As an old song goes, it seems like yesterday, but it was long ago. It is now easy to forget and even laugh at September 1 and how the Giants managed to lose a game in which their winning probability stood at 98% in the eighth inning, but at that time, it seemed as ominous a sign as any. With Matt Wisler and Jarlin García coughing up a Kevin Gausman gem, it was almost automatic to think back on the closing sweep by the Padres last season, or even to the past few years of futility.
After all, there was little to be excited even for the most optimistic of Giants fans. Sure it would be fun to watch Buster return, crowds back at the park, and maybe follow the farm in what was supposed to be yet another transition year. However, they won on day two, followed by a series win in San Diego and a home sweep of the Rockies that appeared to portend better days ahead. The winning never really stopped after that.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, I think we can all agree that these past six months have been special. Even with all the patented torture and the countless moments where it all seemed on the verge of falling apart, the Giants delivered literally the best season in franchise history, relying on an uncanny combination of depth, clutch moments, resiliency and maybe even a bit of even-year magic amid the oddest period in recent world history.
Their Baseball Reference year summary is quite a sight to behold as a picture of consistency - every month playing over .600, no losing streaks of 5+ games, only 8 losses by 4+ runs, more than 20 players producing at least 1.0 WAR - and yet it cannot match the eye test for all of us who followed this season from the very beginning. And so as we hope for another 11 wins from the team that just won 107, let´s take a moment to relive the most memorable 11 wins from the regular season.
These games all featured a special comeback, a memorable performance, something significant at that point of the season, or maybe a combination of everything. And even if you don´t agree on the ranking, I think we can all agree that we will never forget this team.
For a game in which the winning probability never dipped below 50%, this sure felt like a nail-biter for a while. And yet this game does not belong in the ranking for being dramatic or thrilling, it is here for its sheer significance. For all of the Giants´ dominance, it is still amazing that they faced the final day of the season with the prospect of a game 163 that nobody wanted. All that anxiety was quickly washed away thanks to the brilliance of Logan Webb.
Webb´s emergence as a bona-fide ace was one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, and he secured the division title with an outing that was just what the team needed. Even as his final line (7IP, 6H, 4ER) undersells his dominance, Webb also contributed with the bat, hitting what may be the last homerun by a Giants pitcher in a long time.
Key hits by Buster Posey and and Wilmer Flores padded the lead and made for a comfortable afternoon, allowing us to celebrate early and forget about the out-of-town scoreboard. While it would have been intriguing to close the season on yet another torture game with flashbacks of Jonathan Sanchez, it was nice enough to secure the division title this way.
This game is kind of a personal favorite for several reasons: it had a weird start time on one of those weird YouTube broadcasts, and it would have seemed almost inevitable that the Reds salvaged the finale after losing three in a row at home. And yet, the Giants produced their highest run output of the season, including a third inning in which 12 batters hit and 9 scored.
Austin Slater hit a majestic grand slam that was not done justice by the cameras, while Darin Ruf, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria hit homers of their own. While the outcome was never in question and the Reds never really took off for playoff contention, I think this game marked the coming-out party for a Giants team that looked intriguing at that point but still was considered a fringe contender.
By hanging 19 runs on the scoreboard to cap off a 4-game road sweep, the team started to become more of a reality as not only a pitching success, but also one that could slug with the best of them.
The Brewers represented one of the biggest tests for the Giants this season, and could be a formidable opponent if they face again in the NLCS. This early-August series proved as much, as two games went into extra innings and the other was decided by one run. This looked like a regular game until the ninth inning, when Tommy LaStella hit a towering fly ball to right field that appeared to end the game. Instead, it produced a rare three-base error that allowed Kris Bryant to score and tie things up.
Chaos really ensued in extra frames, where both teams were not content to score only the Manfred runner, plating three apiece to send things to the 11th. And yet in this rare blowup for the bullpen, the offense came through yet again, now scoring 4 with yet another Brandon Belt homerun that broke the game open. While the Giants went only a pedestrian 10-9 in extra innings, they made them count with enough memorable wins like this one.
While people who bet the under may have been annoyed by this contest, it marked another occasion in which the Giants found a way to win under improbable circumstances.
San Francisco´s road towards 107 wins did not feature any traditional huge individual performance over a single game. There was no chance of a no-hitter, 3-homer game, cycle, or even a 5-for-5 to speak of. And yet, in a season full of outstanding pitching, this gutsy performance by Anthony DeSclafani stands out over the rest.
