Have you ever given up on a dream? Seriously. Not the one where you’re extraordinarily wealthy and you look like you fell out of a magazine, but the dream that you knew in your soul to be your destiny?
Maybe you didn’t “give up” so much as circumstances got in the way, and the thing you love had to stay a hobby so that you could put a roof over your head or so that you could attribute your time to take care of other people in your life who needed you. Or maybe you had it taken away by a situation well beyond your control.
What if the dream was in your grasp and you just couldn’t make it become reality? Did you give up? Did you fail? Deep down, did you always “know” that you’d only ever get so close to it but ultimately wind up coming just short of it?
Mac Williamson must have been asking himself all these questions over the years, wondering if he was on a path to professional oblivion ... long after many nights of considering whether or not he has what it takes to be a major leaguer.
He had a bad spring. It was a setback. But when he went to Triple-A, he persevered. Every night became a step back in the direction of his dream, his goal to prove he belongs. He was every bit a major leaguer tonight and put on a helluva demonstration for people who might be on the fence about the effectiveness of hard work, talent, and perseverance.
His journey to tonight didn’t start with that accident by the bullpen mound last year. It didn’t start with realizing that he needed to retool his swing last offseason. Those have just been stops along the way, just as his call-ups and send-downs have been over the past few years. And just as tonight’s remarkable 2-for-4, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 1 outfield assist performance is.
It was the first 4-RBI game of his career. 121 major league games, high expectations as a slugger, given his obvious, booming power, but he’d never driven in four runs in a major league game until tonight. He’d hit extremely well in a limited sampling at Coors field (OPS over 1.000), but still, no 4-RBI game.
If you look at how he handled each of his plate appearances tonight and compare them to your recollection of his appearances in years past, the answer might just be obvious. After hitting a 3-run home run to give the Giants a 4-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning —
— he continued to put together great plate appearances. He fell behind in the count 0-2 in the plate appearance after the home run but rather than chase a fastball away that was meant to tease, he stayed patient and went after another fastball in the zone for a single that drove in another run.
His next plate appearance was an 8-pitch walk, laying off a bunch of nasty cutters from Seunghwan Oh. His last at bat in the ninth inning saw him rip a fastball that might’ve gone for a hit after it deflected off the pitcher.
In every plate appearance, he stayed balanced in his swing and seemed to be really locked in at the plate, looking for pitches to hit and not getting caught — or, at least, looking like he wasn’t getting caught — playing guessing games. The Mac I remember is one who would get greedy after a 3-run home run and chase pitches the rest of the game.
He didn’t do that. He stayed within himself and stuck to what had got him back to the majors. It made me happy to watch him go to work, treating each pitch like a discrete event rather than part of a total at bat. But tonight is another stop along the way.
The “last chance for Mac” vibe has been in the air all day. Even Mac himself talked about this being his last shot with the Giants. There are logistical reasons for this (out of options, no ability to outright him back to the minors) and metaphorical ones. Beyond that, though, teams know who he is nearly as much as the Giants do, and the fact that everybody passed him up when he was put on waivers right after spring training and went unclaimed suggests that should it happen again, teams will understand why and do the same thing.
But that’s the unknowable future. Tonight was the livable now. Mac Williamson led the Giants to their largest win of the season because he didn’t give up. We know he’s not going to give up. I couldn’t help but think about Rocky’s speech at the end of the first ROCKY:
ROCKY: I can’t do it.
ROCKY: I can’t beat him.
ROCKY: Yeah. I been out there walkin’ around, thinkin’. I mean, who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.
ADRIAN: What are we gonna do?
ROCKY: I don’t know.
ADRIAN: You worked so hard.
ROCKY: Yeah, that don’t matter. ‘Cause I was nobody before.
ADRIAN: Don’t say that.
ROCKY: Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.
Yeah, quoting Rocky might be a cliche, but I only saw the movie for the very first time in 2015, and, what can I say? It has stuck with me ever since.
We don’t owe people their expectations of us. We only owe it to ourselves to be the best we can possibly be and when we have an opportunity of any kind, to do all we can so that when we walk away we know that we did all we could.
There is no shame in giving up on a dream or even shifting our personal goals and aspirations. We can always learn something about ourselves in the surrender. We can always grow and change and become a self we could never have imagined because of that singular focus. Forget the “good” or “bad” in coming up short. Consider Mac Williamson’s example: just try. And don’t stop. You’ll find answers in the effort.
Unrelated, but related:
Madison Bumgarner’s first pitch of the fourth inning after the Giants had staked him to a 6-1 lead was a 93 mph strike to Daniel Murphy. He averaged 92.5 mph with his 2-seam fastball in six innings tonight. He also threw it 60 times.
He made exactly three mistakes tonight — two were hit for home runs, one was hit for a triple — and all of them were because of poor location with that 2-seamer. But he also had eight strikeouts on the night and five of those were because of his 2-seam fastball.
After he gave up a home run to Chris Iannetta in the bottom of the fifth, he got Trevor Story to pop up on a 3-2 fastball with a runner on base. The Madison Bumgarner of early last month, the Bumgarner of most of last season, and the season before might’ve started to unravel here, hoping his cutter command and perfectly timed curveball could bail him out of a mini jam — and make no mistake, a runner on with two outs and a 7-3 lead in Colorado is a mini jam — but he started the night confident in his good fastball and stuck with his good fastball until the very end.
We’ve probably written more than once over the past eighteen months about how we saw flashes of the old Bumgarner in a start, but he’s struck out 16 and walked just 3 in his last two starts (12 IP) and his fastball is back. He has vintage Bumgarner velocity. A pitcher’s fastball velocity is one of the most important numbers to keep an eye on.
Yeah, in scouting, it’s all about finding the pitchers who can throw gas all the time, but effective, long-lasting major league starters need sustainable, average to above average velocity to be effective year after year. The past two years have seen a dip in that average fastball velocity, putting Bumgarner more in the 88-90 range. If he’s back to 91-92 with movement, it brings the rest of his repertoire back to being formidable when combined with astute sequencing.
We’ve seen the very best that Madison Bumgarner can be in these past two starts, and you should absolutely give him extra points for not falling apart because he pitched in Coors Field tonight. The Rockies were at full strength, that lineup can hurt him, but tonight, they really didn’t.
Ending on this image that I saw out of the corner of my just as the broadcast signed off.
Nothing iconic about it, but something memorable, maybe even a little bittersweet. Bochy watching his players in the cheer line, possibly considering the big game he just witnessed but also maybe what he’s going to eat when he gets into the clubhouse. The Giants really had their asses handed to them in Cincinnati despite splitting the series. To come into a place where they’ve had so many — so, so many — disappointments, frustrations, and nightmares and do what they did after what had just been done to them has to feel good.