clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Top-5 moments pre-All-Star Break

They don’t all involve Patrick Bailey...

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Logan Webb authored a complete game shutout to close the San Francisco Giants first 90 games of the season. As cool as it was, the win didn’t fill me with confidence.

Hitters have been sluggish at the plate and handcuffed by injuries. The rotation inconsistent, patched together, as top heavy and as nerve-wracking as a toddler who just discovered the stairs.

The break was needed for players, but as a fan, I’ve squirmed under the weight of nagging questions with wait-and-see answers: What does the post All-Star Break hold? Will the Giants bats rebound? Will the rotation settle? Will the front office be aggressive at the Trade Deadline? Are we going to reclaim our June peak or regress into the April’s dreary milieu?

These past couple of days have felt like those scenes in “Dog Day Afternoon” in which the bank employees are starting to sink into the initial stages of Stockholm Syndrome. Everyone is sweating and dancing and eating pizza and confused and Al Pacino is throwing money in the street shouting ‘Attica! Attica!’ to the people as helicopters patrol over his head. We’re waiting and delirious from the heat and willing to believe in the future, no matter how crazy it sounds or how kidnapped we are. Are the Giants going to get us to Algeria? Are the Giants really Pacino in this hectic scenario? Is this the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

There’s a lot of things this team did well and a lot we can reasonably expect them to continue to do for the rest of the season. So in the spirit of good vibes and positive thinking I put together a list of my favorite moments from the pre-All-Star Break. The order doesn’t really matter. Flip this list upside down, turn it inside out, put it in a bag and shake it and whatever order these moments come out will probably look pretty good to me.

You won’t be surprised to find out they’re all pretty much from June.

Patrick Bailey Squeeeeeze - June 7th against Colorado

Bailey’s safety squeeze on June 7th in the 8th inning against Colorado was beautiful because it was unexpected.

In a 2-1 count in a 4-4 ballgame, Bailey squared up a 97 MPH sinker from Justin Lawrence and deadened it perfectly on the right side of the infield grass. With Haniger coming in from third, Lawrence had to rush across the mound, position his body on the other side of the ball to pitch it to catcher Austin Wynns. He made a great play on a great bunt and Mitch Haniger made a great slide to put the Giants ahead 5 - 4.

Strategy and athleticism and execution—gorgeous, gorgeous baseball, all thanks to Patrick Bailey. It wasn’t the first time, nor was it the last.

It was hard for me to choose between that sacrifice bunt and the one Bailey laid down on May 21st against Miami.

What I love about this one is that it came two at-bats after he had hit his first Major League home run. Still glowing from his debut long-ball, let alone his first RBI in the big leagues, Bailey got the sacrifice sign from the bench and provided the Giants with some much needed cushion in a 1-run game.

We were still getting to know Bailey at the time. Ostensibly brought up as a glove-first catcher who was there to help pave the rocky stretch of road while Joey Bart got healthy on the IL, we didn’t know what we’d soon get with the bat. But I remember geeking out at his ability to deliver fundamentals in the clutch. The home run was sweet, but the home run and the squeeze in the same game—in his third game in the Majors!—that was something special. Bunts can be sexy.

I think what gives the bunt against Colorado the edge is context. It was Bailey’s first AB of the night, and he didn’t tease bunt until the fourth pitch. He swung and fouled off a 1-0 fastball, and the next pitch was way wide. In a 2-1 count, Lawrence was going to come back in the zone with a fastball, setting up a good pitch to bunt, and Bailey didn’t miss it. Zooming out a bit, San Francisco had been no-hit into the 6th by starting pitcher Connor Seabold before tying and taking the lead in the 8th. The bunt completed the Giants comeback in that game. They would then come from behind and win the next game against the Rockies and go on to claim 7 more consecutive road wins.

The bunt was the beginning. It cast a magical spell over the team in terms of late-inning resolve, serving up a comeback du jour seemingly every night over the next 14 days.

Mike Yastrzemski’s game-tying home run - June 14th against St. Louis

A week later, another come-from-behind win on the road. Bunt begets bash.

9th inning, down two runs with a runner on and two outs in the game, down two strikes in the at-bat, Yaz took a close-but-inside fastball at 96 MPH, spit on a slider in the dirt, spoiled another 96 MPH 4-seamer this time high and outside, before jumping on mistake cheese to tie the game and set-up a win in extra innings.

