After the San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 2-1 on Monday night, I wrote about how when the season ends in just a few short days, we’ll look back at games like that and inexplicably pine for the nightly churn of the gorgeously and entirely too long season.
The pining is inexplicable because for every game like Monday’s there are a dozen like Tuesday’s, that make us all too ready for the season to conclude on Sunday.
And, just as there are games like Monday’s that we’ll look back on all offseason as we count down the days until March 28, there are games that we’ll look back on as we write the obituary of the feckless 2023 season. Games that will stick in our memory for all the wrong reasons.
This was not one of those games. Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to San Diego didn’t even take its shades off and glance in the direction of the exit sign for your neural synapses as it flew down the interstate towards god knows where. No memories were formed. If I ask you about this game in two weeks you’ll furrow your eyebrows and say huh?
And yet despite that, the game mirrored the season in so many ways. Or I suppose, more accurately, because of that, the game mirrored the season in so many ways.
It started the way so many ugly stories do, disappointing us and jabbing our interest in the face long before it even started. Game be damned and season be damned, I was excited to watch Kyle Harrison take the mound.
And then, just over half an hour before the game was set to begin, Harrison was scratched due to an illness, and you had to psych yourself up for the 163rd bullpen game of the season.
It was reminiscent of last winter, when Giants fans had a few minutes of Arson Judge and a few days of Carlos Correa, then were left with three months of trying to talk themselves into Michael Conforto and Ross Stripling being the answer to a question they initially thought should be answered with the best hitter alive.
And then the game started, and about four minutes into it, Juan Soto strode into the batter’s box with a devious grin on his face, which stayed plastered to his mug as he dug in and as he watched John Brebbia deliver and as he swung at the pitch and as the baseball flew over the center field wall with neither disruption nor debate. And, as he jogged the bases with the cadence and confidence of a man who’s done it so many times before and will do it so many times again, you were reminded, as you were all season, that you’d sure love to see someone with not just that bat, but that swagger don your favorite team’s jersey.
This is a topic for another day, and with the season ending in just a few days, “another day” is quickly creeping up, so I’m sure I’ll write about it soon, but ... the Giants should try like hell to trade for Soto this offseason. It’s unlikely to happen: even with reports that San Diego will try and cram their 10-pound payroll into a five-pound diaper, it seems unlikely that Soto is the one who has to pack his bags, even less likely that the Giants would be willing to part with what the Padres ask for, and even less likely still that San Diego would trade within the division.
But the Giants need to explore that idea with the voracity of Brandon Belt confronting a mound of breadsticks at Olive Garden, and as though to dare them to do it, Soto took Ryan Walker deep in the seventh inning to cap off a casually ludicrous night.
Baseball is littered with discussions about descriptive vs. predictive. ERA vs. FIP. Record vs. run differential. Batting lines vs. batted ball data. Watching Soto dance around the diamond with a magical sort of athletic charisma was a reminder that the end of the season marks the true shift from descriptive to predictive.
The Giants spent a whole year playing baseball without a Soto-type. Descriptive. The Giants will spend the offseason fighting like a crunchy-granola-raised kid at their first piñata for a Soto-type. Predictive. And hopefully accurate.
In the top of the third inning of what was then just a 1-0 deficit, there was a break in the action. A rushed and errant throw by Thairo Estrada had plunked Xander Bogaerts on the inner thigh, and while the star shortstop was fine, the game paused briefly so Bob Melvin could discuss Big And Important Things with the umps, while LaMonte Wade Jr. debriefed Bogaerts on what, exactly, had happened.
When it resumed, it seemed that Marco Luciano had forgotten the situation, as he fielded what should have been a routine inning-ending double play, and went straight to first base, thinking one out was all that was needed. A second run scored in the process.
It appeared to be the second time in the last handful of games that a run had scored because the Giants forgot how many outs there were. You can go many seasons without that happening — or at least without that happening in a moment with consequence — and the Giants had repeated it within a few days. I can’t think of two more unlikely candidates than the trusty, stable, and ultra-professional Mike Yastrzemski, and the young, driven, exceptionally hard-working and determined to make an impact Luciano.
Which certainly says something about how the season has gone.
All that said, Gabe Kapler said after the game that Luciano had not actually forgotten the situation, and simply hadn’t felt like he had a play at second base.
Kap says Luciano didn't forget the number of outs when forgoing a potential double play in the third inning pic.twitter.com/hjAJDLFEez— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 27, 2023
Luciano undoubtedly did have a play at second base, so it’s unclear whether he thought Thairo Estrada was playing further off the bag than he was, or if his peripheral vision told him a story not corroborated by reality, or whether he knew the situation the way I knew my perfectly-working brakes had failed as I recounted to my dad why I rear-ended a minivan when I was 16.
A learning lesson in some form or fashion, which is perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the last six months of Giants baseball.
The pitching, led by a very strong outing from Alex Wood, was strong but not dominant, which befits the season. The offense did not do nearly enough, which befits the season. The offense flirted with doing enough, which befits the season. The offense gave you things to squint at, which befits the season. But they stopped there, which befits the season.
They had just three hits. The first was a double by J.D. Davis in which he suffered an injury trying — and failing — to go to third. The second was a double by Tyler Fitzgerald in which he needed every last mph in his sports car-like engine to make it to second after thinking his fly ball had the additional inch it needed to clear the fence. They had five balls hit with an expected average over .490 that were outs; they had no balls hit with an expected average below .510 that were hits. Befitting of a season in which the Giants made no luck, and then acted surprised when they were handed none.
They rallied in the ninth just enough to keep Seth Lugo from having his first career complete game, but not enough to make you think they might win. Sounds like September, doesn’t it?
There were highlights, and it’s important to remember that those are also befitting the season that was — or rather, the season that is, for a few more days. Wood, who almost certainly won’t be back next year, but has pitched well enough the last month to warrant consideration, made a delightful defensive play, the types of which seem to be routinely made at the Giants’ expense.
And as if to present a counter-argument to the reports that have swirled this week about the Giants culture and leadership, John Brebbia brought levity to a team that greatly benefitted from some, trying to sneak the ol’ hidden ball trick on his skipper.
This Brebbia-Kapler exchange pic.twitter.com/zFfQzs3ADl— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 27, 2023
Kapler shares what went down on the mound visit with Brebbia pic.twitter.com/igXHMi0o8c— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 27, 2023
Brebbia breaks down his exchange with Kapler in typical Brebbia fashion pic.twitter.com/G06vA2Mvlf— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 27, 2023
Those reminders are important. The reminders of the talent and likability of the team. The reminders that baseball is fun, even when it isn’t. The reminders that next year really could be quite different.
Which it needs to be. Because the Giants are now, officially, eliminated.