They did it again. The San Francisco Giants came from behind in the 9th inning and walked it off with a 2-run homer. Different opponent, shuffled cast, same results.
Thairo Estrada, the hero of Sunday’s game, stepped up to the plate with two outs and two strikes in a 1-0 ballgame and tripled off Arizona Diamondbacks closer Ian Kennedy. Brandon Crawford then slugged an 0-1 fastball over the center field wall.
It happened fast. Fans at Oracle pinched themselves giddy, treated to the ultimate baseball game finale twice in three days. The second time is always more unbelievable. The isolated probabilities in the moment don’t change, but the gods of sport generally don’t permit come-from-behind-walk-off homers so close together. It’s almost a faux-pas to ask…but I definitely asked. I’m sure you did too.
BRANDON CRAWFORD FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/xdrMOT5w02— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 17, 2022
For most of the night, any sniff of a rally was immediately washed out by Arizona pitcher Merrill Kelly.
A lead-off double by Pederson in the bottom of the 1st, neutralized by a pop-up and an inning ending double play. In the 5th, a 3-0 count had offense-starved fans salivating. Going on green, Crawford giddy up-ed the clutch on a center-cut and stalled out in the intersection. A muscled single from the greatest hitter on the planet Joey Bart stung by a next pitch foul out to the catcher.
As maddening as it was to watch, it wasn’t unexpected. Merrill Kelly has been one of the better pitchers in baseball since the All-Star Break. In three starts against the Giants this season, he’s posted a 1.69 ERA with a .703 WHIP. Those numbers went down after his 7 shutout innings authored on Tuesday. He kept bats guessing, alternating between a stanky changeup that added some extra hop-by-association to his fastball. He finished the night striking out 7 while stranding 6 base runners.
But Kelly wasn’t the only one toeing the rubber. Jakob Junis, after a rough previous start, found his rhythm against Arizona and mirrored Kelly inning for inning. His slider had a faster cut to it, biting out of the zone with batters chasing after it. Over 7 innings, he allowed 4 hits and bagged 7 Ks. His lone blemish was a hanging slider that Christian Walker exchanged for a run in the 4th.
Jakob Junis allowed just one run over seven innings, his longest start as a Giant. He hadn't even completed five since coming back from IL. The rotation is rolling right now.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 17, 2022
San Francisco’s best rally against Kelly came in the 7th, kicked off with a double by Evan Longoria. Yaz, forced into a 2-strike count by a “live edge” strike zone from Home Plate Blue Cory Blaser, flied out to medium deep center but a hobbled Longo could only bluff the advance.
With one out, San Francisco had two more opportunities to drive in the tying run and Thairo Estrada, who has been on a tear in August, occupied the box and um…bunted. It wasn’t a particularly good one either. It advanced Longoria to 3rd, but Arizona happily traded an out for 90 feet and Kelly got Bart to fly out to dodge the threat and exit the game unscathed.
Disregard the fact that Estrada has been one of the team’s best RBI men, it wasn’t the situation to bunt. Two at-bats with the tying run in scoring position is better than one at-bat with the tying run in scoring position.
Maybe he had a hard time seeing Kelly at that moment. Maybe he felt a surprise bunt was his best chance for a hit—whatever the thinking was, it didn’t pan out. The bunt died in the dirt in front of home plate and catcher Carson Kelly dealt with it accordingly. Anyway, it seems silly to harp on this now, but it was kind of the defining offensive moment of the game for the Giants until the other defining moment of the game happened.
Four spoiled doubles, an ill-advised bunt, rallies uncashed—for 8 ⅔ innings, it just makes for good TV. It’s all about suspense, laying the groundwork for the finale. We are all just agents of narrative. Longoria was forced to cover the outside of the plate after a wide first pitch called strike set up Estrada going out of the zone to line a triple off the right field wall to extend the inning. Yaz’s fly out to the deep 399 corner in left center set up Brandon Crawford’s 2-run homer to dead center.
Astute awareness of story structure. Way to go Giants!
San Francisco has won 5 straight and 8 of their last 10. Players are getting healthy, bats are finding their rhythm, the starting pitching is cruising—the Giants are doing everything they need to do to stay in playoff contention, but after a dismal June and July, doing what they need to do still might not be enough.
After Tuesday’s win, the Giants have 46 more games left in their season. It sounds like a lot. It’s not, especially when there are three-plus teams scratching and clawing after one spot.
With a San Diego Padres loss yesterday, the Giants are now only 4.5 games back from the third and final National League Wild Card spot, but if San Diego collapses (has it already begun?), the Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals have to as well. The Cardinals hold a two game lead over the Brew Crew in the central and the Brewers, who won yesterday (the Dodgers can never do anything right), are only a game out of that final WC seat.
The takeaway from that paragraph is that things are complicated and dicey and completely up in the air. Kapler and the squad are going to put their head down and control what they can control. They have six more matchups with the Padres, three against Philadelphia, and two against Milwaukee. They need the vast majority of those games and they need to win the games surrounding those games to make the outcomes of those games relevant.
Reality’s fog has already settled over the euphoria of last night’s game. The Giants need to keep winning games, BUT...winning still comes with uncertainty and that’s not a great feeling. We’re creatures in need of control—that’s where our comfort lies—and for this last quarter of the season, Giants fans are going to be uncomfortable.