Before I delve into the inner workings of the San Francisco Giants 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Guardians on Monday night, I first want to quote one of my readers. Because I had a recap narrative planned out for quite a while before the Giants called a very poor audible, scrambled around maddeningly and chaotically, and then finally tossed a wobbly back-foot moonshot 50 yards that bounced off three helmets, seven hands, and two cats before landing in the arms of a receiver in the end zone, just as they drew it up.
It kind of ruined my narrative though, so here’s the new narrative:
All of a sudden this team is, uh....fun?— Gentleman Bugg (@bookybook5050) September 12, 2023
Yep, that’s it. For now, at least. The terrors of the last few months are not yet a distant memory. Perhaps not even a memory at all, but rather a demon attached by the talons to your shoulder, whose eyes have been closed for a few days. The Giants are fun, but you can only really say that when it’s happening, not yet in anticipation of it happening.
The Giants were fun on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and again on Monday. I’ll tell you in about 22 hours if I feel that way about the Tuesday Giants.
For a while the story of the game was both simple and encouraging: the Giants were responding, and they were doing so quickly. After holding the Guardians scoreless in the first inning — despite an injury scare that saw Gabe Kapler and trainer Dave Groeschner come out to look at Alex Cobb, who stayed in the game for five innings — they needed just two pitches in the bottom half of the inning to jump ahead, courtesy of Mike Yastrzemski.
A few minutes later, Mitch Haniger fell behind 0-2 against rookie Gavin Williams, but turned it around and drew a walk. I was struck by the (admittedly very obvious) thing that struck us all weekend long: things sure look a lot better when the veterans play well. Yaz went 2-3 with a homer and a double before being lifted for Wilmer Flores, who went 1-2. Haniger drew a pair of walks. Joc Pederson and LaMonte Wade Jr. reached base three times each. J.D. Davis had some critical at-bats, and drew a walk. Austin Slater singled in both at-bats after entering the game late.
It won’t always look quite like that, but you get the point. The team has talented veterans. When they play the way they did in May and June, things fall into place for everyone. When they play the way they did in July and August, the entire team performs a three-hour self-written musical titled, Giant Square Peg in a Tiny Round Hole. Blake Sabol has some musical chops and Joc sure has light feet when he puts dance shoes on, but otherwise...
Anyway, back to the game at hand. The 1-0 lead did not last, as they tend to do. A rough two-out error by Brandon Crawford proved costly in the third, as Josh Naylor followed it up by doing a very, very poor thing if he were a golfer, plunking the ball right in the water. But he’s not a golfer, or at least he was not during the hours of 6:45 p.m. to 10:06 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday. And so the Guardians led 2-1.
But the Giants answered immediately. In the bottom half of the inning, Thairo Estrada bashed a one-out single, stole second, and was replaced at first by Haniger, who drew another walk. Before Williams had even registered that he was pitching with a lead, Pederson had tied the game with a single, and Davis followed right behind with a bullet of a would-be single that was robbed, so he settled for a go-ahead fielder’s choice. That still gets handshakes and butt-pats, and what are we doing here if not eternally questing for handshakes and butt-pats.
I just don’t know.
Things weren’t clean (Yaz led off the fifth with a double but never made it to third, let alone home), but they were effective and they were responsive, so much so that when John Brebbia inherited Taylor Rogers’ runner in the seventh inning and allowed him to score, tying the game, you fully anticipated the Giants to answer in the bottom half of the inning.
Slater followed the script and led off with a pinch-hit single. Flores followed the script and came next with a pinch-hit single. The Giants had runners at the corners with no outs, and while these situations have doomed them in recent months, the path of the game suggested that some situational hitting — or maybe even a big hit — would be the flavor of the day.
Alas. Estrada struck out, Haniger hit into a fielder’s choice that resulted in Slater being thrown out at home (sidebar: José Ramírez is really good at, like, everything — are we sure that’s allowed?), and Sabol entered as a pinch-hitter and popped out.
The response that we’d grown to know and love was left having never tasted the sweet nectar of home plate. A tied game would have to suffice.
And wow did it barely do that. The Guardians put runners at the corners with one out in the eighth, courtesy of an outfield single, an infield single, and a Tyler Rogers error. But Rogers would undo his own mistake, turning a comebacker into a backyard game of pickle with the lead runner, after which Gabe Kapler took a megaphone and announced to the city of San Francisco the severity of the game and the moment.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the eighth inning of a tied game, Kapler signaled for his closer. And two pitches later, Camilo Doval had gotten out of the inning.
But the eighth was merely an amuse-bouche for the ninth, in which Sabol opened the doors and invited as many puns and jokes as possible into his residence, allowing not one but two passed balls, while also taking a ball to the ... well, yeah, I probably don’t need to spell it out for you.
T-E-S-T-I-C-L-E-S, if you were missing the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year. They just had to move it off of ESPN...
Anyway, a single, two passed balls, an intentional walk, and a very painful play left the Guardians with runners at the corners, and another stranded Giants leadoff runner from the previous inning was suddenly looming large. But, as he does far more often than not, Doval escaped from the twisted puzzle, looking neither fazed nor nervous nor anything at all, really. Except tall and good at baseball.
But with Cleveland not scoring, the Giants had nothing to respond to, and so down they went in the bottom half of the inning, mired in back-to-back-to-back line drives that all traveled within 27 feet of each other in total distance.
To the tenth. The team sought a spark, and Luke Jackson provided, fielding a Tyler Freeman bunt and firing the ball to third to nab the lead runner. Huzzah! A spark! A brilliant play! The Manfred Man eliminated! All would end well!
And then Freeman stole second, scored on an Andrés Giménez single, and then the Guardians loaded the bases.
Somehow, someway, Jackson and the defense escaped. But now it was time to respond.
And respond they did.
With the not-so-super-speedy-don’t-ya-know Pederson starting the inning on second, and the Giants needing a run to extend the game, the response unfolded as swiftly as it did successfully. Sabol needed just two pitches to line one into center, with Joc getting a good enough read — and the Guardians not wanting to cede a free base to Sabol — that no throw was made.
And then, with dreams of being able to ice his nether regions rather than having to resume a catcher’s squat again, Sabol immediately took off from first, swiping just the third bag of his career and diving into scoring position.
With all the look of the Giants a week ago, the Guardians were rattled. Flamethrower Emmanuel Clase balked Sabol to third, then banked on 101 mph being enough heat that he could leave a cutter over the golden part of the strike zone in a 2-1 count to Wade.
He couldn’t. Well, he could, it was just going to get hit right back up the middle for a walk-off single.