Lewis Brinson, he of a career .248 slugging percentage and .578 OPS, was the leadoff hitter for the San Francisco Giants on Labor Day as they attempted to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, the runaway best team in baseball.
It was a sign of the season the Giants have had. It was a sign because a poor-hitting leadoff batter is to be expected from a middling offense (the Giants are 12th in the Majors in runs per game, and 16th in wRC+). And it was a sign because the Giants, in the playoff picture only in the sense that they haven’t yet been mathematically eliminated, are at a place where playing an intriguing, bad player is more important than playing a known, good one.
And that’s exactly what Brinson is. A former top-10ish prospect who has never been good at the Major League level, but who is still full of tools and potential.
He led off the game. Was the first batter on a night that was illegally hot in LA, facing a pitcher, Andrew Heaney, who, predictably, went from a career of mediocrity to an ace when he joined the Dodgers this year.
Here’s the note I wrote about that fateful leadoff at bat:
T1: Brinson leadoff foul homer. almost. double down the line foul. almost. strikeout. sign of things to come?
My pessimism was showing, but you’ll forgive me. The Dodgers, after all, entered the game with 28 more wins than the Giants.
Brinson hit one of those foul balls where you flipped a coin to see if it was a homer or a long out. Then he ripped a sharply-hit low liner just by the bag at third. And then, after seeing Brinson pull those hard pitches, Heaney dropped in a change up, and if Brinson had swung any earlier he might have hit the prior pitch.
We were one batter into the game, but we had an idea as to how it might go, because it’s how the last few months have gone for the Giants. Almost. Almost. But also, no chance. Dream on, bub.
That was only exacerbated in the bottom half of the inning, which started when the Dodgers leadoff hitter, Mookie Betts — like Brinson, a former top prospect center fielder with extreme power for the position, but unlike Brinson one of the best players in baseball — hit a ground ball to Evan Longoria, who threw to first base anticipating Brandon Belt to be there, only to find out that Belt is out for the season and the less-long, less-stretchy, less-defensively-talented David Villar was occupying the spot. It was a two-bag error on Longoria and, shortly later, Freddie Freeman hit a moonshot, which made you think about how fun it must be to watch your team give out a $162 million contract.
The Dodgers led 2-0, and poor Logan Webb was saddled with — wait for it — his 10th unearned run in his last four starts. If you want to know just how impressive that confluence of awful defense and horrific sequencing is, Webb had three unearned runs last season. All of last season. Including the postseason. And he’s had 10 in his last four starts.
At this point you knew the outcome. We’d seen it so many times this year. The Giants almost did something great, and instead did something bad. The Giants got a break (after Brinson’s strikeout, Wilmer Flores was hit by a pitch), but couldn’t quite do something with it. Their opponent got a break and immediately capitalized.
This team has been the master of making you feel like they’re so close yet so far at the same damn time. And of all the places I’d like to be in the world, trailing this Dodgers team, on the road is near the bottom of the list.
Especially in this heat.
And then the third inning came around, which was led off by Villar (another player on the field because of intrigue), who singled. Bryce Johnson (a third player on the field because of intrigue) struck out because he had the audacity to take a pitch outside of the strike zone, and that brought up Brinson.
Against someone who had given up just 11 earned runs in 46.2 innings this year, Brinson did this:
Lewis Brinson ties it with a two-run blast pic.twitter.com/1dT9yVQ6m8— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 6, 2022
Only time will tell if Brinson can put it all together and be a quality Major Leaguer, but that swing makes you happy that the Giants are taking the waiver. How many center fielders can hit a ball that far? Here’s the official count: not many.
Brinson’s 429-foot dinger both tied the game and opened the floodgates, and two batters later, J.D. Davis — who continues to be the under-looked steal of the deadline — also took on center field.
J. D. Davis' solo shot gives the Giants the lead pic.twitter.com/Cv8H4wS7R8— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 6, 2022
I’m not going to ask anyone to see this season as anything other than a failure, but despite my repeated complaints about the putridity of this team, there are some exciting things to watch. The Giants are trying some dudes out, and by golly, some of them might be players you drunkenly tattoo on your ass cheek while celebrating a 2025 World Series win.
We’ll take a brief interlude from that thought to marvel at Thairo Estrada, two innings later, getting in on the intrasquad game of, “Can you take on center field?”
(Thair)O Brother, Where Art Thou? pic.twitter.com/1SNW2FqKTJ— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 6, 2022
A Brandon Crawford single brings us back to our discourse on intriguing players trying to prove their value on the next great Giants team. Which puts Villar — the same Villar who set the AA Richmond franchise record for home runs last year, and has 27 home runs in just 366 plate appearances for AAA Sacramento this year — back in the batter’s box.
And more importantly, puts another baseball leaving the confines of the diamond.
Villar’s Crossing pic.twitter.com/Smq12F2REE— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 6, 2022
It was the fourth home run of the day, all against Heaney (who’d allowed just seven home runs in 10 starts this year), and it gave the Giants a tidy 6-2 lead. Which would be nice were they playing ... well, pretty much any other team.
But they were not playing any other team. They were playing the Dodgers.
The Dodgers, who scored in the bottom half of the inning on a pair of singles and a Joey Gallo double, putting runners at second and third with just one out. But Logan Webb worked his magic and got out of the inning, with a 6-3 lead in tact.
And then came a pivotal moment. Austin Barnes led off the bottom of the fifth with a single. The ball was flying and the Dodgers, as a team, are hitting the ball comfortably better than Wilmer Flores this season. The game was far from over.
Betts hit a double to left field, which should have put runners at second and third with no outs. The epitome of Kenny Loggins singing Danger Zone. Or perhaps the epitome of Sterling Archer imitating Kenny Loggins singing Danger Zone, because it’s been that type of season for the Giants.
Yet despite there being no outs, and despite it being a catcher at first base, and despite Betts’ hit going to left field, the Dodgers opted to send the runner. Johnson, who carries more intrigue in his glove than in his bat, got the ball in masterfully, Crawford did the thing he does, Austin Wynns applied the tag, and you watched in disbelief as the Giants were the benefactors, rather than the givers, of a poor baseball play that could change the course of the game.
Barnes got his revenge, bopping a seventh-inning homer off of Yunior Marte to cut the Giants lead to 6-4. Still scary hours. Still Loggins hours.
Which brings us back to our hero. Our 65-grade power tool center fielder of a hero: Brinson. He led off the ninth inning and got that run right back, bopping one over the fence for the team’s first five-homer game in quite some time.
Two for Lew pic.twitter.com/e3aTHEJ0fF— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 6, 2022
Camilo Doval made things the teensiest bit tense in the ninth, because why not have some fun? But he closed the door and the Giants did, indeed, Beat LA.
Standings be damned. It feels good.