Today was a complete victory for San Francisco. The short story is that a close pitcher's duel ended in a tense, 2-1 victory over the Oakland A's, which by any measure is really enough. But Giants fans are spoiled, the latter third of the 2010s nothwithstanding, because the franchise is transitioning smoothly from an era of overwhelming success to a new era of excellence, buoyed by contributions from sources both old and new. The closer you look at today's win, the more you can appreciate just how excellent baseball by the Bay has really been this year, so let's start with the game itself.
After their sensational first half, the Giants' starting rotation has wobbled significantly since the All-Star Break. Gausman, Wood, and DeSclafani all have ERAs north of 5.00 since then, and Cueto has been good but dealt with injuries. Logan Webb has undoubtedly been the Giants' rock in that time, and the Giants sorely needed him to go long today, not getting more than 5 innings out of a starter since... Webb's last start. He delivered, hurling six stellar innings of one-run ball, striking out seven, and bringing his post-ASB ERA down to 1.94 in 46.1 innings. While it wasn't the longest start ever, it was yet another page of an excellent, reliable season being authored by Webb, and it turned out to be just enough.
But as locked-in as Webb was, his opposite was even better. Frankie Montas continued a similarly sharp streak of starts by limiting the Giants to just two weak hits and two walks in 7 innings. With runs already at a premium, the defense on both sides turned a duel into a dogfight. In the first inning, Darin Ruf nailed A's first baseman Matt Olson out at second as he tried to stretch a single into a double. But Starling Marte delivered as the Nolan Arenado of the outfield today, running down everything that came his way. It took back-to-back hits by Tony Kemp and Mark Canha to plate the first run of the day by either team in the sixth inning, but Webb worked through the jam with the help of a Marte single that clanked off Canha's foot, keeping the score locked at 1-0 until the late innings.
As good as the Giants' defense was, the game was full of...irregularities. Social media aficionados may have noticed this tweet sent out a few days ago, highlighting the Giants' wide margin as the team with the least GiveAways, which tracks 'free bases' from walks, throwing errors, getting caught stealing, etc. But Giants were as generous this series as they've been stingy this year, leading to a frustratingly slipshod game. In the third inning, Posey found himself picked off at first, just a day after Crawford got picked off the base-path himself. Worse, LaMonte Wade Jr. airmailed a throw home to Posey on Canha's RBI single, allowing Canha to easily take second. Marte alone stole two bases, despite tremendous efforts from Giants pitching. Add in a couple of absolutely blown called strike threes for Posey and Bryant, and the cards were pretty stacked against the Giants in terms of total base production.
The intensity of the game ratcheted up in the late innings, when the Giants and A's started trading blows. The G-men started it off, when Slater drew a walk against the very green reliever AJ Puk, a result of the A's having leaned on their bullpen heavily in their latest stretch. He came into the game with no runs allowed in 7 appearances, and so when Kapler pinch hit Donovan Solano to replace last night's hero in LMWJ, Donnie Barrels naturally crushed one down the left field line to put the Giants up 2-0. But the one run lead was threatened in the bottom of the 8th, when double by Starling Marte (whose dominance this series, highlighted by a 3-4 day today, was somehow not enough to turn the tides) put two runners in scoring position. But Tyler Rogers kept working groundout after groundout through the traffic, ultimately recording the hold.
The ninth held more of the same, with Kris Bryant and Brandon Crawford successfully executing the double steal that backfired yesterday. But Sergio Romo held firm, holding the lead to one. In the bottom frame, Josh Harrison, unheralded nemesis of the Bay Bridge series, stroked a double down the left field line to put himself in position to break the Giants' hold on the lead. But Jake McGee held firm, retiring the A's to secure an unlikely series victory for San Francisco.
So far this year, the beauty of the Giants' recent history is that it's provided the team either seamless transition or brilliant continuity. Watching Crawford make the hard plays look easy has been a treat for nearly a decade, but so has watching Gabe Kapler mix and match his offensive pieces in the same way that Bruce Bochy became famous for navigating games with his bullpen. But tonight, the astonishment inflicted upon the A's was really, truly new. When Solano struck a dagger into Oakland's heart, the Giants became the first team to, deep breath now...
Hit pinch-hit home runs, in the 8th inning or later, to erase a deficit and take the lead, in back-to-back games, in MLB history, tracked back to 1900.
Overly specific stats are overly specific. But it highlights both the fact that the A's suffered through a uniquely brutal series of comebacks against San Francisco, and also that the Giants have an unimaginably deep and talented roster. Everything had to go into this win. A solid start and a shutdown bullpen. Timely hitting in the most clutch situations. Selfless players ready to hop off the bench and, in what may be two or three minutes they're in the game all day, find a way to make history. The Giants have already tied a franchise record for pinch hit home runs in a season, at 14. They say you'll see something new at the ballpark every day, but the Giants are really milking that phrase for everything it's worth.
The incidental benefit to the Giants' unlikely comeback victories is that they came away from the game with the 2021 The Bridge Tom Pellack Memorial Trophy, the new iteration of the Bay Bridge series trophy. Tom Pellack was the head of marketing for the Giants and A's networks, bringing together fans over both halves of the Bay Area with programs like the Authentic Fan campaign. It's a great way to honor someone with strong connections to both sides, although I wish they'd come up with a less clunky name.
Questionable naming schemes aside, it feels fitting that the Giants would take the trophy in such an underhanded manner. Going into this series, the Athletics had a 2-1 edge in trophy take-homes since its inaugural season in 2018, with a total record of 11-8 in those games. The fact that the Giants won it once seems more to do with the fact that these clubs only faced each other 4 times in 2019. Given the one-sided resentment between Oakland and San Francisco, I hope it's fair to wish the A's good luck in their own playoff chase. Taking down the MLB's black sheep won't be easy, but I'd rather see them go deep in the playoffs than most of the other AL choices.
And everything else said, the playoff implications of this game were hugely important. The Dodgers decided that they were never going to lose again sometime last week, rattling off nine consecutive wins, many of them off the previously first-place Mets who suddenly decided this whole playoff contention thing was too hard and that they'd rather go back home as soon as this baseball season was over. So it was a massive swing when the Giants pulled off the comeback today, gaining a game on the Dodgers when their streak finally broke. Given that the Giants came close to losing their long-held lead this series, the turnaround feels massive. It's going to be a long final month and change, but for now the Giants have given themselves some breathing room in one of the most exciting division battles in years.
Victory, history, trophy, and rivalry. Things will change, but just for today, the Giants won it all.