The Giants, by now, have surely learned that you can't put your guard down against any major league team, even when you emerge from a 10-game gauntlet against some of the best teams in baseball with a 7-3 result. The series loss to the Pirates in the midst of that stretch is testament enough to that fact. But at some point, you have games you just expect to win. The Diamondbacks are on pace for their worst season in *checks notes* ever, San Francisco came in with a 9-1 record against them, and they started DeSclafani, a pitcher with an ERA 1.32 points lower (a 2.06 FIP difference, too!) than Arizona's Taylor Widener. When Alex Dickerson (0 for last 17) remembered how much he loved Chase Field and mashed a grand slam to extend the lead to 7-1 in the 5th, it pretty much put a nail in the coffin containing any hopes the Diamondbacks had of winning this one.
It turns out the Diamondbacks are vampires! I don't recall soul-sucking being one of the defining elements of Bram Stoker's classic, but as soon as the Giants turned their back, the Dbacks immediately started banging on the inside of the coffin. In the bottom of the 5th, DeSclafani aimed to shut down Snakes to secure his 11th win of the season. Instead, the immortal Josh Reddick (yes, that one) followed up an Ahmed single with a crushing blow to right-center field. Kole Calhoun grounded out, and then they did it again; Ketel Marte singled and Asdrubel Cabrera printed out a perfect carbon copy of Reddick's blast. In the span of five batters, Arizona had pulled the lead back to within two, making a game out of what should've been an early trip home from the office.
Jose Alvarez worked through a little trouble to get out of the 5th in order to throw a perfect 6th, a much-needed shutdown inning after your friend Wilmer Flores launched one into the left field bleachers to give the Giants a little extra breathing room. It turns out they'd need it, because in the 7th, Arizona turned up their soul-sucking vacuum jets up to max (apologies to the Stoker estate for any inaccuracies there).
In the top half, Dickerson followed his new groove and hit a ball 415 feet to straightaway center. It was the kind of ball that you hit when it owes you money that you need for a desperate family member's surgical procedure. It hung in the air so long that Dickerson was already rounding second when it landed. It stayed in the park, and Estrada struck out swinging to end the inning after him.
Then in the bottom half came Jay Jackson, whose problems with pitch location caused him to get shelled in two consecutive outings against the Astros. He was tasked with facing the heart of Arizona's order in a setup situation, an ostensibly easier task. 11 pitches later, the bases were loaded and the go-ahead run came up to the plate. After an RBI groundout by Drew Ellis, pinch-hitting despite a .100 BA because Dbacks skipper Torey Lovullo didn't want to waste his backup catcher, Jackson executed four good pitches against Christian Walker. His fifth, a hanging slider over the heart of the plate, got crushed at 108.3 MPH into left. The game was tied.
Up to this point, the defining thread for Kapler's bullpen decisions had been the determination to avoid using his premiere 1-2-3 punch of Leone, Rogers, and McGee, due to their usage in two consecutive games against Houston. The merits of this can and should be debated, because the end result was that a tiring DeSclafani and the front end of the bullpen gave up 7 runs against Arizona in the span of 3 innings. It emphasized that despite all the upgrades and margin moves made this season, the Giants are still a work in progress. And despite how well this incomplete Death Star of a team has played, Kapler's stubbornness completely backfired, and he still had to figure out whether or not saving the back end of his bullpen was even possible. He made the most predictable decision possible to anyone who knows him.
He had faith in his guys.
Old friend Tony Watson came in to get the last out of the 7th, then went right back out the next inning to retire the side in order. When the Giants home run leaders Yaz, Crawford, and Bryant were unable to score in the top of the 9th, Kapler had a decision to make. He could go to the guys he knew could get the job done, or he could stick to the plan and trust that Jarlin Garcia could get the Giants through the mess. Like he's done all year with Buster's rest, Webb's rehab, and all of their myriad outfield platoons, Kapler stuck to the plan. But in doing so, he'd have to make a sacrifice. With Garcia's spot in the batting order due up third in the 10th and no way to win now, he'd have to boot one of Yaz, Craw, or Bryant to keep Garcia in for multiple innings. If you knew what the right decision here was, congratulations. You're a lot smarter than I am. But we're just sitting at home watching. Kapler had to make the call in real time. So what did Mr. sexynerds.com do?
