Let me hit the rewind button on the San Francisco Giants VCR and take you back in time. Let’s go back — way back. All the way back to 10 days ago.
The Giants were facing the Miami Marlins. It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and Logan Webb was laboring. He’d allowed two runs to score, which cut the Giants lead to 4-2. There were two men on base, but also two outs.
Webb had thrown 87 pitches, so he had a little bit of gas left in the tank.
Out came Gabe Kapler, with that stoic look on his face that resembles that of a man reporting to duty for something much more important than a random June baseball game. He lifted an arm towards the bullpen. Webb’s night was over after 4.2 innings.
Webb stopped short of publicly criticizing his manager, but only just. He said things like, “I wanted to compete,” and that “the competitor in me wasn’t too fond of that,” and that he “wanted to stay in the game.”
We’ll never know what would have happened if Webb had gotten his wish. John Brebbia entered the game and promptly allowed the two inherited runners to score, adding a pair of earned runs to Webb’s tally, and ceding a lead in a game the Giants would eventually lose.
Now we hit the fastforward button on that VCR (why are we using a VCR, you ask? Beats me. Don’t ask questions.). A week later Webb found himself in a similar situation, albeit an inning deeper. Two outs. Two on. Out came Kapler, arm raised well before reaching the mound. In came Brebbia, who got out of the inning this time, though the Giants would still lose.
This time Webb had pitched 5.2 innings, and thrown 100 pitches. He was surely far less upset, though that competitor in him certainly would have wanted the chance to escape the inning.
And now we fast forward a second time, this time arriving at the present. Err, a few hours prior to the present. Maybe even a day or two prior to the present, depending on when you read this.
This time it’s the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals. There are again two runners on base, though only one out. Webb has thrown 104 pitches, the bulk of which have been masterful.
Kapler saunters out. It’s a saunter, really. I don’t know why I ever call it anything else. He saunters everywhere, but especially to the mound.
The skipper saunters and you think, “oh yeah, that’s a totally normal thing to do.” Webb’s pitch count was in the triple digits. He’d just allowed a five-pitch walk and a single. The tying run was at the plate.
And then ... they talked. It wasn’t animated or emotional. It was just a chat. Take the baseball paraphernalia off, and place them in a supermarket, and you’d think they were comparing the 2022 Mazda CX-5 to the 2021 model.
Next thing you knew, Kapler was gone. Sauntering back to the rectangular cave from which he had emerged.
And Webb stayed in place, high atop his perfectly-maintained anthill.
Six pitches later and Webb had struck out Kyle Isbel, his ninth K-victim of the night. And then Michael A. Taylor had a capital W Weak single and, thanks to a great defensive play by Luis González (note: at 10:57 p.m. on June 14, Brady complimented Luis González’s defense for the first time), and also a great defensive play by Austin Wynns, the inning was over.
Did Kapler leave Webb in because he was pitching so well (he finished the game with five hits, three walks, and nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings)? Or did he leave Webb in for the same reason that you apologize after an argument with a loved one, even if you still think you’re right — which is to say that he was making amends, letting the other side be right even if he thought they were probably wrong, and making sure that they had a loving, trusting relationship being watered and fertilized?
Probably both. If there’s one thing Kapler excels at (other than sauntering), it’s toeing the line between the spreadsheet decisions and the human ones.
Leaving Webb in probably wasn’t the analytics department’s go-to move, but it probably wasn’t their “avoid at all costs” option, either. And if the difference between leaving Webb in and bringing Brebbia in is, say, 0.1 runs (to make up a number), is it worth it to restore some faith in the team’s Opening Day starter, and remind him that sometimes he gets to be in charge?
I say yes. Though I am saying that through my hindsight-tinted computer which informs me that Webb escaped the inning and the Giants won 4-2. That helps.
But just because Webb muscled his way through seven innings with a 3-0 lead doesn’t mean it was easy. The eighth inning flirted with being a disaster when Tyler Rogers relinquished three hits and Austin Slater committed an error, which allowed the Royals to pop two runs on the board.
Insurance awaited the Giants in the bottom half of the inning, when Tommy La Stella hit a bases loaded fly ball that brought home a run. La Stella entered the game halfway through and hit sac flies in both of his plate appearances, which ended up being the difference in scoring output between the two teams. As a result, La Stella goes home with a stat line I’ve not seen many times: 0-0, 0 walks, 2 RBI.
It was just the 19th time in the wild card era (since 1995) that a player had recorded multiple RBI without an official at-bat. And just the eighth time with two or fewer plate appearances (Wil Myers, it’s worth noting, did so in one plate appearance after plating two runners in one sacrifice fly, one of which was Evan Longoria).
Anyway, that run made you feel more confident when Camilo Doval walked the leadoff batter in the ninth inning.
The Giants could survive that, you thought.
And they did.