Let’s get something out of the way: there were two professional sporting events being played along the water of Mission Bay on Thursday night, simultaneously. The San Francisco Giants game was much less meaningful than the other game. If someone had to lose, the Giants were noble and also just logically correct for volunteering.
It’s like when you’re playing pool at the bar and you’re trying to figure out who your teammate will be, and that one friend who isn’t good at all offers to go get a round of beers while the rest of you play, and you all (the person included) go through the facade of pretending they’re being sacrificial and selfless instead of just self-aware.
That was the Giants, I guess. Something like it.
The Giants finally wised up after an awful week. During their dreadful five-game losing streak, they had scored first in all five games. You understand the desire to take a lead, but then you remember that the only way to blow a lead is by taking a lead, and suddenly you also understand the desire to simply not take a lead.
They gave that one a try on Thursday.
Was it successful? It’s hard to say. I lost fewer years of my life watching this game than their previous five losses. But upon further examination, it’s hard to figure out how they might eventually use this strategy to win a game. I’ll have to sleep on it.
The game started ominously enough. The first batter of the game, Brandon Nimmo, hit a comebacker that smacked Sean Manaea right in the leg for an infield hit. The second batter of the game, Mark Canha, also hit a comebacker, which Manaea fielded and turned into a double play. An inning later, the New York Mets fifth batter, Tommy Pham, hit a comebacker that smacked Manaea in the leg so hard that you’d think Manaea’s leg tried to skirt the rules in a fantasy football league, but Manaea recovered to make the out.
It was a strong first inning, and a strong second inning, and a strong third inning, and then in the fourth inning Manaea decided that if you’re gonna kill the dreams you better make it swift.
So he hit a batter, then gave up a home run, then got someone out, then hit a batter, then gave up a home run, and suddenly it was 4-0.
And then he walked someone and gave up a double and it was 5-0 and you thought the game was over because there’s no way. There’s just no way.
In the fifth inning the Giants dabbled with there being a way.
Blake Sabol hit a home run, which he did a whole lot during the meaningless games, and if he can do it a whole lot during the meaningful games the Giants will be very happy.
LaMonte Wade Jr. hit a home run, which he did a whole lot a few seasons ago, and if he can do it a whole lot this season the Giants will be very happy.
Then a good ol’ rally that led to a Mike Yastrzemski RBI single and a wild pitch in which one-legged Michael Conforto ran out of the house, realized he forgot his keys, ran back into the house, grabbed them, and then ran out of the house again just in time to ... umm ... score from third.
Suddenly it was 5-4, and the Giants had gotten back in it just as quickly as they had gotten out of it and, it turns out, just as quickly as they would get out of it again.
Tristan Beck — a former first-round pick, Stanford alum, and the player that the Atlanta Braves somehow thought they owed the Giants in exchange for letting them pay Mark Melancon’s salary — made his MLB debut when he relieved Manaea, and he took the Giants to the finish line. He was there when they were out of it, then there when they were in it, then there when they were out of it again.
Needless to say he played a role in them being out of it. He probably won’t be happy with the performance, which featured giving up nine hits and four runs in 5.1 innings.
And you could certainly make the case that once the Giants pulled close, they should have opted for some seasoned veteran bullpen arms rather than turn things over to a player appearing in his first career game. Maybe the outcome would have been different.
As it was, the game quickly shifted from a “Can the Giants win?” game to a “Let’s see what Beck’s got” game, and the answer is ... some pretty nasty stuff.
He made some really, really good hitters look really, really foolish, and if you look past the runs and hits allowed, the sights are pretty. He struck out five. He pounded the strike zone, with first-pitch strikes to 17 out of 25 batters, and strikes in 57 of his 81 pitches. He had 10 swings and misses. And, most importantly, the aforementioned tidbit: he made some really, really good hitters look really, really foolish.
He also pitched 5.1 innings, and while the status of the game dictated a lot of that, it’s also notable that the Giants let him go that distance ... something they’ve never let Sean Hjelle do. Beck very well may emerge as a one or two-inning reliever, but it’s abundantly clear that the Giants still see him as someone who can help the rotation sooner rather than later. Alex Wood’s on the IL for a while, which means an oft-injured pitching staff is probably only an injury away — or another rough Ross Stripling outing or two — from Beck sliding into the rotation.
And when you watched him show Pete Alonso a mid-high 90s fastball, then back it up with a low-80s slider to induce a wimpy swing through — in multiple at-bats, no less — you get it.
Still, despite the encouraging signs from Beck, it was hard not to view him through a lens of frustration and missed opportunity, through no fault of his own. The opposing pitcher was righty Kodai Senga, an incredibly exciting rookie whom the Giants made a run at in the offseason, but never were actually linked to pursuing seriously enough to win his services.
Instead, the Mets spent the $75 million necessary to gamble on a player who had never pitched in America before.
Senga didn’t pitch well, and maybe he’ll never pitch well. But if you’re a Giants fan watching an exciting $75M free agent that the other team employs, while hoping your answer will be the one-year plus an option free agent you signed plus a piggyback from a 26-year old making his MLB debut, well ... some frustration is understandable.
But things tend to be more frustrating when you lose 9-4 and fall to 6-12.
At least the Warriors won.