If you tuned in late, the Reds seemed to demoralize the Giants with back to back to back home runs in the bottom of the first inning against Jeff Samardzija and end the third game of this four game series early.
Seriously. One of the reasons why this is going up so late is because the photo tool we use to embed pictures into these article headlines had nothing after the bottom of the first inning, so all that’s there are pictures of a disappointed Jeff Samardzija and a bunch of celebrating Reds.
Given the Giants’ recent history in Cincinnati and the escalating home runs hit off of Samardzija in the bottom of the first — the first homer by Eugenio Suarez was hit just 338 feet with an exit velocity of 94.8 mph and an expected batting average of .190; Jesse Winker’s had a 103.3 mph exit velocity and .620 xBA; and Derek Dietrich’s demolition shot had a game-leading 110 mph exit velocity and .980 xBA — assuming this one was over before it really even started was a logical conclusion.
It turns out, though, that baseball really doesn’t care what you just did. There’s no logic to how a game unfolds. If there are outs remaining, the chance to be humbled still exists. And somehow, our demoralized Giants figured out a way to humble the Reds.
Remember, the Giants have been dreadful in Cincinnati over the past decade. Just dreadful.
Yes, except for those three games in 2012.
Friday night’s game figured to be more of the same after the Reds sprinted out to an 8-0 lead. The Giants came back and won it only to follow it up with an uninspiring, return-to-their-natural-state 9-2 loss last night. This afternoon began as so many other afternoons in the birthplace of Skyline Chili had.
Kevin Pillar perhaps misplayed a flyball by Joey Votto, putting a runner on for Suarez, who then basically flipped a pitch to the opposite field for his home run. The Giants give up so many cheap home runs to the Reds, that it’s not surprising at this point, it’s only demoralizing because the Giants aren’t able to hit any of those themselves.
Not only was Saurez’s a “cheapie”, Kyle Farmer’s home run in the ninth inning had an expected batting average of .080. It has been very frustrating to watch the Giants lose and lose so badly in Cincinnati, and just sad because they haven’t been able to hit like the Reds in what is, factually, a very good park for scoring runs.
Friday night was a minor miracle. Today’s 6-5 win was a miracle. Just look at Bruce Bochy’s face:
So, how did we get from there to here?
The Giants were up against their former prospect, Luis Castillo, whose 50 strikeouts were third-most in the National League. He had a no-hitter through five innings and a 4-run lead on the back of that first inning home run barrage.
Jeff Samardzija gave up back to back to back home runs. He looked very vulnerable in the early going. It’s really important to remember that the Reds hit four home runs in this game and still lost it.
With Castillo dealing, Samardzija getting blasted right after the first pitch, and the Giants having already won a game on Friday night in a way they hadn’t won a game in nearly 30 years, a miracle win couldn’t have been in anyone’s mind.
And then Jeff Samardzija settled in. After the Reds thrice homered before he even recorded an out, he went lineout, pop out, infield hit, and strike out and then retired the next 12 batters until he was pulled for Steven Vogt. It was a miraculous comeback within a more miraculous comeback.
The game plan seemed to be to get ahead of the Reds’ hitters with a pitch in the zone, thinking they’d take it. Instead, the Reds hunted for strikes early in the count and that’s how Samardzija wound up giving up back to back to back home runs on three straight pitches.
Some, uh, notes about that:
Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and Derek Dietrich of the @Reds hit back-to-back-to-back home runs on 3 straight pitches.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) May 5, 2019
The last team to do this was the Dodgers on June 12, 2007: Wilson Betemit, Matt Kemp and Hong-Chih Kuo all homered off the Mets' John Maine.#BornToBaseball
Previous time one #sfgiants pitcher gave up three straight homers? Brett Tomko on April 18, 2004. Beltre, Encarnacion, Ross.— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) May 5, 2019
That took four pitches.
Today's took three.
That puts Samardzija in some interesting company, sure, but rather than do what I normally do and try to draw conclusions from disparate comparisons, I’ll instead focus on what we’ve got. Samardzija gave up three or more home runs in a game three times in 2017, the last time he was considered a “solid major league pitcher”. Ignoring for the moment all the numbers we have at our disposal, I think you’d agree that some measure of “solid” or “professional” involves dealing with adversity.
