the Braves should have cared about that runner. It was the winning run you fools.
It feels like days ago, but this game was started by Shaun Anderson. In Shaun Anderson’s second start, I was looking for his secondary pitches to induce some swings and misses. Last time out, Anderson threw 37 sliders and got swings and misses on just three of them. If Anderson’s not able to miss bats with his best secondary pitch, his chances of success are mighty slim.
After the first inning, I had some concerns. Anderson impressed by not allowing a leadoff homer to Ronald Acuña Jr., but Dansby Swanson beat him on a 95 mph fastball on the outside edge. Anderson then threw a slider down and in to Nick Markakis. It looked sharp, and it went right to the glove, but Markakis wasn’t fooled by it. He doubled down the line to score the first run of the game. Anderson was making his pitches, but he was still getting beat.
But that turned out to be more of the first inning curse cast upon the Giants than an indictment of Anderson’s talent. He was much more effective as the game went on. He gave up some hard contact for sure. He benefited from Steven Duggar tracking down a ball to deep center and Brandon Crawford laying out for a line drive.
But Anderson kept pounding the strike zone and the whiffs came. He couldn’t make it through the sixth, but I think his outing tonight was more impressive than his debut. He got 9 swinging strikes on 79 pitches, and he didn’t walk anyone. It’s not a certainty that any Giant will make their next start, but nothing that I’ve seen suggests that Anderson needs more time in Sacramento.
Mostly, I want Anderson in the majors, so I can watch him bat more. In his first plate appearance, Anderson laid down a perfect bunt. Even an effective bunt isn’t a given for Giants pitchers. He followed that up with a 10-pitch at-bat. It ultimately ended with a strikeout, so Anderson is only hitting a paltry .667. Still, he showed more tenacity than any Giants hitter did. Until the ninth inning at least.