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A New Hope?

J.D. Davis’s game-changing home run feels like a potential spark for a playoff push...or will it fade by morning?

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It was a literal heave; a mighty upper-cut—J.D. Davis got under a draggy change-up from reliever Eli Morgan and the ball rocketed not out but up into the friendly San Francisco afternoon air. Davis skipped out of the box, Fisk-like, not willing it fair but willing it far. It was either a warning-track fly, a run-scoring but insufficient sacrifice, or gone. Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan lined it up, glassed-over eyes staring up into the sky, back scraping the wall. He jumped, and the ball fell from the sky just beyond his reach into the first row of bleachers and suddenly, the San Francisco Giants team fans thought they were watching flipped upside down and turned inside out and transformed into something new, reminding everyone that even in a long season during a long drawn-out game, baseball can still turn on a dime.

José Ramírez had tagged Kyle Harrison for a 2-run home run before the southpaw had recorded an out in the first. Casey Schmitt threw a change-up across the diamond that skipped past first, allowing 2 more runs to score instead of ending the inning. The day started out knee-dip in muck and slogged on from there. They scratched a run across in the 1st against Logan Allen but left the bases loaded and the Guardians responded with another run the very next frame.

It wasn’t until the 7th after Harrison (4 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB 3 K) and Alex Wood (4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 K) settled Cleveland down that the Giants chewed into that 4-run lead. Thairo Estrada pulled a 2-out double down the third baseline and came home on the next pitch—a Wilmer Flores RBI single to right.

Joc Pederson led off the 8th by getting hit by a pitch, and Patrick Bailey, in his return from the concussion IL, singled to set-up the 2-on, nobody-out situation, prompting the long ball heroics.

In a 5-2 hole in the 8th inning, in a teeth-and-claw wild card chase with three other teams, the dramatics were not preferred but required. Threatened with another late-season series loss, down since Cleveland’s 4-run first inning aided by another defensive blunder, the San Francisco Giants needed a shift. Preferably a tectonic one.

Davis rounded the bases like he had just unloaded a heavy bag from his shoulders, the final burden dumped after a profoundly frustrating summer. From July 1st to August 31st, Davis collected a .563 OPS and 58 wRC+ in 185 plate appearances while hitting 5 home runs and striking out 58 times. Over 37 PAs in September, Davis has 3 home runs and an OPS over 1.000. Small sample size, somewhat arbitrary start/stop dates, but it does still illustrate the boom-and-bust nature of Davis’s play. He hits the ball hard but strikes out a third of the time. He likes to ambush the first pitch and that’s as exciting as it is exploitable leading to some super-charged offensive moments as well as unwatchable ones. But the highs of the seesaw make up for the lows. Or they at least blind us to them for periods of time.

A Davis ascending at the heart of the order can pull the entire lineup up along with him, as well as cleanse him of a multitude of swing-and-miss sins. This afternoon’s game-tying 3-run blast was a personal triumph, but will it be the quake the team needs?

In such a tight race and with such a volatile subject as these Giants, it’s obviously wise to not make sweeping, premature claims like “the swing single-handedly saved San Francisco’s sinking season”…but in the moment? From the perspective of someone who has been pretty down on the team as of late and had spent the previous 7 innings planning the team’s eulogy? It felt miraculous in both the spiritual and physical sense. More so than the comeback win against Colorado because it well…it wasn’t against Colorado. But also how it built off the walk-off win on Monday and the eventual series sweep against the Rockies over the weekend. If you recall San Francisco’s unreal stretch in June of late-game heroics started with a series against the Rockies, and every fan just wants it to be June again.

Postseason odds have plummeted recently, and everyone has hated everyone and blamed everyone for everything, so it’s nice to feel good about the team again. Or maybe not good, but depending on the type of person you are, maybe not terrible about them. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 and pulling the rug out from an opponent with one swing is always going to lighten a fanbase’s mood—and it also happened on a day when the Cubs, Phillies, and Diamondbacks lost. What felt concrete is now strawberry jell-o. The Wild Card situation is mutable, ready to blow. There is only so much the Giants can control, so when they steal a series win with 5 runs after the 7th inning fueled by a dramatic home run and finalized by another walk-off from LaMonte Wade Jr., it’s reasonable to let your hair down a bit. Now is the time in the season when fan emotions should swing wildly between extremes.

Get excited and enjoy it—even if those victory vibes have a shelf life of less than 24 hours. Trust me: The worries will be there in the morning, and there are plenty. Kyle Harrison’s penchant for giving up the long ball, his inexplicable struggle with lefties, the crippling errors piling up on defense, Tyler Rogers’ magic frisbee losing some of its magic, the rotation, always the rotation…to name just a few that cropped up today. The threat of something going terribly wrong always looms. Casey Schmitt could spike a throw at any moment. It’s important to not let those mistakes define games. It did yesterday, and it almost did again today. Resiliency is key, especially in a playoff push, and that invaluable trait seems to be resurfacing at just the right time for San Francisco.