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Comeback kids

The Giants once again overcame a deficit and swept the Rockies.

Brandon Crawford and Joc Pederson dapping after a game. Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Through two games at Coors Field, the the San Francisco Giants had beaten the Colorado Rockies in two very different ways. And neither way felt like a fitting tribute to the Banquet Beer’s park.

During Tuesday’s 10-4 win, the Giants tied a SF-era franchise record with eight doubles, and threw a triple in there for good measure. Yet despite the nine extra-base hits, the Giants didn’t hit a single ball over the fence ... neither did the Rockies, though the teams combined for five balls that would have been out in Oracle Park.

During Wednesday’s 5-4 win, the Giants had eight hits ... all of which were singles.

A win is a win is a win, but the Giants had never left Coors Field without a home run in a series. And so, entering Thursday’s game with a chance for just their second sweep of the year — and playing during the day, when the ball flies a little bit more like the Coors Field of yesteryear — it seemed the Giants would Goldilocks their way into mile high success, with some hits that were juuuuust right.

And on the fourth pitch of the game, Thairo Estrada seemed to confirm those suspicions, putting a ball well into the bleachers to give the Giants an early 1-0 lead.

The bottom of the first put an end to those suspicions. Maybe instead of coasting to a sweep with the long ball, the Giants would die a poetic death, finally discovering Coors Field home runs in the one game they couldn’t win.

And, in fitting with the poetic theme, the Rockies were playing along by winning with the Giants successful formula: with hits in the park.

They opened up the bottom of the first with three straight singles against Alex Cobb. After the Giants went a perfect two-for-two with shutdown innings on Wednesday, the Rockies had tied things up before recording an out.

But they were only getting started. After Cobb struck out Elias Díaz, he hit Randal Grichuk, loading the bases with one out. Five pitches later, Nolan Jones had singled and Ezequiel Tovar had doubled, and the Rockies led 4-1.

Funny note on the Tovar double that highlights how weird Coors Field is playing: per Statcast, it had an expected batting average of .170 ... and would have been a home run in 24 different ballparks. I guess a double is a fair compromise.

Cobb got out of the inning, with an ugly detour to four-pitch walk the ninth-place hitter. But if there was a silver lining — perhaps not for today, but perhaps for the series starting on Friday, of which the Giants have “TBD” listed as the starting pitcher for two games — it was that Cobb had somehow not thrown that many pitches. He’d faced 10 batters. He’d given up four runs. He’d thrown just 29 pitches. There was a chance for him to settle down and eat some innings.

And that’s exactly what he did. The situations weren’t easy, but he made escaping them look so. He gave up a leadoff infield single in the second, and got out of it quickly. He gave up a leadoff double in the third, thanks to another huge assist from Coors — it was a home run in 27 ballparks, per Statcast — and got out of it quickly. He had a one-two-three fourth inning.

The fifth inning brought weirdness. Cobb hopped around seemingly in pain after throwing a pitch, but called off the trainers. A few funky pitches later, and out came Dave Groeschner and Gabe Kapler. Cobb talked them into letting him stay in the game, and he easily got out of the inning. But even though he’d been brilliant for four straight innings, and his pitch count sat at just 83 pitches, it was clear his night would be over.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like anything serious.

Meanwhile, the Giants offense had pasted a picture of itself on a milk carton as soon as Estrada had finished rounding the bases. In the 4.2 innings that had followed Estrada’s big fly, the Giants had posted just four baserunners, on two regular singles, one bunt single, and a walk. They were en route to striking out seven times against a pitcher who entered the game with 12 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. Despite his name, Chase Anderson hadn’t struck out seven batters in a game since August 31 ... 2020.

The Giants, offered up a sweep on a silver platter, were doing what I did two years ago when I moved into my new apartment and threw away the broom, bought a Roomba, and never bothered to set it up.

But the Giants had overcome a 4-0 deficit in the seventh inning a day prior, so there was no reason to be scared by a 4-1 deficit in the sixth inning. Or at least that seemed to be J.D. Davis’ mindset when he stepped up with one out and lined one into the corner for extra bases. The Giants, in search of a break, seemed to get one when the ball stuck to the corner of the fence like they were both made of velcro, allowing Davis to use all of Denver’s oxygen en route to the weird left field triple.

