Baseball ends on Sunday. Well, that’s not true; baseball will never end. The 2023 MLB season, however, ends on Sunday. Well, that’s not true either; for 12 teams the season will march on, shedding team after team like feathers on a molting duck until one
duck team is left. The San Francisco Giants will not be one of those 12 teams. And so the Giants 2023 season will end on Sunday.
That’s exciting, in many ways. The year has been frustrating and emotionally taxing and you simultaneously have fewer hairs and more hairs of a different color as a result of it. You’re ready for a break from the daily investment of a team that is leaving you with more itches than it’s scratching (please: see a doctor). You’re excited for the offseason, and another chance to swing at a generational talent; I still remember exactly where I was when the Giants reportedly signed “Arson Judge.” Still waiting for his first at-bat.
The night may be dark and full of terrors, but the offseason is bright and full of refreshing beverages and nights where you can do things like watch movies and read books and spectacularly fail in your attempt to make a soufflé for the first time in 20 years. We’re looking forward to it. We’re ready for it.
And after about 40 hours of it you’ll miss baseball, and you’ll look back at games like Monday’s 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres and yearn for just one more game, one more inning, one more pitch, one more Krukowism.
These are the days you’ll miss. The days you’ll think about in mid-November before rushing to the internet to look at Cody Bellinger’s stats (spoiler: they’re good), talk yourself into how the Giants should overpay for him (spoiler: they should), and see when the 2024 season begins (spoiler: March 28). Then you’ll slam your computer shut with an excited grin, pace around the house a few times thinking about Casey Schmitt, and then rush back to your computer to see when the first Spring Training game is (spoiler: February 24).
And then you’ll watch the highlights from this game.
The game was billed as a showdown/presentation of final points between two of the top National League Cy Young candidates, good guy Logan Webb and bad guy Blake Snell (until the Giants sign him this offseason, then good guy). It was kind of a funny billing. I think the old mantra of giving awards to the best players from the best teams is beyond silly in any team sport, but it’s doubly true in baseball, a sport where a team can employ a top-10 all-time player for 13 years, six of which overlap with employing another top-10 all-time player, and win a grand total of zero playoff games in that time frame. Not that the Los Angeles Angels, just to name a random MLB team, would know anything about that.
Still, even with the Giants having a surge of exciting youths populating the lineup, and even with the Padres stringing together one hell of a late season tear, the buildup to the game had all the feel of two employees showing up the day after submitting their two-weeks notice, 20 minutes late, dirty shirts untucked, mustard stains on their tie, music playing without headphones. It was hard to put too much stock into the Cy Young battle between the aces for two teams whose seasons have been defined, primarily, by disappointment.
And then the game began and you got lost in it. The Padres scored almost immediately, in a way that seems increasingly common against the Giants: Xander Bogaerts hit a 62.2-mph single and Manny Machado hit a 74.2-mph single. They bookended a Fernando Tatis Jr. double, and combined to give San Diego a first-inning run, though Webb would limit the damage by forcing his first of three double plays, this one on a delightful defensive play by Luis “my manager just publicly called out my defense” Matos.
Matos doubles up Tatís pic.twitter.com/9cwPDVSg6g— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 26, 2023
The Giants, predictably, could do nothing on the other end. Predictable because Logan Webb has the worst run support in the Majors by a laughable margin, and predictable because Snell has entered a late-season form of hibernation called “don’t give up runs to anyone” mode. Austin Slater led off the first with a single, made it to second, but never scored. Marco Luciano led off the second with a walk, made it to second, but never scored. Slater had a one-out double in the third, but never scored. J.D. Davis led off the fourth with a single, but never scored. And so on and so forth.
The fun thing about a pitcher’s duel is you get to see the various ways in which pitchers can be effective. Dramatically different mechanics, arm slots, approaches, and philosophies can yield shockingly similar results.
Webb has climbed towards the top of the Cy Young mountain in an old school manner, finding an effortless intersection of grinding and commanding, leading the Majors in innings pitched while also leading the National League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings. It’s a throwback to the pitchers you grew up loving.
Snell has taken the modern approach, resembling something of a Kyle Harrison blueprint. He overpowers you with pitches, assuming he can find the strike zone. He’s managed a whopping 40 more strikeouts than Webb this year, despite pitching 36 fewer innings. He also has more than tripled Webb’s walk total, resulting in something truly bizarre: Snell leads the Majors in walks allowed and has baseball’s lowest ERA.
