Many people have asked me, “What makes you like baseball so much?” And there are so many answers I can give them — how a batter’s eyes glitter as he watches his home run leave the yard; the grind of a 162-game season culminating in a euphoric postseason release; the way Lincecum’s hair spiraled out behind him as he fell sideways off the mound; the Dodgers losing, both blowouts and close games, at home and far away, in June, May, July, and September, on days that end with “y” and those that don’t — but at the end of the day, it always comes back to just one true answer: stories. I love the game not just for the moments, but because of how those moments are spun together to create narratives. Arcs of redemption, success, falls from grace and prodigal sons returning, breakouts from new faces and old ones alike, the way you can weave the threads of individual seasons into the tapestry of the whole season. How the game mythologizes itself.
The San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres, 6-1. They’ve won nine straight. They clinched a postseason slot yesterday and didn’t let their foot off the gas, despite fans’ champagne-laden fears. And this game was a microcosm of so many of this season’s storylines: a resurgent Core Three (Posey, Crawford, Belt), pickups with limited fanfare becoming key players, rookies earning their keep. And most importantly: a team of collected parts, superstars limited, racing to the finish line with the best record in baseball, the Dodgers in the rearview mirror — but not quite able to catch them. Not as of yet.
An example of a storyline: this game’s first run. It was Buster Posey turning on an inside fastball, so inside it almost brushed his jersey. But he had the bat speed to spin on the ball and send it 400 feet into left field.
In 2019, his last full season, Posey hit 7 home runs in 114 games. This home run marked his 18th this season in just 97 games. It’s his highest home run total since 2015, when he hit 19. This is, quite simply, the Renaissance of Buster Posey, in about as obvious detail as you can get. The Giants led 1-0 after the first.
The Padres were, at the start, not to go quite as gentle tonight as they did last night. They tied the game in the third after Jurickson Profar doubled and then came around to score on a Trent Grisham groundout.
The Giants got the run back in the bottom of the inning, however, after consecutive singles left Posey at third and LaMonte Wade Jr. at first. An errant pickoff throw by Jake Arrieta that sailed well to the right of Hosmer allowed Posey to trot home, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead after three. Storyline there: Eduardo Nuñez turned into Shaun Anderson turned into LaMonte Wade Jr. who is now batting cleanup between Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford on a 95-win team and it all makes sense; Zaidi’s brilliance continuing to shine.
The Giants got another run in the fourth. Mike Yastrzemski was hit by a pitch above his right elbow, and eventually came around to score on a Tommy La Stella single. (Anthony DeSclafani had a picture perfect bunt in the middle to advance Yaz to second base). The Giants led 3-1 after four innings.
Meanwhile, DeSclafani turned in another wonderful performance, going 6.2 innings allowing just the one run on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts. Disco, who pitched just 33 innings in 2020 with a 7.22 ERA, has cemented his place in the Giants’ pitching staff as one of their key arms. He’s gone 11-6 and pitched 146 innings with a 3.33 ERA. The redemption arc.
The Giants extended their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Brandon Crawford, having by far the best offensive season of his career, singled. He was then driven home all the way from first by a Darin Ruf double deep into Triples Alley. Storyline there? A 34-year old shortstop, famed far more for his glove than his offense, has a wRC+ of 136 through September. And this time two years ago, Darin Ruf was in the KBO, tearing up the pitching there with unknown dreams of ever making it back to MLB. Now, he possesses a 152 wRC+ with the Giants, has 15 home runs in 283 plate appearances, ranks ninth in the MLB in exit velocity (right behind Shohei Ohtani), and appears poised to continue to do extreme damage against right handers for as long as he possibly can. It was 4-1 Giants after seven.
Tyler Rogers pitched a perfect 8th inning, striking out Fernando Tatis Jr. to add an exclamation mark on top of his fantastic season. Rogers has the 7th-lowest K/9 of any qualified reliever in MLB, by far the lowest fastball velocity at an 82.9 mph average, but possesses the 6th-lowest ERA among qualified relievers as well. He’s been a stalwart in the Giants bullpen since the beginning of the season.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Giants faced an old friend in Mark Melancon. Tommy La Stella worked a 7-pitch walk, then Gabe Kapler brought in Thairo Estrada as a pinch runner. This immediately paid dividends, as Brandon Belt scorched a 109mph double into the gap in left-center, probably rounding the bases with Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” reverberating in his skull. (He made a little C against his chest in case any of us forgot his captain status).
Belt making sure everyone knows he's the captain pic.twitter.com/gRgIvfj5yJ— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 15, 2021
Posey then hit a ball sharply to Manny Machado, who was forced to hurry a throw to first base that sailed out of Hosmer’s reach again and hit the netting near the Padres dugout. Shades of Posey’s “I’m so fast” from earlier this year. Because the ball was out of play, and therefore a dead ball, Belt scored and Posey went to second, bringing the Giants lead to 6-1. As Andrew Baggarly noted on Twitter, the Giants have scored 6 runs in each of their last nine games, the longest streak of scoring at least 6 runs since 1929.
Doval pitched the ninth inning, striking out Machado and Hosmer on two nasty sliders that broke late and had them swinging out of their shoes. The young flamethrower has had an up and down season, but hasn’t allowed an earned run since rejoining the Giants for this current stint.
Storylines! You couldn’t write them better if you tried. Kris Bryant, the major trade deadline acquisition, hit his 200th career double today, a bullet that went 400 feet and measured at 109mph off the bat. Team-wise, it’s the Giants’ best record through 145 games since at least early 1910s New York. Their enchanting collection of wily veterans, waiver wire pickups, and young guys making impacts are still holding off the juggernaut Dodgers. Their work isn’t done yet, but they’re creating a story that even the most coldhearted of us can’t help but love.