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Opportunities squandered

The Giants lost 3-1 to the Guardians, but not for lack of opportunities.

Thairo Estrada stepping on second base as José Ramírez slides in. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I’m going to begin this article by meandering in a direction you very well might find uninteresting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But the San Francisco Giants lost 3-1 to the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday night, in a game you probably either watched or didn’t care about and, regardless of which of those two you did, you probably found the game uninteresting as a result.

So let’s open up a different door and trundle down that hallway instead.

One of my favorite entertainers is a man named Action Bronson. Covered in tattoos and built like if Shaq missed his last two growth spurts, Bronson speaks with a dialect that is best described as if SNL were parodying someone from his hometown of Queens.

Initially a cook for some of the most renowned chefs in America, Bronson had to take a culinary hiatus after breaking his leg, during which time he casually became a successful rapper. After peppering more food wordplay into his rhymes than Madison Bumgarner left snotrockets on the Oracle Park mound, Bronson’s career came full circle, and he’s parlayed his musical career into a culinary career once more, with multiple successful food shows and a cookbook.

Where am I going with this? Good question. Not sure, but we’ll get there. Maybe. Bronson has a song titled Actin’ Crazy that’s been stuck in my head since about the third inning of Tuesday’s game. Over a wavy and synthetic beat that does, indeed, make you want to cook, Bronson lays down a catchy hook:

Opportunity be knockin’, you gotta let a [redacted] in
I kiss my mother on the cheek, tell her that I love her
You ain’t gotta worry ‘bout a thing, I got it covered

I’ll let you figure out the redacted word, but if you need help it’s 12 letters long and starts with “motherfu.” And the second and third lines aren’t at all related here, but I just celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary over the weekend, so it seemed a good time to include lines about sons loving their mothers. But it’s the first line that we’re here for.

Opportunity be knockin’, you gotta let a [redacted] in

The Giants did not, in fact, let a [redacted] in, even though a [redacted] knocked on their door more times than a kid on Halloween who doesn’t believe it when their parents say, “Honey, I don’t think anyone’s home.”

Things began oddly. Sean Manaea, starting a game for the first time in over four months, quickly found himself in danger, allowing a walk and a single to open things up. We all waited with bated breath to see what Manaea would do in staring down adversity so shortly after asking for this opportunity. It was gut-check time.

Manaea got the ground ball he sought, but the Giants defensive positioning left them helpless to even attempt a double play, and it put runners at the corners with one out. After a seven-pitch walk to load the bases, Manaea again got the ground ball he sought, to a nearly identical spot right of second base.

It was at this point that something went wrong. I’m not entirely sure what it was that went wrong, but both Brandon Crawford and Thairo Estrada tried to make a play on the ball. They recovered for an ad-libbed out at second, but the second woulda-coulda-shoulda-been double play of the inning had scored a run.

Opportunity had knocked, multiple times. The Giants had not let a [redacted] in. If there was a bright spot, it was Manaea’s fortitude. Faced with the bases loaded, a disappointing defense, and a game teetering in the balance before most fans had located the final Anchor Steam of their life, Manaea bit down on his mouthpiece, went to a 10-pitch battle with Tyler Freeman, and emerged victorious.

It was the first of 14 consecutive batters that Manaea would retire, as he emphatically nailed his audition for the dramatic role of Starting Pitcher No. 4, and will surely receive a callback next week to test his rapport with some of the already-cast actors when they convene at a studio in Colorado.

But things squeaked and rattled and popped off just enough in the sixth inning to ruin things, through no fault of Manaea’s. After allowing a one-out single, Manaea faced Josh Naylor, the same batter he got to ground into the first of the would-be double plays in the first inning. Naylor hit a nearly identical ball this time around and the Giants defense, still shifted to steal a hit rather than turn a double play, could again do nothing with it but nab the lead runner.

After a slider delicately kissed David Fry’s toenail to put a second runner on base, Manaea induced a ground ball out of Kole Calhoun, directly at first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr.

Wade kicked it, couldn’t recover in time, and the bases were loaded when the inning should have been ended. Manaea had forced four ground balls right at his defenders, all four of which came with force plays on, three of the four of which came with fewer than two outs, and he’d walked away with just three outs to show for it.

With a righty in Freeman — who had two excellent plate appearances to that point — stepping up, Gabe Kapler made the call to the bullpen. Ryan Walker threw exactly one pitch to Freeman, but it sat politely and endearingly in the strike zone waiting to be bashed into the outfield, where it scored a pair of runs.

Opportunity had once again knocked. The Giants had once again turned off the lights and pretended they were not there.

But if the Giants defense couldn’t find a way to turn double plays, the Giants offense couldn’t find ways to avoid them. They hit into three on the day, and even got creative with it, when Joc Pederson hit a missile that first baseman Naylor — he of so masterfully avoiding double plays himself — turned into an unassisted double play grounder, which isn’t something you see every day, or even every year.

It was that sort of a game. Mike Yastrzemski led off the first with a walk. Pederson led off the second with a walk. Crawford led off the third with a double. Wilmer Flores led off the sixth with a hit by pitch. Blake Sabol led off the seventh with a walk. None of them scored.

They added a trio of one-out baserunners and a pair of two-out baserunners. None of them scored.

Opportunity knocked. Hell, the Giants knocked. And they still couldn’t let a [redacted] in.

The Giants were 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and 1-18 with runners on base, with the lone hit being an infield single that might have been an error had the official scorekeeper found a hair in their lunch that day. With one hit and no walks against three double plays, the Giants managed to subtract three times as many runners from the bases as they added when batting with someone on.

Insert something horribly played out about opportunity.

The one bout of run-scoring they did find came from Sabol, whose late-season push has been a beauty to watch.

But while Sabol’s ball cleared the fence, three other hard-hit balls died dramatic deaths in the mitt of center fielder Myles Straw, as Sabol, Wade, and Luis Matos all put late-inning balls 380-plus feet to center field, only for the Gold Glover to snatch them out of the salty air.

A little more wood. A little more bat speed. A little more luck. A little worse opponent patrolling center. Any of those things would have represented opening the door to opportunity, but the Giants chose otherwise.

Which brings us back to Bronson, our unlikely protagonist, who met an obstacle in the road and pivoted to a new career, which he used to fuel the initial one. Where there was no opportunity, he made some, which his been distinctly missing from the Giants plans over the last few months.

The Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks lost, which is good news. But it’s not just good news.

It’s opportunity that knocked. And when not let in, that [redacted] left.