The Giants have a bit of a first inning problem. In their last 4 series, Giants' starting pitchers have a 6.92 ERA in the first, and more worryingly, they've done it without the help of a crooked number. Today's game tied the most runs they've given up in the first in that span, at two, courtesy of a Yuli Gurriel home run off Logan Webb. It's been emblematic of a downturn from the rotation, which is more of a testament to how dominant they were in the first half than anything else. But after seeing dingerfests in games 1 and 2 of this series, it was up to Webb to try to limit the damage and keep the Giants in the game against perhaps the most dangerous lineup in baseball.
He responded beautifully, shutting out the Astros over the next five frames, giving up just two singles and a walk. All day, he kept the Astros hitters off balance with his sinking movement, inducing 11 groundouts despite only striking out three. That kept the Giants in it for more than long enough for them to start doing damage against Houston's starter, Luis Garcia.
Okay, I admit I buried the lede a bit. The biggest story of this game was the Giants' new pickup from Wrigleyville, Kris Bryant. After not appearing in the lineup for a couple days, fans have been champing at the bit to get a look at Bryant's dynamic skillset. And the man delivered, crushing a laser beam to left (the Giants' 69th home dinger) to put the Giants on the board in the third. In terms of ways to make first impressions, that's generally a pretty good one. He admitted in the postgame interview that he felt a little pressure to hit that home run, so props to him for avoiding the incalculable wrath of Giants fans. If my math is correct, and hastily scribbled-on napkins rarely lie, hitting three dingers against Walker Buehler in the postseason should be a foregone conclusion.
Bryant wasn't the only offensive force this game, though. Immediately following his home run, the Giants put together a two-out rally. Yaz doubled, Posey walked, and Crawford singled Yaz home. Darin Ruf followed up with another RBI knock, giving the Giants an early 3-2 lead. Crawford and Ruf reprised their performance in the fifth, with Ruf rounding the bases on a high drive to left. The offensive sequencing was tremendous, and it really showed the seamless combination of the Giants' established veterans feeding into the production their newer contributors, who don't stop making waves. Ruf, Wade, and Estrada might just be the new Dickerson, Solano, and Slater. But don't be fooled, because Solano still rapped out two hits today.
Of note about the Giant's offense is that not only did every run scored today happen with two outs, every baserunner that scored reached base with two outs. I wasn't sure if this was a small sample size thing or not, and it still probably is, but over the last week it's felt like the Giants have been spotting the opposing pitchers two outs as a handicap and still managing to embarrass them. It's gotten so regular that when Crawford flied out deep to center in the 7th, I just assumed that it put the Giants up 7-2 until I heard "Dear mainland, aloha" drifting by.
The Astros put together a little life in the later innings, chasing Logan Webb from the game with two singles to lead off the seventh. The decision to keep Webb in was questionable, seeing as he'd thrown 94 (quality!) pitches through six innings, and batted second in the bottom of the frame. Webb ended up bunting into a double play when Gurriel charged hard from first, which was a great defensive play by him, but it also meant that keeping Webb in backfired completely. Kapler deserves massive credit for mixing and matching in a way that would make Bochy proud, but considering Webb hadn't thrown more than 80 pitches post-injury, I'm not sure what the thinking was there. As it stood, Dominic Leone came in, inheriting a two-on, no-outs situation.
He started off by fielding a bunt himself, making the savvy decision to turn to third and throw out the lead runner. With forceouts still in play and the lead runner held to second, he ratcheted up the pressure on Houston's hitters, striking out Jason Castro and inducing an easy fly ball to right from Altuve on only five pitches. He gave way to the power couple of Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee, who followed Leone to pitch the 8th and 9th respectively for the second straight day.
Houston threatened once again in the 8th when Yordan Alvarez doubled down the left field line and Gurriel followed with an infield hit that Crawford handled beautifully, but couldn't deliver to first fast enough to get the speeding Gurriel. With runners on the corners and no outs, the Astros once again put themselves into position to keep pace with the Giants. You could feel the anticipation as their high-slugging offense started eyeing the bleachers. But it's the National League's best kept secret that Tyler Rogers doesn't allow barrels to teams that aren't the Dodgers, and he immediately induced a bases-clearing double play that scored Alvarez, but effectively killed the rally. Correa singled to put another runner on with two outs, but Aledmys Diaz, he of the two-dinger game yesterday, grounded out to end the threat.
Jake McGee, the Giants' controversial mostly-closer, took the mound in the ninth. Amidst the concerns about a fastball-only closer having to handle the league's most fearsome hitters in the most pressure-filled situations, McGee has quietly pitched 20 innings since May without allowing an earned run. If you would please direct your attention to the calendar, it is currently August. Go figure. He kept the streak up with a perfect 1-2-3 9th, ending it with a swinging strikeout to hand the Giants a series win, their third win in four series against arguably two of the three best teams in baseball.
The past few series have been extremely interesting from the perspective of matching up the Giants against other postseason hopefuls. The games against LA had the feel of watching a chess game, with each team punishing the other's mistakes while refusing to give ground as much as possible. Meanwhile, the Astros had a much more free-wheeling, high-flying style, since the Astros gave the Giants a multitude of opportunities while creating ones for themselves, evocative of watching a back-and-forth heavyweight boxing match.
It's been thrilling to see the Giants pass each test with flying colors, and they're rewarded with a four game series against the struggling Diamondbacks. Of course, the Giants struggled against a similarly-embattled Pittsburgh team, so that series is critical for the Giants to pick up a few wins going into the dog days of August. As is, the Giants finish an impressive homestand with a couple tough series wins and a new trade deadline acquisition that's made an immediate impact, and the Giants have secured the MLB's top spot for the time being. You can't ask for much more than that.
Miscellaneous Kris Bryant trivia:
-Bryant followed his first home run with his first error, an unreachable throw that sailed over Ruf's head. It didn't end up impacting the inning, and it wasn't representative of an unfamiliarity with the position, but it does bring up questions about the construction of the infield when reinforcements arrive from the IL. Having Longoria take over third and moving Bryant over to second may be a more sustainable long-term plan.
-Bryant performed admirably in the face of incredible peer pressure, as he narrowly avoided being cut from the 26-man by Darin Ruf.
-Bryant will wear #23 for the Giants after organizing a trade with the Giants third base coach, Ron Wotus, which is when I learned that base coaches have numbers on their jerseys. This raises the all-important question of when we're retiring the Flan Man's number from his decorated tenure as Waver-In-in-Chief.
The Giants play the Diamondbacks tomorrow in Arizona at 6:40 PM Pacific time. Until then, go Giants!