It would’ve been very easy for Samardzija to totally fold. Instead, he stuck to the game plan and if he didn’t get a better feel of his command after that, then he certainly made better judgments about location and pitch type. He didn’t have the Reds off balance, but he settled down and made his pitches. He still has the stuff and that’s why he can still be an effective major league pitcher.
But, hoo boy, for as much as he protested this offseason, he’s definitely the main pitcher on the Giants’ staff who could benefit from an opener. Coming into today’s game, teams had a .783 OPS in the first inning against him for his career, .780 OPS this season.
Still, that settling in component is what set the stage for this more miraculous comeback. Had he kept giving up runs, the Giants wouldn’t have been able to stay within striking distance. Sure, you might laugh about the Giants staying within striking distance, given that they are practically the worst offense in baseball, but a four run deficit doesn’t compel the Baseball Gods to leave the stadium. They’re not Getty Images photographers.
Steven Duggar extended his hitting streak to four games with a single up the middle to break up Castillo’s no hitter in the sixth. This put Castillo in the stretch, and that — literally, that slight change — is what gave the Giants their opening to continue their comeback. Samardzija set the stage, Duggar’s single and Stephen Vogt’s pinch hit four-pitch walk would get Buster Posey to the plate.
He did what the Reds had done to Samardzija in the first: hunted for a strike and hoped that hitting the hell out of it would lead to a home run:
A @BusterPosey home run definitely sparks joy. #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/j8RgbqgksE— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) May 5, 2019
This was Buster’s second three-run home run of the season, following a season in which he had zero. He had all of four from 2016-2018. He’s hit a three-run home run in two of the last three Sundays, in fact, which could just be a weird fluke and not necessarily demonstrative of a return to a power hitting Posey, but it’s nice to point out that the team’s hero is having his hero moments.
It’s also nice to have a good bullpen. Trevor Gott came in throwing 95 mph fastballs right by the Reds after Buster Posey had tied the game, but it looked like the 4-4 tie was going to fall away after Gott got squeezed with two outs.
Now, I had all this setup to be a run complaining about a possible loss — I mean, just look at what happened on this non-strike call:
That was pitch number 4 on this chart:
Or the highlighted triangle in this graph (remember: Brooks Baseball graphs are from the umpire/catcher’s POV):
Gott would need 12 more pitches to get out of the inning, and just like the home runs in the first inning, it might’ve been a setup for a collapse. That didn’t happen because Trevor Gott has the stuff.
So does Reyes Moronta, who didn’t want to give the Reds a cheap home run by powering their flyballs with his 98 mph fastball. That was the Giants’ game plan in the later innings, was figuring out a way to take the sting out of the Reds’ bats.
Moronta came into the game throwing his slider 35.5% of the time. He threw 26 pitches in the bottom of the seventh inning, 18 of which were sliders (69.2%).
Meanwhile, the Reds had already been executing this game plan all series long, teasing hitters with tempting fastballs on the edges or out of the zone (that was Posey’s home run) and throwing breaking and offspeed pitches in the zone. When Brandon Crawford stepped to the plate, they knew they were facing a wounded animal. Crawford had just three extra base hits this season (all doubles) with a .510 OPS.
Their closer, Raisel Iglesias thought he could throw any pitch at any time. He did not throw this changeup where he wanted it to end up, however.
Brandon Crawford's turn to come up in the clutch! pic.twitter.com/obaWH6w1wX— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) May 5, 2019
Miracles don’t just happen. There are always sequences that lead up to them. A miracle is a leap from there to here when nothing rational can explain what makes the leap possible.
It should not be possible for the Giants to hit home runs in the Great American Ballpark because 1) they are extremely bad at hitting home runs in general and 2) they are even worse in every facet of the game when they play the Reds in the Great American Ballpark.
They needed the knockout punches to happen with the majority of their outs remaining, then they needed to forget those knockout punches, then they needed to keep it close, and then they needed a little luck. They got everything they needed and gave us their best miracle win of the season since the last one.