Have you ever watched a tennis match while listening to a baseball radio broadcast? It’s wild—it kind of works, especially with the green court and white lines of Wimbledon where Carlos Alcaraz took on incumbent champion Novak Djokovic in the Men’s Singles Championship.
I could almost picture Michael Conforto digging into the worn dirt of the opposite baseline, bat poised, waiting for Djokovic’s second serve. Or Alex Wood pacing back court, wiping his brow, asking for a ball from one of the attendant ball boys, rubbing it down, not liking the feel of the seams, sending it back and asking for another. Do tennis players have to play with a second ball in their pocket? Should the MLB make pitchers do that? (Imagine the seconds it’d shave!)
Alcaraz and Djokovic rallied and volleyed and grunted and battled through deuce and advantage and deuce and advantage of the twenty-seven minute game 5 of set 3 with the sun hats and sunglasses gathered at Centre Court hushed into a rapt and observant quiet. I imagined the entire crowd including King Felipe VI of Spain, Brad Pitt, Emma Watson, Daniel Craig and the British Royal Family following the back-and-forth in front of them while listening to the dulcet tones of Dave Flemming and Joe Ritzo as they narrate the series finale between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates.
All of us tense with concern for Alcaraz maintaining momentum and holding serve in the 5th set, but also Wood’s feel for his secondary pitches in the Midwestern humidity.
The young Spaniard took down the unflappable Serb in 5 sets, and the drama that unfolded on that Wimbledon green nearly matched the belated offensive outburst in extra innings the Giants had been desperate for since Friday.
Another clutch hit from Michael Conforto fueled a 5-run 10th, sealing an 8-4 win and a series sweep of the scuttling Pirates.
Five-run explosion in the 10th pic.twitter.com/jPVBdNn8l1— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 16, 2023
After stealing a 3-1 win yesterday in which they managed only 3 hits while striking out 15 times, San Francisco’s bats continued to piece together rallies of little substance, if anything at all, off Pittsburgh’s pitching.
Their 3 runs in the 3rd came with a huge assist from Pittsburgh’s starter Osvaldo Bido and right fielder Henry Davis. Bido walked two in the inning and hit Joc Pederson to load the bases for J.D. Davis. Davis dumped a single to right that looked like it was only going to move the runners from station to station, knotting the game up at 1 a piece, but another error by the young outfielder allowed an extra run to score. A nearly identical play happened in Friday’s game, and a similarly unfocused defensive misfire on Saturday involving Davis gifted San Francisco a run.
J.D. puts the Giants back on top (with some help ) pic.twitter.com/KCPhe77EGD— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 16, 2023
Luis Matos added a third run on a bases loaded ground out. The Giants didn’t get another plate appearance with a runner in scoring position until Casey Schmitt started the 10th at second as the Manfred Runner. The bats only collected two more hits between the 3rd and 10th while K’ing 7 times, passing on the burden of preserving the lead to the pitching corps.
Alex Wood continued to fight, rather unconvincingly for his starter role. He couldn’t find the form he had against Colorado when he tossed 5 innings of 3 hit ball, but he wasn’t nearly as helpless as his appearance against New York in which he gave up 5 runs (4 ER) on 2 hits and 4 walks.
Wood hat to throw 40+ pitches to get through the first two innings. He navigated two hits and a walk in the 1st before getting Davis to foul out thanks to LaMonte Wade Jr’s net game (last one, I promise).
LaMonte made this look easy pic.twitter.com/hlFua3LQcf— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 16, 2023
With two outs in the 2nd, 9th place hitter Jason Delay doubled a poorly located 0-2 sinker to set-up runners at 2nd and 3rd. Wood thought he escaped another jam with an elevated sinker that somehow was called a ball.
Understandably upset, Wood walked Connor Joe, then again thought he may have skirted from danger when Bryan Reynolds rolled a soft ground ball up the middle. Brandon Crawford fielded it with ease but flipped the ball to second instead of going to first. Even with Brett Wisely dropping the ball, Joe probably beat it out, allowing the runner on third to score.
Wood settled down, getting Andrew McCutchen to pop-out with a nicely elevated sinker to end the bases-loaded threat, and went on to retire the next five batters. The starter was swapped for Tristan Beck with 2-outs in the 4th having thrown 67 pitches—only 30 of those being strikes. His lackluster line: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K.
Credit is due to Wood for the knack he displayed in getting out of the trouble he inflicted on himself, but I think the Giants success so far has been on the back of an excellent bullpen. The latter half of the season in which workload, heat, stress, and fatigue start to compound, San Francisco is going to need better support from their long arms. They need Wood to chew through more innings, just as they need the offense to start putting together some earlier rallies. The late-inning heroics are great for television but also brutal physically and mentally on relievers, who have to be Philippe Petit and put on a high-wire balancing act night after night.
Tristan Beck forfeited only 1 hit over 3.1 innings, but Henry Davis doubling and scoring on a ground out in the 6th cut the lead in half. Tyler Rogers came in the 8th and uncharacteristically, allowed the first 3 batters he faced to reach on a single and two walks, and the Pirates tied the game on a sacrifice fly by Jared Triolo.
It was Rogers 43rd appearance in a game (tied for most on the team with Camilo Doval, and tied for third in MLB) with 48 innings pitched (7th in MLB). Rogers had 15 consecutive appearances without handing out a base-on-balls dating back to June 8th, and this was only his second time walking 2 batters in an inning (his first being on June 8th).
Rogers was pulled for Rogers, and Taylor took care of his kin, striking out Tucupita Marcano with runners at first and third and Jason Delay with the bases loaded to maintain the tie. That’s what brothers are for. Concerned with Doval’s workload having pitched the last two games and over the All-Star Break, Kapler rolled out Ryan Walker for the 9th, who retired the top of the lineup in order.
The Pirates saw the Rogers brothers in the same inning pic.twitter.com/tHmEO9B7Di— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 16, 2023
It was here, finally in the 10th, that the slacking offense kicked it into gear, working RHP Yerry De Los Santos for 5 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks.
Wilmer Flores singled Schmitt over to third, while Pederson broke the tie with a sac fly to deep center. Davis walked, setting up Michael Conforto’s coup de grace: a 2-run double that short-hopped the wall in right.
2-for-5 today, Conforto collected 5 hits and 5 RBI over the first 3 games of the half. To redeem yesterday’s 4 K dud, Patrick Bailey added a 2-run double of his own to punctuate the Giants now 5-2 record in extra innings and first sweep since their visit to Los Angeles in June.