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O Captain, My Captain

Brandon Belt’s 2021 was short, but wonderful and hopefully foreshadows more to come.

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Brandon Belt ended the 2021 season on the injured list. He fractured his thumb squaring up for, in retrospect, an incredibly ill-advised bunt in Colorado on September 26th. The Giants had clinched a playoff spot 12 days earlier with the NL West still to be determined.

He was the hottest hitter on the team at the time of his injury, His September may have been the best offensive month of his career, authoring this batting line .349/.451/.721 with an OPS of 1.172 over 22 games.

There were questions in September whether the Giants would be able to find a replacement for Belt’s bat in the postseason. Ultimately, they didn’t. The offense went dormant and lost a decisive game 5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers by one run. Now and forever, the questions and nagging what ifs will remain.

What if Brandon Belt didn’t try to bunt in that game?

‘Don’t go down that rabbit hole,’ my cat softly says to me this autumnal Sunday morning. ‘It will only end in madness.’

What is wild to consider is that Brandon Belt only appeared in 97 games in 2021, logging 325 at-bats. The 107-win Giants played 65 games without their starting first baseman. Belt was missed, but when he was missing they found suitable (or more than suitable) platoons in Darin Ruf, Wilmer Flores and LaMonte Wade Jr.

Brandon Belt’s September left such an impression on me that I forgot he had a very sub-par April, played in only 30 games across May and June, and didn’t play a single game in July.

After a slow start, Belt’s offensive production climbed over the next two months before straining his left oblique in late May. Belt came off the IL on June 8th and proceeded to hit .304/.391/.589 and an OPS .980, before injuring himself again attempting to score from third on June 23rd against the Los Angeles Angels.

He didn’t play again until August 5th.

His first hit back was an RBI single in the 9th, part of a 4-run 9th inning the Giants put together against Arizona’s Tyler Clippard to tie the game. They would go on to win 5-4 in extra innings.

If the Giants don’t win this game, they tie the division.

But if Brandon Belt wasn’t on the IL for the past month, does he hit that single?

If’s are tricky. Let’s get back to what we know.

For the months of August and September, with the NL West on the line, the Giants needed Brandon Belt and Belt delivered. 18 of his team leading 29 home runs came in those months. His OPS over those forty-or-so games was 1.085.

I’ll rewrite his September batting line: .349/.451/.721 with an OPS of 1.172.

My most vivid Brandon Belt moment from that month came on September 17th against the Atlanta Braves. A game you might know as the “Kevin Gausman Sac-Fly Walk-Off Masterpiece” and a game that will certainly be near the finale of the “2021 San Francisco Giants Best Of” VHS tape (Available to purchase or rent this coming November from a Hollywood Video near you).

At game time: The Giants held a one-a-half game lead over the Dodgers who had just lost to Cincinnati. Logan Webb was on the mound to start a weekend series against the Braves who had given SF trouble in their series in Atlanta.

After getting two quick outs, Logan Webb was quickly tagged for two runs in the top of the first. The Giants, hoping to expand their NL West lead to 2 games (which at the time felt like a chasm comparable to the Grand Canyon) were suddenly down 2-0 against the starter Ian Anderson and a potent Atlanta lineup.

Batting second, with the lead-off man on base, the newly-appointed captain Brandon Belt launched a 2-0 fastball into the Arcade to tie the game up at 2 a piece.

I know it was just the first inning, but it was the kind of swing that brought everyone in the Giants dugout and stadium and in my apartment back into the game.

Webb re-focused and shut the Braves down for six more innings, the Giants offense added two more runs and then, after Tyler Rogers gave up a three run blast in the 9th to put the giants down, Donovan Solano knocked a game-tying pinch hit home run to keep SF in the game. They eventually won it in the 11th with Gausman’s sacrifice fly.

Belt’s homer in the first set-up Solano’s homer in the 9th. No doubt about it.

Hitting is contagious.

In previous seasons, Belt was maybe my third favorite of the Giants stalwarts behind Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. I’m sure there are some Belters out there—die hards for Number 9, but Posey and Crawford have been the fan favorites for some time. This is a terrible comparison, but I was listening to The Beatles ‘Revolver’ earlier so it makes sense in my head right now—but Belt is a little like a George Harrison and Ringo Starr mix. Quiet and goofy and lovable, sure, but not serious. He has one All-Star nod to his name, no Gold Glove or MVP hardware. He had some moments over the years, but Posey and Crawford have always outshone him.

That may still be true with the years Crawford and Posey just had, but these past two seasons for Belt have felt like George Harrison writing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ then following it up with ‘Something.’

The 2020/2021 seasons have been career years and in some ways, it feels like he’s just getting started. They’ve been abbreviated, yes, but unforgettable and people around baseball are taking notice.

Brandon Belt is a free agent this off-season and he’s going to get looked at by other teams, but I think he’ll come back to San Francisco. It’s been stated as a priority in the front office, and I think there are too many positives with the future of this franchise for Belt to go anywhere else.

But, again, that’s what they said about The Beatles.*

*Excuse my ominous tone. I really don’t think Belt is going anywhere.