Kapler stuck to the plan. Swapping Slater for Yaz in right allowed Garcia to slot into the top of the lineup, and Jarlin rewarded that faith with a relatively calm (but not entirely!!) bottom of the ninth. If I knew of a place on the Internet that told me team splits in extra-inning games, I'd jump on it in a heartbeat. All I know is that the Giants rank 3rd in runs/game in extras, which makes sense. The 2021 Giants are a good team. But Arizona is a close 5th, and the Dbacks just last week stunned the Dodgers with an extra-inning win. Manipulating your roster to send a mid-inning reliever to shut down a team in the 9th and 10th is a risk no matter how you slice it.
But the Giants locked in. Buster batted first, and immediately shattered my dangerously prescient 'walk-strikeout-walk-walk-groundout-walk' prediction about his game line with a double that plated the ghost runner at second. The Giants added two more on a Duggar single and a Solano safety squeeze, which may have been the most beautiful thing I've seen on the diamond since...well, Crawford's been stellar on defense, and Posey's "sneaky speed" last week was pretty cool, and alright, we're pretty dang spoiled. But in the age of dingers, Ks, and the occasional plunk, watching Slater race in from third to score on a perfectly executed bunt was magnificent, and it put the Giants up by three heading into the bottom of the 10th. Now it was time for all of Kapler's machinations to pay off. The bullpen was quiet. It was up to Garcia to record the second save of his career. Carson Kelly took second to start things off.
It was over as soon as it started. Garcia needed only 8 pitches to retire the side in order, and the Giants started off this four game set by stamping a win against the Diamondbacks, extending their division lead to 3.5 games.
As incomplete as this game was, and you don't give up 8 runs without having some very concerning struggles, it was perhaps their most complete "incomplete" game of the year. DeSclafani displayed another instance of what may be rotation-wide fatigue, unable to get out of the fifth after struggling to throw quality pitches against good but beatable hitters. A scuffling Arizona team drew blood against vulnerable spot in the bullpen, and San Francisco wasted a tremendous early offensive showing. But even with things falling apart, the Giants stood firm. Their power hitters, a group bordering dangerously close to the entire starting lineup, kept punishing mistakes. The front end of the bullpen shouldered the load and kept San Francisco in it to preserve their late-inning counterparts. Unlike the Pirates series, the Giants didn't come into this one flat. They took advantage where they could and carved out a grinding, well-earned win.
They'll look to see what damage they can do over their next three games at Chase Field. As greedy as it would be to say the Giants need to win all of them, they're not going to face much less difficult opposition. The race for the NL West is on, and from here, it's a matter of outpacing the Dodgers. Luckily, the Giants showed us that our faith remains in pretty good hands. Tomorrow's start is another evening game, 6:40 PM Pacific time start. Bumgarner and Cueto face off, but there'll be no Posey to face MadBum in the lineup tomorrow unless things get really weird.
-Mike Yastrzemski hit his 18th home run of the season in the 3rd inning in a two-strike count. It was his 11th home run of the season in a two-strike count. Mike Yastrzemski is very good at baseball.
-Despite his earlier flub at Oracle, Kris Bryant's defense came in clutch for the Giants (a sentence I'm still not used to saying). Drew Ellis' RBI groundout in the 5th was only such because Bryant, at third, ranged far to his right and made a powerful throw across the diamond to force Ellis out. It's a bit of 'butterfly effect' logic, but if that ball is a double and not a groundout, we might be seriously reconsidering the structure of the Giants' bullpen and Kapler's decision-making once again.
-Alex Dickerson's grand slam against Taylor Widener was the second grand slam Widener's given up to the Giants this year. Dick mentioned after the game that he made an impromptu change to his stance that brought him back to his last-season form. Keep an eye on his at-bats in the next few games.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, go Giants!