There are so many different ways to baseball. To borrow a Krukowism, every day you see something you’ve never seen before.
The two pitchers plodded along, exchanging blow for blow and jab for jab. But the beauty of Webb’s approach is that, while not overpowering, it’s built for distance. And so Snell left the game after a mere six scoreless innings, having already seen his pitch count tick up to 100. Webb, meanwhile, looked as though he was finally concluding his warmup.
But it would mean nothing if the Giants couldn’t figure out how to finally push a run across the plate. Which, by the skin of their teeth (spoiler: teeth don’t have skin), they did.
It came in the eighth inning. The Giants had employed an awfully young lineup, and I truly believe they intended to play it sans substitutions; development trumps wins right now. But getting a win for the star you’ve neglected all year trumps both of those things, so Gabe Kapler got to Gabe Kaplering in the inning.
It started with having Mike Yastrzemski pinch-hit for Matos, which didn’t work. Then LaMonte Wade Jr. pinch-hit for Davis, which did work, as he drew a walk against righty Robert Suarez. Then came Luciano, exempt from pinch-hitters because the Giants don’t have any left-handed hitting infielders, and also because he’s Marco Freaking Luciano and he is very quickly making it clear that he is also The Real Deal.
On cue, he roped an opposite field double, reaching base safely for the third time, and pushing Wade to third. Three fun facts about Luciano: he hits the ball hard, he hits the ball all over the field, and I’m sold. OK, fine, that last fact was about me. Still true, though.
Joc Pederson pinch-hit for Mitch Haniger, and was intentionally walked to load the bases, putting Patrick Bailey in a prime RBI situation with a chance to tie the game.
But Bailey has been limping to the finish line of what has been, by far, his longest season, and even though he hit the ball hard it was on the ground, right at Ji Man Choi, who took the ball home for the second out. Kapler reached in his pocket for one last matchup play, calling on Michael Conforto to pinch-hit for Heliot Ramos.
And he tucked a 99-mph fastball just inside third base to give the Giants a lead.
The reaction from the crowd felt bigger than the moment. It felt, to editorialize where one probably should not, and to read deeply where one probably has nothing to read, as though the fans were reminding ownership that good baseball will be cheered for; cherished and adored and held tight, even. It felt as though they were thanking Webb for a brilliant season, and imploring the organization to not make him the proverbial stranded runner on third base that the Giants have excelled at this year.
And so Webb dutifully trotted out to the mound for the ninth inning, this time holding a lead. But the Padres cared not for his poetic narrative, with Juan Soto and Machado smashing two-strike singles to lead off the inning.
Perhaps in a game more critical to the standings, Kapler would have emerged from the dugout and signaled for his All-Star closer. But Webb was the most important thing happening at 24 Willie Mays Plaza on Monday, and with a lead finally in hand, it was his game to win or lose. He induced soft contact from Ha-Seong Kim, which resulted in an out but moved the tying run to third base and the winning run to second with just one out.
And then he got a ground ball out of Choi, the likes of which Wade gobbled up and threw home with all the desperation befitting the situation, the team, the star, the narrative, the justifiably needy fans.
Home plate, where so many plays have gone askew this year, was finally the location of something joyous.
Two outs. It was fitting that the third out came with neither drama nor fanfare. A soft ground ball to second base was handled easily by Thairo Estrada, who tossed the ball to Wade long after Duane Kuiper had pronounced the game over, as the Oracle Park crowd erupted as one does when a game is more meaningful than breaking a fourth-place divisional tie. They might not have known why they did that; but do it they did.
WEBB GOES THE DISTANCE pic.twitter.com/dighYXBMBd— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 26, 2023
It was the game Webb deserved, and it was a game you’ll think of in a few days, weeks, and months. Slater reached base all four times and pinch-hitters drove a winning rally, reminding you that the Giants matchup-hunting strategy can work wonders when deployed correctly and with the right personnel. Luciano shined with patience, power, and defense, giving you optimism that he can be the star that pushes a solid core into contention. And Webb reminded you just how solid that core is.
Somewhere along the way, as an elderly ball dude tumbled to the ground hopelessly trying to nab a foul grounder, we were treated to another delightful Krukowism: “good intentions; no chance.”
He could just as well have been talking about the season.