I blame you. I blame me. I blame all of us.
We’ve been sitting here begging and praying and doing voodoo and burning various herbs (hopefully with Tim Lincecum invited) in hopes that the San Francisco Giants would remember how to hit a baseball again, and we forgot to add the qualifier that they needed to keep remembering how to pitch and field. We found a genie in a lamp and in his best Robin Williams voice he gave us three wishes, and we asked for a million dollars, the ability to run really fast, and for our dead dog to come back to life, and the genie gave us those things, laughed at us for not asking for more wishes, and then disappeared forever.
The Giants entered Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs with an offensive ineptitude that was on all of our minds. They’d been held scoreless in two straight games. They’d failed to even get a runner to third base in either of those games, and you had to go back to the seventh inning of Sunday’s game to find so much as a runner in scoring position.
And then, on the very first body-contorting and ligament-stretching throw of a baseball on Tuesday, LaMonte Wade Jr. furiously took an eraser to the office’s “This Department Has Worked __ Days Without A Workplace Run” sign.
FIRST PITCH OF THE GAME pic.twitter.com/yhtZbFdXi7— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 5, 2023
That looked good. That felt good. That exorcised some demons, we just didn’t know that it unleashed some, too.
While the home runs are very much welcomed, it’s many of the other missing things that we’re really clamoring from. The aggression at the plate. The rallies. The opposing teams helping the Giants out, and the Giants capitalizing.
Those started to come into place in the second inning, when J.D. Davis roped a one-out single on an 0-2 pitch and, with a bit of heady baserunning, took second on a bobble by Giant-Killer-Turned-Future-Giant Cody Bellinger. Wade Meckler, who had saved the bottom of the first inning with a diving catch, worked a two-out count full, then put just enough muscle on an opposite-field line drive to clear the infield and score a second run.
Clutch two-out, two-strike hit pic.twitter.com/pNOIP8hJTu— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 6, 2023
Two runs! That was more than in the last three games combined! Who are these guys?
As if to address your doubts, the Giants took the third inning to really prove what they could do, when Mike Yastrzemski went the other way for a solo home run.
Three innings, three runs, three distinct things that had been missing. Wade had jumped on the first pitch, showing the aggression and “offensive” approach that had led Gabe Kapler to do the rarest of things after Monday’s game, and trade in his kid-friendly self-censorship f-bomb euphemisms for the real deal in imploring his team to hit the damn ball. Davis and Meckler had strung together a rally that was equal parts gritty, heady, and charitable. And Yaz had displayed not just a strong opposite-field approach, but the type of breaks the Giants haven’t earned or received lately — I can count on one finger the amount of 91.9-mph home runs I can recall seeing outside of the Pacific Coast League. Even Mexico City is raising an eyebrow at that one, imitating everyone’s eighth-most commonly used emoji.
But as the offense’s power bar grew like one of those useless expanding sponges, the defense’s power bar was exponentially sapped.
The bottom of the third inning brought a leadoff single for Nico Hoerner and the Cubs when J.D. Davis double-clutched on a play he didn’t have time to double-clutch on. A Bellinger one-out single put two on for the third straight inning, a single by Dansby Swanson scored a run, and then Jakob Junis — the third pitcher of the game for the Giants — got Seiya Suzuki to ground back up the middle for a potential inning-ending double play.
You really must feel for pitchers these days. They spent their whole life playing with standard defenses, in which balls up the middle were automatic singles if they made it past the mound. Then shifts came along and suddenly you wanted to let the ball get past the mound, but the poor creatures of habit just couldn’t shut off the auto-response. Now they’re finally figuring out how to, just as shifts have been semi-banned, resulting in crossed wire and short-circuiting all through the pitcher nervous system.
In other words, Junis probably could have fielded Suzuki’s chopper and turned a double play, but with will power that would make Frog and Toad proud, he forced himself to let the ball go, forgetting that his defense wasn’t actually there. Thairo Estrada kept the ball on the pretenses of the infield, but the bases were now loaded.
Rattled, Junis proceeded to throw four consecutive pitches that merely staked a very generous perimeter of the strike zone, allowing a second run to score. When Junis finally was able to spot the strike zone again, Yan Gomes immediately crushed a pitch for a double, scoring a pair of runs and giving the Cubbies a 4-3 lead.
“It’s over,” you said, assuming you’re one of the 2,109 people who responds to every McCovey Chronicles tweet to say one of five token doomsday phrases ad nauseam.
But wait! We’ve begged the Giants not just for runs but also for fight, and there was some to be found where once we saw merely desolate resignation. After two quiet innings, the Giants opened the sixth with back-to-back doubles by Wilmer Flores and Joc Pederson to tie the game. After striking out Blake Sabol — who had a fairly brutal game, going 0-3 and putting the “K” in “hat trick” — Kyle Hendricks was replaced by poor Hayden Wesneski, who gave Davis one to measure and one to rake. And rake he absolutely did.