This one was special for a lot of reasons. Yaz had homered off Giovanny Gallegos the day before. He also knocked in the Giants’ 3rd run two innings previous, again down 2-strikes against lefty Jordan Montgomery, who had just spent 6 innings mowing down San Francisco’s bats after a rocky 1st. The RBI single put them within reach. The home run leveled it, and also kept the possibility of the series sweep alive, something the franchise hadn’t done in St. Louis since 1998.

I went back and forth between Yaz’s homer vs. St. Louis and his walk-off 3-run homer against San Diego on the 19th. There isn’t a wrong pick between the two, but I think what Yaz did to set-up the walk-off against the Padres was more impressive than the walk-off itself.

Much like it was against the Cardinals, Yaz’s fingerprints were all over the 7-4 win against San Diego. He had previously homered in the 6th against a tough starter in Michael Wacha to put the Giants within 2-runs. Still down in the 9th, he singled to advance Blake Sabol to 3rd, tagged from second on a deep fly off the bat of Luis Matos and then scored the tying run on a Bailey sac fly that he had to go back to the base for and then beat out an accurate throw from Juan Soto in left.

Tagging up from second on Luis Matos’s fly out, then scoring on another sac fly—Yaz’s legs manufactured that game-tying run out of nothing. The walk-off splash hit is kind-of the most obvious and ho-hum thing he did in those last couple of innings.

But I think what seals it for Yaz’s home run in St. Louis is that it was the second time in the season—in months—that the Giants were down to their final strike when a home run pulled the rug out from under St. Louis...

Blake Sabol walk-off home run - April 25th against St. Louis

I mean come on. The set-up speaks for itself: bottom of the 9th, two strikes, two outs, down a run with a runner on base. It’s a moment that every baseball fan dreams of, mirroring the situation in their backyard, daydreaming about it in lonely banishment of right field during your Little League game. It’s a scenario that is bred into the American consciousness that we assume it happens, not all the time, but plenty.

It doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

Sabol’s table-turner was the 4th come-from-behind walk-off in the 23 seasons that the Giants have played at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, and the 4th in San Francisco history when down to their last strike. If I were to organize this list with a little more structure and reason, backing up these claims of importance with objective facts, Sabol’s home run is easily the top moment of the Giants season so far. The play had a win probability added (WPA) of 85%, meaning San Francisco had a 15% chance of winning the game at the start of the play and by the end of it, the probability was maxed out at 100%.

Our own Brady Klopfer points out in that game’s recap that the catcher’s position was a little bit up in the air with Joey Bart “suffering an injury setback on Monday, and Gary Sánchez approaching his contract vesting date.” It’s hard to remember a time BPB (before Pat Bailey) when we were maybe talking about Sánchez as an alternative, but in late April, things were different. The Giants were getting their feet under them while piecing together outings from a power-sapped Bart and this Rule-5 kid nobody ever heard of before Spring Training. Somebody needed to start stepping up and that night against the Cardinals, Sabol did.

Sabol has had his moments of greenness out on the field, on the base paths, and behind the dish, but he’s owned his mistakes and shown willingness to grow. There’s holes, certainly, in Sabol’s swing, but he has flashed power, discipline and determination at the plate when it mattered most. His slash line with RISP: .396/.404/.750.

A back-up catcher, back-up left fielder, back-up DH that can do that as a rookie is a gift.

{Tie} Patrick Bailey throwing out Mookie Betts - June 16th against Los Angeles & Patrick Bailey throwing out Starling Marte - June 30th against New York

I kept going back and forth on this one until I remembered that whatever rules and restrictions with this list are made-up and self-enforced and I could do whatever I want—so a tie it is.

Both throws came in the 9th inning. Both throws erased game-changing runs, either tying (Marte) or winning (Betts). Both came against veteran base runners.

Let’s start with what came first. The Giants had again muscled their way into a lead in the late-innings, this time against Los Angeles. Even with Camilo Doval on the mound, a one run lead is never going to feel safe against the Dodgers. With one out, Miguel Rojas singled, turning the lineup over to Betts and Freddie Freeman who both singled and just like that, the game was tied with the winning run on second and Will Smith at the plate.

The sweep in St. Louis was nice but the Dodgers are just another beast.

