For the first time in more than 550 days, the San Francisco Giants had a crowd at Oracle Park to take in a baseball game. And Johnny Cueto — ever the showman — came ready to entertain.
You could make the case that Cueto is one of the most entertaining pitchers in MLB history. Or at least I could make the case. Scratch that: I would make the case. I will, dang it.
Not today though. Too much other stuff to do. But soon.
Cueto has been entertaining his entire Giants tenure, though it’s hard to appreciate the entertainment value when the results are mediocre or bad, and that’s been the case over the last few years.
Not on Friday. Cueto was his usual entertaining self — he danced, he yelled, he shook, and he shimmied three times on one pitch — only this time he dominated, too.
Cueto mowed down the side inning after inning, stymieing and confusing the Colorado Rockies batters as he went. He looked so unhittable that you forgot to even be thankful that Nolan Arenado is no longer there — even he would have been held hitless, for the first time against the Giants.
Through 7 innings, Cueto had given up 2 hits, 1 walk, and 0 runs, with limited hard contact. The only road block was that his counterpart, Adrian Gomber, was doing the same thing to the Giants.
Finally San Francisco broke through in the bottom of the seventh, when Darin Ruf, Buster Posey, and Alex Dickerson all drew walks to load the bases with one out. That brought up Brandon Crawford who, as we’ve known for some time now, is quite comfortable with the bases loaded.
And he gapped one.
Prior to that hit, Crawford had a career .771 OPS with the bases loaded, a comfortable margin ahead of his average. And this is the part of the story where I omit that he grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Doesn’t matter.
After Crawford’s scoreless-breaking liner, Gabe Kapler elected to let Cueto hit for himself.
It was questionable decision-making.
But when Cueto took care of the Rockies on just 10 pitches in the top of the eighth, you were reminded that questionable process often leads to delightful results, and it’s not like turning to the bullpen has been a solid decision lately.
Cueto stayed in for the ninth, and nearly made it complete game shutout, then nearly made it a complete game, then was taken out after 8.2 innings. A complete game sure would have been special, but a final line of 8.2 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 1 earned run, and 7 strikeouts is pretty fancy.
In came Jake McGee, who needed just three pitches for the save. These were the three pitches:
Much has been made of McGee’s desire to almost exclusively throw fastballs. It makes some fans uncomfortable. But when it works, it sure is the ultimate flex.
Sam Hilliard knew exactly what was coming on the first pitch. It wasn’t even outside of the strike zone. He couldn’t hit it.
Sam Hilliard knew exactly what was coming on the second pitch. It wasn’t even outside of the strike zone. He couldn’t hit it.
Sam Hilliard knew exactly what was coming on the third pitch. It wasn’t even outside of the strike zone. He couldn’t hit it.
You gain a special kind of psychological advantage when you look someone in the eyes, tell them what you’re going to do to beat them, and then do it successfully. It’s cold and brutal, but also beautiful.
There was something symbolic about this being the home opener, and the names that contributed.
Cueto, who has a team option for 2022 that will almost surely be declined, making him a free agent, was dominant. He made it to the ninth inning for the first time since 2016 — his first year with the Giants, when he was selected to the All-Star team.
Crawford, who is in the final year of his contract, had the go-ahead hit.
Posey, who has a team option for 2022 that will likely be declined, had two hits and a walk.
Brandon Belt, who is in the final year of his contract, had a pinch-hit single, and scored the insurance run.
Those three long-standing staples of the lineup combined for four of the Giants five hits, while Cueto dealt.
There are only four players on the 2021 Giants who were on the roster the last time San Francisco made the postseason, and you can probably guess who they are.
They were the win on Friday, in what is surely the final Giants home opener for two, three, or possibly even all four of them.
I’ll take the poetry.