I haven’t actually watched Abbott Elementary, so don’t expect this article to be littered with references to the titular pun, as is a game story tradition on the San Francisco Giants beat. And if you want to rant about how ridiculous it is that I haven’t watched Abbott Elementary, send your complaints to don’t-worry-brady-this-isn’t-another-message-calling-for-farhan-zaidi’s-head@McCovenComplaintHotline.com.
For a while I thought I might have to repeat yesterday’s schtick, when I titled my recap of the Giants 3-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds The margin for error is slim, and then repeated that phrase 109 times in the body of the article. The Giants reminded us of that a few times on Thursday, before ultimately losing 5-1 to split the four-game series (reminder: splitting a road series against a good team is a good thing, even if it’s hard to feel that way if you win the first two games).
The Giants were still battered and bruised, with two of their top right-handed bats (Thairo Estrada and J.D. Davis) sidelined against a lefty, and Michael Conforto getting a rest day. The result was having to do things like starting Joc Pederson (.548 OPS against LHP this year) and three struggling youngsters (Casey Schmitt, David Villar, and Brett Wisely). The margin is so slim, especially when you’re tired, on the road, and facing a good team, that those can be the reasons you lose a game where you and the opponent play equally well.
But then the Giants and Reds didn’t play equally well. The Giants played poorly, the Reds played well, the former impacted the latter, the latter impacted the former, and suddenly the game was over.
Perhaps this is hindsight clouding my vision, but the game felt over as we flipped the script from the top of the fourth to the bottom, a time of the game that should, if advertisements work correctly, make radio listeners thirsty for a refreshing Hell or High Watermelon wheat beer from 21st Amendment Brewery, the official sponsor of the 21st out, which makes me laugh every time I hear it (what’s next, being the official sponsor of Joc Pederson’s oversized base-running mitt? The official sponsor of swinging at a 3-0 pitch and popping up?).
Jokes aside, drink their beer. It’s good and local. They’re not paying me or giving me beer to say that (though they should, in my humble opinion).
Anyway, back to the middle of the fourth. The Giants already trailed 2-0, courtesy of a big blast by Luke Maile. Alex Cobb had already given up two his and three walks, and did not look his sharpest, as is so often the case during day games. In the top of the fourth the Giants got just their second baserunner of the game on a leadoff walk by Wilmer Flores. He had been unable to move off his post at first, not because he was so comfortable there after playing his defense in the same spot, but because Mike Yastrzemski and Patrick Bailey had hit into unproductive outs.
And then, with two outs, Luis Matos gave the Giants their first hit of the day, bashing a warning track double to left field. The Giants, who entered the game having only been thrown out at home three times all year (tops in the league, with eight teams already having reached double digits), watched as Mark Hallberg sent Flores from first all the way home, and watched as Flores lumbered about not looking fully healthy, and watched as Flores was out and then some.
The teams jogged off the field, and it was at that point that the game felt over. Not so much because it was a squandered opportunity (had the score stayed 2-0, I might have had to reprise the The margins are slim theme), but because of what it represented.
It wasn’t a bad send by Hallberg. A low-percentage send? Sure. But low-percentage doesn’t mean bad. The Giants had two outs. They had only just recorded their first hit, in their 14th plate appearance. Pederson, with his .143 batting average against lefties — and mired in quite a slump — was on deck. Andrew Abbott, a 24-year old rookie whom the Giants had never faced, was perplexing them at each turn.
Hallberg’s decision didn’t send the message that he thought Flores would for sure score. It sent the message that he felt the low chance of success was still better than any other option, which is the same thought process that led to roughly half of Kobe Bryant’s career shot attempts.
But Hallberg was right. You can’t butterfly effect baseball, but given that Pederson struck out on a bunt attempt when he finally came up in the fifth, you can feel pretty comfortable asserting that Flores probably wouldn’t have scored if he held at third. And the Giants, meanwhile, didn’t have another baserunner until Flores came to bat with two outs in the ninth inning (or another baserunner against Abbott at all, as he went eight spectacular innings), and saved the Giants from both being one-hit and being shut out.
Wilmer Flores - San Francisco Giants (12)— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) July 20, 2023
It wasn’t the only moment to cheer for in this game, though it was one of the few. Bailey started the contest by throwing out one of the most electric base-stealers in the game, Elly De La Cruz.
I said on Monday that I look forward to many, many years of De La Cruz and Logan Webb battling, and now I want to add that I look forward to many, many years of De La Cruz and Bailey battling.
Bailey, by the way, has now thrown out 15 batters this year, which is as many or more than nine entire teams. He debuted seven weeks into the season. He’s played just 393 innings at catcher this year, the equivalent of a hair over 40 full games.
And lest you find yourself overly grumpy about Flores being thrown out at home — which, I remind you again, was just the fourth time a Giants player has been thrown out at the plate — perhaps you’ll feel better when I let you know that the Giants got the Reds out at the plate on consecutive plays, one of which was quite silly be Cincinnati, which ended a rally that had already scored a pair of runs.
So, too, do losses. The Giants lost 5-1, and it certainly wasn’t their prettiest day. But they’re 5-2 on a dreaded 11-game, 11-day, four-city road trip, with the two teams remaining worse than the two teams they just faced.
The situation is good. The game, unfortunately, was not.