Like all sports, one of the beautiful things about baseball is that its stories aren't limited to raw numbers and end-of-the-year standings. There's a human element to the game that reminds you of just how difficult and uncertain the path to stardom and lore is. And aside from the box score at the end of the day, there are very real, very tangible wins that you can achieve without recording a single out or driving in a single run.
The Giants secured that win early when the organization reached a 2-year extension with Brandon Crawford, All-Star shortstop. As Grant Brisbee wrote [subscription required], even as recently as a year ago, the Giants were looking forward to a graceful exit to Crawford's distinguished 10-year career in San Francisco so they could start shelling out money to an electric shortstop free agent. All he's done since then is post a .296 average with an OPS over .900, led the team in home runs most of the year, and flash his usual Gold Glove defense as the captain of the infield.
With Marco Luciano still developing in the minors and Crawford secure in San Francisco at a decent rate, the Giants have set themselves up for both the short and long-term at shortstop. No matter what the results of the game were, this was an undisputable win for the Bay Area. And like MadBum pitching a no-hit game 1 of a doubleheader, the Giants were free to get greedy and grab a second win on the day. They did just that, because this team is absolutely spoiling us and also FYMM, you gain NO ground on the Giants today, good day SIR.
As has been the case the last few days, the Giants opened up with most of their scoring early on. In the bottom of the first, the Giants set themselves up with a double and a walk before reaching two outs in the inning. You might've forgotten. I certainly forgot. But the Giants definitely didn't forget that they score all of their runs now with 2 outs. It's what's hip these days, the thing du jour. Wilmer Flores, Zaidi's first multi-year FA signing, that guy who keeps getting overshadowed because LaMonte Wade Jr. and Thairo Estrada and approximately 30 other guys came out of nowhere to slug .500 at some point this season, stepped up to the plate. A little two-out magic here, a little value signing there, put it all together, and you get a three-run jack that put the Giants on the board early against Austin Gomber.
And then they kept going. Because it's not enough to go deep right when a pitcher has hope, you've also gotta keep rubbing walks and hits into his eyes right when he thinks he's blinked the home run away. A single by Thairo Estrada put the Giants up by 4 before the final out was recorded in the first.
From there, the teams traded glancing blows for a few frames. A walk, a slap hit through the right side of the infield, and a drag bunt by Austin Gomber gave the Rockies one of those runs back in the top of the second. But they themselves couldn't post a shutdown inning, as Austin Slater hit his second double in as many innings before being plated home with a flare to right by Darin Ruf to give the Giants the run back. The Rockies answered with a flare of their own to plate a leadoff walk in the top of the 3rd.
Despite the early run scoring, DeSclafani looked calm and in control for most of the night. Most of the contact that victimized him was of the soft variety, compared to the Giants launching booming home runs like the 2002 callback they are. Except, y'know, that they're even better than the team with the greatest power hitter of all time. And with Disco at the helm, the Giants quieted Colorado's threats through five innings.
The Rockies threatened in the later innings, hitting doubles down the line early in the 6th and 8th. But Jay Jackson and Tyler Rogers (respectively) worked through their jams, inducing soft contact and minimizing the threat. #ForeverGiant Tony Watson slotted in between them for a 1-2-3 7th, and though the Giants could not bring home any runs in their last three frames, they kept producing quality at-bats with solid contact, getting a runner on at least once per inning.
As a slight aside, I have a philosophical question for you. What do you prefer in a baseball game: a complete blowout against a weak team that assures you 10 minutes in that you'll turn off the TV satisfied with the result, or a nail-biting finish where the drama keeps ratcheting up and up and up until finally, the game ends with a bang? Food for thought. Logically, as a fan of a team, you should hope that they get the blowout, right? No pressure, you can rest guys, the players will get some nice stat padding, easy. But then again...blowouts just aren't interesting. As much as you know in the back of your head that a 12-run blowout would be the best case scenario, it's hard not to lean in a little closer when things start going down. Maybe, secretly, there's some part of you that wants that drama.