The Giants caught a break when Max Scherzer (still with Washington, remember?) exited the game after six pitches, but Disco was not to be denied that day. He almost pitched a Maddux, ending his complete game gem in only 103 pitches, scattering a measly two hits and one walk against eight strikeouts and a galore of weak contact. Juan Soto threatened to end the shutout with a long fly ball to left field, only to be denied by Mike Tauchman and his second memorable homerun robbery of the season.
The only run scored by San Francisco came via a solo homer by Buster Posey in the 4th inning, as the Giants made it a mission to be extremely efficient over that weekend in DC. Despite only scoring three runs over 4 games (two shortened to 7 innings as part of a doubleheader), they managed a series split that was then followed by a nice 5-game winning streak at home in which they scored 42 times.
Let´s take this moment to appreciate Curt Casali. He was a truly under-the-radar free agent signing back in January, as having a capable backup catcher seemed especially important considering the uncertainty regarding Buster Posey. And while Buster managed to bounce back with a vintage season, it is hard to envision the Giants being here without Casali.
He made a mark by catching shutout after shutout, but struggled at the plate for a large chunk of the season. While a nagging wrist injury played a part in this, he was becoming something of an automatic out as part of the fanbase clamored for Joey Bart. In this particular game, he entered the day hitting well below the Mendoza Line, and struck out over his first four plate appearances. But as the Giants mounted yet another hearty comeback, tying the game in both the eighth and tenth innings, Casali stood up to the plate with a chance to play the hero.
After working the count in his favor, he roped a solid double to left field that scored a streaking Steven Duggar, who never hesitated to score from first. Among all the winning, this was one of only five walk-off victories for the Giants, placing the spotlight on one of 2021´s unsung heroes. And while the supposed rivalry with Oakland is more marketing than reality, it is still always nice to have some Bay supremacy.
For a while, this looked like a classic 1-0 shutout at the most opportune of times. September started with the Giants reclaiming their spot in first place after a single day being a half-game behind in the West. The final chance to face the Dodgers was the perfect opportunity to make a statement and aim towards the coveted division title. But as it so often happened in 2021, the rivalry devolved into chaos deep into the night.
After L.A. had two runners on against Jake McGee with one out to go, Chris Taylor delivered a clutch single that sent the game to extras. Both teams were able to score the ghost runner in the tenth, and both wasted additional baserunners during the inning. After Jarlin García worked through a first-and-third situation with no outs in the 11th, the table was set for the Giants to walk it off, but it wasn´t about to happen easily.
In one of the most torturous sequences of the year, the bases were loaded as Alex Dickerson grounded out to force the out at home plate, setting the stage for Buster Posey. After hitting a tricky grounder to second, it seemed inevitable to head into the 12th, but a couple of players out of position (Trea Turner at second and Will Smith at first) botched the exchange and allowed the fast Buster to reach and win the game. The Giants would take control of the division for good following this series.
This game was started by Kevin Gausman in what turned to be one of roughest stretches of the year, placing the Giants in a 5-2 hole by the fourth inning. As the Giants wasted several opportunities to get close, they finally broke through in the seventh with back-to-back homeruns by Brandon Belt and Darin Ruf . It was not so long ago when the Giants went a full year without coming back to win in the ninth, but in 2021, it was oh so routine.
With closer Lou Trivino and his sub-2.00 ERA on the mound, Belt worked a full-count walk that was followed with a controversial decision to pinch-hit for Ruf. But as Gabe Kapler showed time and again, his decision was spot-on, as LaMonte Wade Jr. was starting to delve into his bag of ninth inning magic and delivered a majestic homerun to give San Francisco its first lead of the game.
Jake McGee closed the door with a perfect ninth, as the team went on to start yet another 5-game winning streak. Even as this game did not feature the drama of a walk-off, it kind of felt like that.
Just as was said with the Brewers, the Braves posed one of the biggest roadblocks of the season, being one of only a handful of teams that don´t sport a losing record against San Francisco in 2021. After August 18, the Giants´ lead atop the division was never again over 2.5 games, making each and every contest of the utmost importance. This one looked well in hand after Atlanta had failed to score after the first inning, but the baseball gods had other plans.
Tyler Rogers came in and promptly allowed two singles, which seemed manageable until the recently extended Chase d´Arnaud took him deep to give Atlanta the lead. The bottom frame started with forever Giant Will Smith working Flores and Longoria easily, but Donovan Solano waited on a slider to hit only his seventh homer of the season and tie the game in dramatic fashion. Even as Donnie Barrels was not able to replicate his Silver Slugger type of season, he still made a mark on this season by giving us this moment.
