Coors Field does not suffer fools. Yesterday, the Giants swept a doubleheader, scoring 19 in the first game and winning 2-1 in the second. You can’t defy Coors Field like that. You might be able to get away with holding the Rockies down for a couple of games, but the bill always comes due. And tonight it did. Extremely.
Will Smith had allowed just three home runs this season — and just six in two and a half seasons with the Giants — before giving up two in the bottom of the ninth. Two is also the number of blown saves Smith now has on the season, both of which have come on this road trip. What does this mean?
Coors Field does not suffer fools.
Will Smith paid the price for the Giants’ insolence. But Coors Field doesn’t defeat you, it creates the conditions for you to defeat yourself. It gets in your heads and triggers all your insecurities, setting off that voice that tells you you’re not good enough, everybody knows you’re a fraud, and you’re going to elevate your fastball for no good reason.
But Smith didn’t fold. He got beat — easily — on two elevated fastballs, and all of the Rockies’ contact came on that four-seamer. After lefty Raimel Tapia slapped a ball to left field, Smith finally did what most pitchers can’t do: he changed his mind. He retired the next two batters by throwing his slider and held the game at a 4-4 tie. The Coors Field curse counts on pitchers doing the opposite.
The Giants of two months ago would not have been able to hold that tie. The Giants of two months ago would not have stormed back in the top of the tenth and score four more runs. The Rockies’ ninth inning rally would’ve been the punch in the mouth that would’ve made them fold.
But these are the Giants of now, and they’re playing with purpose. They’re playing like the last three years didn’t happen — or, better yet, like they don’t care. There’s nothing profound about a 46-49 team, but the Giants have been at the bottom of the division for most of the year and now they’re tied for third place and just three games out of a playoff spot. It has literally been years since the Giants were this much fun.
It has been years since someone got hot and stayed hot. Alex Dickerson has hit the ball hard and often since joining the team and tonight he drove in the tie-breaking run in the top of the tenth. His hit in the eighth inning finally gave the Giants some more separation, expanding a 2-1 lead to 3-1.
We saw Dickerson’s intelligence tonight, too. Both of those RBI hits came on swing adjustments. Both were basically off-speed pitches away — although, the cutter in the tenth missed location and hit the middle of the plate — and he shot both of them into left field. He went with the pitches, basically, which means he’s not just some lumbering galoot up there who’s only swinging for the fences.
But it’s Colorado! Swinging for the fences works! And, indeed, Posey and Crawford and Sandoval all tried to do exactly that early in the count and then adjusted their approach as their at bats went on. It would’ve been easy to stay in swing for the fences mode, but the Giants didn’t give in to that temptation.
They’re focused. They’re playing for something. Maybe it’s Bochy. Maybe it’s just to get over the feeling of being a bad team. Or maybe it’s that fresh bodies have reinvigorated the old ones. Whatever the case, the Giants are better now than they’ve been at any point in at least the past calendar year, and now they’re 6-2 in extra innings on the season.
Drew Pomeranz had another solid start, but he self-sabotaged it just enough to prevent it from being a stellar one. He ended the top of the second inning by bunting into a double play and then walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the sixth. He’d give up a single to the next batter and get pulled, meaning he’s still finished more than five innings (so, 5.1+) just once this season.
That’s not great, but then again, if you adjust your expectations and look at him as the fifth starter, it’s not terrible, either. When he’s been at his best, he’s been solid. Tonight, he didn’t throw his curveball, but was effective throwing 91-94 mph, with the low end of that mph acting more like a cutter than a straight fastball.
He struck out 11 Rockies a few weeks ago and it looked like most of the batters were waiting for him to attack with the same arsenal and sequencing that he got them with back in San Francisco, but he had an entirely different approach this time around, elevating his fastball but still keeping it in the zone, and keeping the Rockies off balance.
Maybe he just didn’t have a feel for that curveball tonight, or maybe it was all part of the plan. Either way, it’s hard not to lump in the performance with how the Giants have been playing of late: smarter, more focused, and with better results.
Kevin Pillar made three fantastic plays in the vast expanse of Coors Field. Here are two of them:
Kevin Pillar doing the whole Superman thing. Again. pic.twitter.com/X4PCGEosTu— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 17, 2019
This second one had a 50% catch probability. Pillar setup deep all night long because of how the ball carries a mile high. That meant that he really had to have good jumps to get balls that died before they reached him, and it looks like he did at least three times. This fifty-fifty catch, though, reinforces that he still knows what he’s doing out there and he still has the defensive talent to compensate for the below average bat.
Those are good instincts. He’s playing with focus and purpose.
Mark Melancon came in to close out the game in the bottom of the tenth, ostensibly an audition for the closer’s role after the trade deadline. After striking out Mark Reynolds with ease, he walked Charlie Blackmon. Now, it’s a 4-run lead. It is Coors Field, but the walk stood out. Melancon closed out the game unscathed, but if you watched the game, just think about Sam Dyson’s inning. Or Tony Watson’s.
Can’t remember them? It’s because they were uneventful.
We’re going to miss this bullpen when it’s gone.
It's like the Giants just woke up after a three year nap and are finishing the 2016 season— Sami Higgins (@samihiggins) July 17, 2019
... if it even goes?
The Giants blew a lead late in Coors Field. We know how that story usually ends. Tonight, they came back and won it 8-4, and looked like a team we barely recognize.