What I'm trying to get at is when Jake McGee came in with a 3-run lead in the 9th, you kind of expected it to be as ho-hum as it gets. Good closer has 3 runs to get 3 outs, guess what usually happens. But when Yonathan Daza, *checks notes* professional baseball player, gets a leadoff single, maybe you can forgive yourself for wondering what would happen if McGee got into trouble. I mean, come on, they're the Rockies. The Giants can win this no matter what....right?
Up to the plate stepped #EternalGiant Connor Joe, he of the Opening Day Left Field Carousel, 2019 edition. After his ignominious tenure of 16 whole plate appearances, Joe bounced around for awhile before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2020. His speedy recovery and quick bounce back to the majors is a story in and of itself, but the wayward outfielder has carved himself a spot in the 2021 Rockies lineup, slashing a respectable .287/.357/.487 as Colorado's leadoff hitter. In the wise words of Madison Bumgarner, it's easy to forget how small the differences between a good team and a bad one are. Case in point: Colorado had two non-Connor Joe hitters reach at least double digit hit streaks today, Brendan Rodgers (15) and Ryan McMahon (10). Half their starting lineup is slugging over .800, led by NL Player of the Week CJ Cron. As laughable as some of Colorado's performances have been this year, they're still a professional team employing professional players. So you just had to tip your cap when Connor Joe, removed from the Giants by more than two years of relentless roster churn, dropped his bat head and crushed an inside pitch inside the left field foul pole, bringing the Rockies' deficit in the top of the 9th down to just one run.
With just one out and the lead cut to one, Trevor Story stepped to the plate, and things weren't looking good for Jake McGee. He was unable to effectively place his fastball at the top of the zone, where he could force swings and misses, and he'd been relying on the slider more heavily than we've ever seen. Trevor Story, a good fastball hitter, could absolutely put one in the seats. So when he swung hard at the first pitch, everyone's heart rates briefly spiked. But lo, it was merely a grounder to second, and the Giants came within one out of securing the win.
And then McGee gave up two straight singles, neither of them particularly fluky, to put the tying run in scoring position. By this point, Kapler had had enough, and signaled to his bullpen for a change. This was a move he very well might not have made in his tenure in Philadelphia. This might not even have been a move he made in his first year in San Francisco. But this is a different Gabe Kapler, and this is a different Giants team. So the skip' trusted the rest of his bullpen to pick up the pieces, and in came Zack Littell, putting an end to a miserable night from McGee.
A performance this bad by your nominal closer will inevitably invoke questions. Closers are supposed to be the guy, and a 3-run lead is literally as easy as you can have a save situation. But last night, McGee simply did not have it, getting roughed up for his inability to place that high fastball. There are a couple ways to think about this. If you're a pessimist, you'll wonder why the Giants ever trusted a guy who can only really throw one pitch at major league hitters and expect to find success. If you're an optimist, you'll point to his heavy usage over the past few days and acknowledge that no player will make it through the season without rough patches, and McGee just got off an elite two-month stretch. I won't make judgments, but simply point out that as with all pitchers, the pitches you make when you don't have your good stuff available aren't going to be all that impressive either way. McGee has at least shown good upside this season.
Hot off the heels of a nascent Rockies rally, Littell faced the red-hot CJ Cron. When I mentioned that Player of the Week accolade, I didn't do it to hype up a division foe with an award that they'll literally just give anyone. Cron earned Player of the Week because in his last 7 games, he's slashing .458/.552/1.083 with 4 home runs, which by my calculations made the odds of the Giants coming out of the at-bat with the lead intact roughly that of a coin flip that Nolan Arenado spit on. But Littell had just faced the daunting task of a two-inning, one-run save on the road against the division-leading Brewers earlier in the week. He himself spat in the face of this challenge, and after a slider low and away to start off, went 1-2-3 with four-seam fastballs to strike Cron out swinging. The Giants won, the Dodgers remain 5 games back, and all was well in San Francisco for the night, and perhaps many more nights to come.