With both teams failing to score in the 10th, Camilo Doval gave us a glimpse of what was to come in his final week by retiring the 11th in only seven pitches. The Giants loaded the bases in the bottom half but had run out of position players to pinch hit, prompting one of the coolest moments of the year. Kevin Gausman stepped to the plate confidently and worked the count full before delivering a deep-enough fly ball that barely scored Brandon Crawford. Gausman has indicated he watches the video every day, and maybe so should we.
The Giants won 17 of 19 games against Arizona with a +53 run differential, so it would seem strange to include a punching bag so high up on this list. However, this game was included in the end of season montage for a reason: it was glorious.
An opener/bullpen game backfired quickly on the Giants, with Zack Littell and Sammy Long allowing 4 runs each and placing the team in a 7-0 hole by the second inning. As it constantly happened during the season, the Giants never were completely out of it, cutting the deficit to 8-5 by the sixth. The fateful eighth included a double, an error, and a clutch walk by Curt Casali to load the bases with two outs. Mike Yastrzemski wanted no more talk of a slump and sent an inside pitch deep into left field, all the way to the water for a grand slam that gave the Giants their first lead of the game.
Even if it came against a team as bad as Arizona, coming back from 7 runs is always reason to celebrate. At the nadir of the win probability chart, the Giants were given only a 5% chance of winning. 2021 San Francisco Giants: never tell ´em the odds.
In many ways, this was the spiritual successor to the previous night´s game, when the Giants exploded for three runs in the top of the ninth against Kenley Jansen to secure a stunning 4-2 win. And yet, I think this one was the quintessential win for the 2021 Giants.
Anthony DeSclafani pitched a strong six innings but the offense couldn´t do much against Walker Buehler, and so the team entered the ninth behind 3-1. Jansen was called to preserve the lead despite having a dominant Blake Treinen ready to go, and the decision backfired in such a dramatic way that it is still a bit shocking to this day. A one-out single by Wilmer Flores was sandwiched between a couple of strikeouts that appeared to seal the game, but a Donovan Solano double paired with a Jason Vosler (!!!) walk loaded the bases for Thairo Estrada, who appeared to ground into a force out that ended the game.
The play was reviewed and showed that Vosler might have beaten the throw, giving extra life to the Giants, as a suddenly petrified Dave Roberts stuck to his closer. The game took on epic proportions as Darin Ruf worked a 7-pitch plate appearance and walked in the tying run with what definitely looked like a swing that was not called by the first base umpire. With Jansen on the ropes, ninth-inning warlord LaMonte Wade Jr. sealed the deal with a two-run single that was followed by a strong inning by Jake McGee to close the game.
The win gave the Giants a bit of breathing room in the division race, while the home crowd turned to boo their star closer mercilessly. In one the most fun tidbits of the year, Kenley Jansen lost 4 games in 2021 - 3 of them were against San Francisco.
As the Giants started to make noise after starting the year 28-16, there was one clear knock in their record: they had yet to face the Dodgers. And after L.A. proceeded to sweep the year´s first series in San Francisco and then win the opener at Chavez Ravine, it looked as if the West´s order was going to be restored. Then this game happened and everything changed.
In yet another Buehler-Disco matchup, the game was tense and tied at 2 up until the eighth, when the Giants finally appeared to break through and hung a 3-spot with a glorious Buster Posey homer. Back when the closer role was more fluid, Jake McGee pitched a perfect eighth that appeared to secure a win, but Tyler Rogers scuffled in the ninth, allowing a shocking 3-run homerun to Austin Barnes that tied the game and sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Just a couple of pitches later, Albert Pujols stepped up to the plate and appeared to hit a walk-off homer.
But in a city that already had The Catch, a baseball version was born. Mike Tauchman, who had entered the game as a pinch hitter, leapt up against the wall and made an absolutely incredible catch that denied Pujols and gave the Giants new life. Big hits by Wade and Longoria allowed the Giants to retake a lead they would not relinquish, securing their first win of the year against Los Angeles. Even as Tauchman last played for the team on July 28, he made enough plays to be remembered.
While this win may not have been as dramatic in the end, the impact it had on the rest of the season cannot be overstated. It changed the momentum of the rivalry, as the Giants would go on to win that series and ultimately top the Dodgers in the season matchup 10-9, which is even more impressive considering the 0-4 hole they had to start the season. And in a year in which the division was won by a single game, every win (memorable or not) was ultimately necessary.