Armed with a 6-4 lead, the Giants set about reminding you with villainous laughter about your fatal mistake in forgetting to ask for good defense and pitching. It came at the most cruelly ironic time, no less. Having attempted — and failed — to score in the seventh, the Giants had made a flurry of offensive substitutions that doubled as significant defensive upgrades, and thus began the bottom half of the inning with a brand new army of supposedly pristine defense: Patrick Bailey replaced Sabol at catcher, Casey Schmitt replaced Davis at third, Davis replaced Wade at first, and Austin Slater replaced Yastrzemski in right field. A much more formidable frontline. You see where this is going.
After issuing a one-out walk to Swanson, Tyler Rogers — who had it on cruise control — was rudely introduced to the newly minted Giant Killer Flavor of the Day, as Suzuki cared for Rogers’ submarine as much as hydrostatic pressure cares for the average shoddily-crafted submersible, and launched a ball into a part of the planet where submarines really do not ever venture.
It was a tied game, Suzuki was on his way to a four-hit, eight-base, three-RBI night, and the Cubs were on their way to more. Kapler signaled to Luke Jackson, who had his very first pitch popped up by Jeimer Candelario high into the windy night, with a whopping expected batting average of .010, while Pederson did the “got it got it got it oh shit what no oh god” punt returner dance, spinning in a half-committed circle under the ball for five seconds before missing it by a good 10 feet as Candelario jaunted into second with an intricately-wrapped double.
cubs sleeper agent joc pederson pic.twitter.com/8aMBiSCGcg— Morale Supply Co.™ (@moralesupplyco) September 6, 2023
Then Gomes managed to notch the fourth infield single of the game for the Cubs, putting the go-ahead run at third base with just one out.
And then the most significant and costly moment of the game occurred. Nick Madrigal, who we can best describe as if Meckler were right-handed, played in the infield, and looked more like a guy playing baseball in 2023 and less like a guy playing baseball in 1927 in between his shifts at the logging company, chopped one to third base. Schmitt fielded the ball, and did the sensible thing by coming home. The Giants had no chance at a double play and probably didn’t even have any play at first, and they couldn’t afford to let the run score.
But Schmitt — who, again, represented a defensive upgrade when inserted at the start of the inning — threw the ball in the dirt. And Bailey — who, again, represented a defensive upgrade when inserted at the start of the inning — couldn’t pick it or even stop it. The go-ahead run scored. The batter moved to second and, with no out being recorded, it forced Jackson into a strikeout situation rather than just playing for any old out, which forced him to attack Christopher Morel more aggressively than he otherwise would have, which led to him catching too much of the zone with a 1-2 slider the likes of which he’d shown Morel just three pitches prior, which led to the type of three-run home run that reminded you why you this sport brings you almost as much pain as joy.
But while your heart sank in that moment, it wasn’t until later that the true damage of the play — which is now the leading candidate for lowest moment of the Giants season — was revealed. In preparing for a tag that he never got a chance to make, Bailey’s face collided with Candelario’s shoulder. He didn’t seem shaken up at the moment, but when his spot came up in the ninth, Bailey was pinch-hit for, with the Giants willingly running out of catchers. He was reported as having lightheadedness and, according to Kapler, was removed for a “potential concussion.”
Here’s the play in which Patrick Bailey sustained a “potential concussion” in the seventh inning pic.twitter.com/LIqS6yxi1k— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 6, 2023
The bad news is it was a costly play that added 16.3 percentage points to the Cubs win expectancy, and set the table for the next play, which added an additional 10.6 percentage points. The worse news is that the Giants might be without their best position player, at a time when they have negative margin for error. And the worst news, of course, is that a 24 year old in the infant stages of a wonderful-looking career might have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
San Francisco continued to show fight. Davis led off the eighth with a double, and scored a run when Brandon Crawford singled, cutting the deficit from four runs to three with no outs. An error — the Cubs were fairly clank-mitted themselves — got the Giants to bring the tying run to the plate, but for no good reason at all. They couldn’t find the big hit.
As if to wave the white flag, their offensive fight that gave them a glimmer of hope for the ninth inning was immediately extinguished when Slater — who, again, represented a defensive upgrade when inserted into the game an inning prior — kicked a Swanson single, which allowed him to take second, where he would score on a single by who else but Suzuki, the player who reportedly chose the Cubs over the Giants last year because he felt Chicago was more similar to Tokyo than San Francisco was. You cannot blame him. But you can slump your shoulders and make nonsense Bochy noises.
Flores began the ninth inning with a towering home run, almost as if to remind you of your stupid little pre-game wish. Here. Take it. You got what you want. No complaints. No amendments. No takesies backsies.
A team that had scored just once in their last three games hit four home runs, yet they lost. Lost their fifth straight game, and just their fifth total game since 2021 — out of 29 — in which they bashed four dingers.
If you want silver linings, you can take it with the rejuvenated offense, which came from exactly where you want it to come from. Flores was 2-4 with a homer, a double, and a walk. Pederson was 3-4 with two doubles and a walk. Davis was 3-5 with a homer and a double.
But the silver linings are more a 1999 Toyota grey when there are just 23 games remaining, when 12 games above .500 has turned to one game above .500, when two of the three teams you’re fighting against in the standings beat better teams than the one you lost to, and when one of the primary reasons for watching the team is sidelined due to a hit to the head.
There’s still hope for the season. But even when it goes right, it seems to go wrong.