Nate Schierholtz has filled 2011 with not just an inordinate amount of great moments late in ballgames, but hits and plays that rescued the Giants when they seemed most desperate. Take his five biggest moments of the season before Wednesday night, in chronological order:
1. May 7, vs. Colorado: Schierholtz’s heroics allowed Freddy Sanchez to drove in Cody Ross with a single to clinch a 4-3 win over the Rockies in the 9th. It’s tough to remember a time when the Giants didn’t notch a walkoff every week, but check out this quote from the AP recap on the day the Rockies’ lead over the Giants was cut to three games: “Nate Schierholtz tied it with a two-run double in the eighth in a gritty at-bat against Rafael Betancourt, setting the stage for some of that postseason magic from a year ago that’s been missing this young season for the World Series champions.”
2. May 19, at Los Angeles: Forget Brian Wilson’s 2-walk effort; Schierholtz’s diving catch to end it truly saved this 3-1 win. Of all the game-winning plays the Giants have had this year — and there have been many — this one may end up being the most memorable since it was a walkoff catch and it meant Wilson owes Schierholtz three wishes and access to his vast cologne collection.
3. May 22, vs. Oakland: Schierholtz pinch-hit in the 8th inning, and drove a towering 2-run HR into the right field arcade (sound familiar?) to tie a game in which the Giants had looked pretty flat up to that point.
4. June 1, at St. Louis: With two outs in the 11th and Freddy Sanchez on second, Nate Schierholtz singled, moved to second on a throwing error and was driven in by Brandon Crawford minutes later in the Giants’ 7-5 win.
5. June 10, vs. Cincinnati: Two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, game tied at 2-2. Schierholtz coolly lines a single up the middle to give the Giants one of their 49 walkoff wins this season.
Honorable Mention — April 18, at Colorado: Schierholtz crushes a 900-foot home run (the official estimate was half that far, but you know how inaccurate they are with those things) en route to a 3-for-4 performance as the Giants won 8-1. Not exactly the reason why the Giants won that day, but proof that Schierholtz at least has the potential to flash some power. Ridiculous power.
Wednesday night’s 2-HR performance, capped by a rainmaking blast that fell loudly on the aluminum awning in front of the right field arcade (a flyball that completely fooled Duane Kuiper, who like everyone else in the park was probably delirious by the 14th inning of a game that featured 36 strikeouts between both teams) knocked one of those aforementioned games from “Schierholtz’s Top 5 2011 Moments List.” His two homers didn’t just give the Giants a shot in the arm, they gave the Giants the critical power IV they needed to avoid their fourth straight loss. And while great defensive plays have been perhaps the most consistent thing about Schierholtz, consistent power is/was the only thing keeping him from starting every day in right field.
After seeing Schierholtz take advantage of the right field porch at AT&T Park in person against the A’s, I wrote, “I don’t want BASG to be known as the Nate Schierholtz blog, but … this is the Nate Schierholtz blog.” And it was true. Going Schierholtz-heavy doesn’t exactly destroy my credibility in the way plagiarizing other websites would, but it’s never a good idea to be so strongly associated with one player — especially when that player has never been a full-time starter.
Schierholtz’s offensive performance this season has been of league-average quality, and he hasn’t set himself apart from the rest of the Giants’ outfielders with his bat (in terms of OPS, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Schierholtz are separated by .013). However, the guy who used to be known as much for swinging at pitches that hit him as he was for his elite right arm has turned into a consistently difficult matchup for relief pitchers in the late innings. And with a modified batting stance, he’s raised his slash line from .248/.298/.394 after June 24 to .278/.330/.440 after his best game as a Giant. In other words, even though he had a home run drought of about a month and a half before Wednesday’s outburst, Schierholtz looks like he should get a shot to play every day for a while. Yes, regardless of matchups. Time will tell if his “Top 5 2011 Moments List” will need further alterations in the games to come, or if we’ll just scrap the whole idea and go with a “Top 10” instead.