But, the prevailing winds shifted. In a 2-1 count, Betts broke for third. Bailey had an unobstructed view of him running as Doval started his slow delivery. He repositioned himself slightly and in one motion received an 99 MPH inside fastball while popping out of his crouch and fired a bullet down to Casey Schmitt at third who applied the tag.

The Dodgers challenged the play but the way Betts got up from the play and headed back to the dugout with his head down told you everything you needed to know. The veteran got roasted by the rook—it’s never a good idea for the winning run to get thrown out on the bases.

Betts is 5 seasons removed from 30 stolen bases and doesn’t have blinding sprint speed. Still he’s discerning, smart, and rarely gets caught looking the fool. When he goes, there’s a good chance he’s going to make it. Without Bailey’s throw the winning run is 90 feet away with less than two outs—good chance Los Angeles gets that one home. But with it, the Giants win the game two innings later in one of the most hilariously bizarre moments in this 140 something year rivalry—and the throw may have gotten under Betts skin enough to make it happen.

Nabbing Marte is more impressive than nabbing Betts for two reasons: it happened at second base rather than third, and Marte is a much more prolific base stealer than Betts.

At the time, Marte had stolen 21 bases and only been caught 3 times. The Mets as a team had a 91% success rate. So when Marte pinch ran for Luis Guillorme after his one-out walk, a gauntlet was thrown down—there was no secret to what would happen next. The tension was ratcheted up, a tumbleweed blew across the infield as all of Flushing looked on from the shadows with baited breath. Marte. Bailey. Both waiting for that first move.

On an 0-1 101 MPH fastball, Marte went. Bailey set up with his right knee down and left foot planted under him, his back straight ready to run-and-gun. As the cutter comes in, he slides slightly to his left to cheat his shoulders into position, and in a blink of an eye, the ball has passed through the strike zone, in and out of his glove and is already on its way to second. The throw meets Schmitt a little up the line allowing for a quick, fist-pumping tag.

Potential run erased. The threat of a cheeky Brandon Nimmo flare tying the game eliminated, Doval strikes the center fielder out on the next pitch and the Giants win, leaving Citi Field stunned, counting strikes, outs—is that really it?

But of course, the Giants don’t have a lead unless Bailey launches a 3-run homer to center in the 8th.

The blast was absolutely a moment, but the throw punctuating the hit is what makes Bailey special. Similar to the squeeze after the blast against Miami—it’s the combination of talents, the versatility, the threat with bat and glove, the flair in the clutch, the maturity in high leverage situations on both offense and defense that has brought Bailey recognition around the league.

The Play - June 16th against Los Angeles

It’s ridiculous, of course, to call this a “play” as if the result was planned, the steps diligently worked through and practiced, before Gabe Kapler tapped his elbow twice, whistled, made the sign of the cross then picked his nose, relaying the message to the infield that The Play was on.

Re-listen to Jon Miller’s call. The tone of disgust for what he saw on the field is ripe enough to pluck. It truly is baseball with a question mark and that’s kind-of why I love it. The diamond can be a pretty reserved and tentative place, it’s not a place where madness unravels often.

The game on June 16th had a pretty active fermentation going. It was alive, see-sawing, and by the 11th inning, it was ready to blow.

It did, resulting in a series of puzzling curiosities. How did Schmitt drop that pop-up? Why was Junis just lingering under it? Why did he then throw to first? How did the Dodgers’ runner on second not score? What was Mookie doing?

There are still so many questions, but I think going back to it now, I can see it more clearly in the context of Bailey throwing Betts out at third base two innings previous. Betts went back to the dugout with egg on his face, grinding his teeth, a chip on his shoulder—I think it was still there when he stepped up to the plate as the tying run in the 11th. He needed to make up for what he did and that gave him tunnel vision. He caught a break with the dropped pop-up and overthrow and all he could think about was third, about getting to third, capitalizing on costly errors and barreling defiantly into that bag—better late than never.

Betts did get there on the play, it just cost them the game.

In any other season, it feels like the Dodgers would’ve won that game in five different ways. When that happened, and the Giants still came out the other side shaking their heads in joyous disbelief, unscathed, it just felt like this season might be different. TBD if it actually will be in the long run, but at the time, the win in the opener led to a 15-0 blowout the next day and San Francisco’s first sweep in Chavez Ravine in over a decade.