Every year it feels like the San Francisco Giants are a truly awful team with runners in scoring position. Every single year.
Sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re merely average. Sometimes they’re quite good. Occasionally they’re even elite.
But it always feels as though they’re awful.
It’s easy to explain why.
As sports fans we’re conditioned to cling to the bad moments more than the good ones, which is quite an indictment of the human spirit. And hitting in baseball really dives into this concept, since the average hitter is already going to be out in roughly three-quarters of their at-bats. Remember, even the invincible Barry Lamar Bonds made an out in 55.6% of the times that he came to the plate in his career.
Hitters are designed to fail, and we’re designed to remember when they fail, particularly in important moments. Where else in life could you fail to hit with a four-sided dice and throw up your arms in utter disbelief that this could happen? What are the odds? (Quite good, really.)
All of this is to say that, whether or not the Giants have been bad with runners in scoring position this week, or this month, or this season, or this decade ... they were quite awful in their Monday night 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
It was a stupendous pitching battle featuring Logan Webb in the orange corner and Max Fried in the red corner. Each lasted seven innings. Webb allowed just six baserunners while striking out seven. Fried allowed one more baserunner but struck out one more batter.
The difference was the manner in which those baserunners occurred.
In the second inning, Travis d’Arnaud, famously known for being the brother of Giants legend Chase d’Arnaud, who played a staggering 42 games with the franchise, hit a ball over the fence. A fair ball over the fence which, to use the parlance of our time, makes for a homer.
The Giants would do no such thing, though Joc Pederson obliterated a baseball a few feet foul, which certainly could have made for a different recap.
Instead the Giants populated the bases, and then looked around for a road map before throwing the car in reverse and clumsily trying to retrace their steps.
In the second inning the Giants put two on with no outs, courtesy of a Darin Ruf walk and an Evan Longoria single. The next batter, Luis González, hit into a fielder’s choice and, once aboard, was picked off by a Fried move that would have gotten a nod of appreciation from Johnny Cueto. The rally wilted and, a few pitches later, died.
In the eighth inning, with the Giants trailing 1-0 and Fried trying to muscle through one more frame, they got even closer. González reached base on a leadoff drag bunt, and Thairo Estrada singled on an 0-2 pitch, which González read perfectly and took third on. Curt Casali drew a walk, and suddenly the bases were loaded with no outs.
The time was ripe!
Out came Fried and in came old friend Will Smith, who got Tommy La Stella to hit the type of no-player’s-land popup that should land, but old friend Adam Duvall ran 115 feet (gotta get those steps in) to make the catch.
Still, the opportunity was there, and Austin Slater took advantage with a single that was hit so hard that it only scored one run, which tied the game.
One out and the bases loaded is a plenty fine situation, but Wilmer Flores whiffed chasing ball four, and then Matt Olson made the type of defensive play that makes you want to throw your beer bottle at the TV, but only after you’ve stood and applauded for a while, and that ended the inning.
With a 1-1 tie in hand, the Giants marched to the ninth inning, and gave it the ol’ college try again.
It started with a one-out Pederson single. González followed it up with a single somewhere in between third base and left field, and aggressive baserunning from Pederson not only put Joc at third, but drew a throw that allowed González to go to second. With one out, the Giants had the go-ahead run on third and the insurance run on second, and no force play.
But Kenley Jansen, still carrying the stink of his 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, struck out Thairo Estrada and Brandon Crawford.
It set the table for the Braves to do what the Pittsburgh Pirates had done the night before: walk off the Giants. And Camilo Doval decided to offer them up a matching contribution, walking Olson on four pitches to start the ninth, which allowed a pair of singles to score the celebratory run.
In a pitching battle that good, someone is bound to get Cained. It was fitting that it was the Giant who did.