It felt like the Giants spent all semester getting stoned, skipping class and hanging out at the beach.* But unlike college kids with similar habits, they were able to cram for their finals and ace all their tests anyway.
What a season it’s already been, and in a way it’s just beginning after a rollicking 7-1 win over the Dodgers to complete the sweep they needed to avoid a postgame flight to St. Louis. With arguably the deepest rotation heading into the postseason, an offense that seemed to end their lengthy hibernation just in time, and a cast of unlikely heroes sparking the club over their only four-game winning streak of the second half, the Giants have something that appeared to vanish when they were swept in San Diego to start the second half.
Confidence starts with starting pitching, and while that hasn’t exactly been a weakness throughout the year, the entire staff is humming now like never before. Matt Moore followed Ty Blach’s historic start yesterday with another performance that proves the Giants weren’t insane to part with Matt Duffy. The Giants aren’t close to perfect — if Bruce Bochy had absolute faith in his bullpen, he might not have let Moore hit with runners on second and third and two out in the seventh after throwing 98 pitches. But like so many decisions after summer turns to autumn, Bochy’s faith in Moore turned into a 1-2-3 eighth inning that only took nine pitches from the lefty. Then Sergio Romo — not in a save situation, but given the circumstances it felt like a save just the same — closed the door on the Dodgers (and Cardinals), and the Giants were once again allowed to jump around like little kids while spraying adult beverages in their clubhouse.
The first inning started with a few great signs — hits from Denard Span (who looked like a postseason-caliber leadoff man and centerfielder this week for perhaps the first time all season), Brandon Belt (his eighth extra-base hit in his last 12 games, after just eight extra-base hits in his 30 previous games), and Buster Posey, who’s playing like the guy we all knew/revered never left.
(He never did leave, but the power did … for a bit. Maybe it’s coming back.)
We all saw the Giants fight like crazy in Chicago when they split a series of playoff-type games. They should’ve won three of four at Wrigley, that’s how well they played even if — as Brian Sabean noted — the games weren’t exactly artful. If only they can get into the dance, if only they can get out of their own way in two final three-game sets against NL West opponents who have nothing left to play for (other than the role of spoiler, which doesn’t seem to carry much weight in MLB), we can see the Giants play these tense games they seem to love, and play during the time of year when it doesn’t seem to matter if you have a lineup full of mashers.
They also go into the postseason relatively healthy, except for the injury to Eduardo Núñez, and what about Conor Gillaspie (who went 7-for-14 over the last six games of the season)? He was clearly a bit of a grumpy Gus based on how Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper lovingly talked about him throughout the year. A decent hitter at times, not the best fielder, and not exactly a smiler.
Well, there he was collecting one of the biggest hits of the year on Friday night, a double against the beloved-by-hipsers-yet-totally-smug-on-Twitter Brandon McCarthy. And how about that fire? Gillaspie looked like he was ready to tackle someone once he reached second base. Then we saw him in the dugout yesterday, pumping his fist when Justin Turner made that throwing error in the seventh inning.
Then … there was this:
Conor Gillaspie, a fan-favorite utility player!
It’s those sentences you least expect to type that represent these Giants teams the best. Gillaspie will never reach Scutaroian heights, or match the comic relief supplied by Ryan Theriot, but he’s no longer a generic bench guy. In fact, he now looks like one of the most competitive guys on the team.
— Belt didn’t lack for confidence when talking to Amy Gutierrez in the beer/champagne-soaked clubhouse.
Brandon Belt: “When it comes down to it, when we get into October and we get into playoff baseball, there’s no team better than us.”
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) October 2, 2016
Damn, son! It’s not exactly the same as Tim Hudson calling out the Nationals’ testicles in 2014, and the quote probably won’t go that far since it was on TV and not to a beat writer, but the Giants haven’t lost their swag despite a soul-crushing stretch of baseball from mid-July to late-September.
— Angel Pagan’s last two games: 5-for-8 with a homer off Clayton Kershaw. Is he going to be back next year? If the Giants make a run and he hits well, I’d probably put money on it.
— I saw this on CSN and thought it was a small sample worth noting: in four starts at Citi Field, Madison Bumgarner is 4-0 with an 0.62 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 29 innings.
— Noah Syndergaard against the Giants: three starts, 3.66 ERA, 1-2 record, 14 strikeouts in 19.2 innings.
— Matt Moore’s 2016 ERA with Tampa Bay: 4.08
— Matt Moore’s 2016 ERA with San Francisco: 4.08
— The Dodgers had nothing to gain in this series with the Nationals already clinching homefield in their NLDS series, but we’ll see if playing like nincompoops throughout much of the weekend will have an effect four days later. It probably won’t — it’s baseball, so who knows — but if they play poorly in Washington some will point to their 1-5 finish as a potential reason why.
— Vin Scully was one of the premier voices of all of our childhoods, and now he’s done. It’s a strange feeling, and the Dodgers broadcast will suffer greatly. But in a society where we often mourn our habit of celebrating folks in the moments after they pass away, the last year and final days of Scully’s career were perfect. His final message to the audience is worth a minute of your time.
Vin Scully’s final message as he signs off on his final broadcast. pic.twitter.com/N2dTeWdQmJ
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) October 2, 2016
— From the moment this game started, with the intermittent sunshine followed by periods of cloudiness, the air no longer carrying the feel of summer, and one game to advance past the regular season, I was reminded of the last regular season game of 2010. Today’s game wasn’t as tight as the 3-0 win over San Diego, which included one of the most unlikely triples in the park’s history (other than Doug Mirabelli’s), when Jonathan Sanchez hit a three-bagger against Mat Latos.
— Now, just like back then and every even year in between, the crowds really brought it all weekend. We’ll see if they get a chance to cheer the Giants another time in 2016.
*My UC Santa Cruz is showing.