The Giants got the break, but they didn’t need it. Because two pitches later, Michael Conforto did the thing that it felt like the Giants were destined to do when the game began, and suddenly it was a one-run game.

It was a new game, and even though the Giants left the inning still trailing 4-3, there was a notable momentum shift. They’d just done this to the Rockies 20 hours prior. You could sense inevitability in the Rockies’ clubhouse, and arrogance in the Giants’.

That’s what you want to see, feel, and partake in.

The offense always gets credit for a comeback, but you forget how pivotal of a role everyone else plays. If the pitchers don’t tread water, there’s no comeback to be made, only a carrot on a stick to chase. If the defense doesn’t make plays, all the momentum — and worse yet, the runs — are handed right back.

Just as he did a night before, Taylor Rogers pitched a shutdown inning in front of his hometown crowd. And just as he did a night before, his twin brother Tyler took over for the next inning, this time the seventh.

It’s here where that defense, so much improved over a year, helped keep the deficit reachable. After Rogers gave up a one-out walk, Díaz roped a double off the wall. Conforto, whose diving catch on Wednesday saved two runs in a one-run victory, played the carom perfectly, and made a delicious relay that kept Ryan McMahon at third base. But with only one out, the Rockies were still in prime position to tack on a run.

Rogers got Randal Grichuk to fly out to Conforto in semi-shallow right field. It seemed a play where McMahon might challenge Conforto’s surgically-repaired arm, but the runner made the silly mistake of breaking towards home while the ball was in the air, and having to retreat a second too late to tag up. It was a gift from the Rockies, though Conforto’s throw home certainly made it appear as though any attempt to take home would have been futile.

The Giants got out of the inning, and would stake their claim at a tying run in the eighth. But the baseball powers that be would make the Giants have to fight for it. Conforto had a one-out single and the Giants, attempting to seize all the moment, watched their balloon get popped as Mitch Haniger hit a line drive at 100.9 mph — with a .690 expected batting average, no less — result in not just one out, but two.

Alas, the baseball gods and goddesses may not have been on the Giants side, but there’s one person who always is: a good double agent. And so we introduce you to the most painfully-named player in the sport, Pierce Johnson, who spent the 2018 season on the Giants.

Johnson has bounced around the league (and the world), but has settled into a role as the Rockies closer, though admittedly being the Rockies closer really means being the guy whose good enough to not make it look like you’re tanking, but bad enough to help you lose some games you probably should win. Like, for instance, this one.

He entered the game having walked 15 batters in just 23.1 innings, and he made it 16 when he walked the leadoff batter, Blake Sabol. Suddenly the tying run was on base.

Then he made it 17 when he walked the pinch-hitter, Mike Yastrzemski, on four pitches. Suddenly the tying run was in scoring position, and the go-ahead run was on base.

The Giants had saved all their bullets in the game, having not made any lineup changes during the first eight innings. Yaz broke the seal, and next up was Brandon Crawford, adjusting to a hybrid bench role for the first time in his career. He replaced Casey Schmitt for a handedness advantage, promptly fell behind 0-2 on a pair of miscalled pitches outside of the zone, and then delivered one of the better 0-2 swings of the season, ripping a run-scoring double and tying the game.

The comeback was complete, and with runners at second and third, it seemed inevitable what would follow. Indeed, LaMonte Wade Jr. gave the Giants the lead with a sacrifice fly and, even after Estrada struck out with one out and a runner on third, the Giants found the insurance run when Joc Pederson discovered a hole in the defense, making it a 6-4 game.

The Giants had, once again, scored five unanswered runs to take a lead. And they had, once again, created a situation where they could give a save opportunity to the man who just might be the best reliever in the National League right now.

In a series full of unexpected twists and turns, one that continually punished you for thinking you knew how baseball worked, one thing still felt certain: Camilo Doval would close the door.

And he did.