Wednesday afternoon’s rubber match between the Giants and the Diamondbacks was something nearer to a Paul Goldschmidt exhibition than anything else for the first nine innings.
But all that was washed away with a two-out ninth-inning swing of the bat by pinch-hitter Alen Hanson, who managed a clutch two-run home run (5) that tied the ballgame and brought on an inning of “free baseball.”
Ultimately, a San Francisco walk-off single by Brandon Crawford canceled out Goldschmidt’s dominance at the plate, and earned the Giants (31-31) a series win over the division-leading Diamondbacks (32-29).
By the time Arizona closer Brad Boxberger (BS, 2, 2.18 ERA) came in to close the game out in the ninth, it seemed like something of a formality. It turned out to be anything but.
Mac Williamson took a one-out walk, and after Nick Hundley struck out, manager Bruce Bochy had one last-ditch ploy in mind. He pinch-hit for right-handed Austin Jackson with the switch-hitting Hanson, who has been clutch off the bench for the Giants.
What did the skipper have to lose? Nothing, it turns out. But what they gained was an eleventh-hour tied game on a two-run dinger to right field.
Hanson described his preparation for the at-bat:
“Last year, I basically spent the whole year pinch-hitting, [so] I don’t let the situation intimidate me. … I’m constantly watching the game, I’m constantly analyzing the situation just in case I’m called upon to hit at that moment — I’m running, I’m stretching my legs, I’m hitting in the batting cage, I’m constantly paying attention to the game.”
He is 4-for-5 with clutch pinch-hits coming off the bench since returning from the disabled list, so evidently this has been a recipe for success. He says he wasn’t swinging for the fences in the ninth inning Wednesday, though:
“In a situation like that I don’t think ‘home run,’ I just think about getting a good swing, putting the ball in play. I think if I go up there thinking about getting a home run, that’s not my game. I’m not a home run hitter, so it’s just putting the ball in play.”
But Hanson has displayed some unexpected power with the Giants, hitting one more home run than Buster Posey, who has four, in 129 fewer chances.
Starter Clay Buchholz (ND, 2-1, 1.88 ERA) held Giants hitters to two runs, and the Arizona set-up duo of Yoshihisa Hirano and Archie Bradley put the Giants behind the eightball with one scoreless apiece.
Chris Stratton (ND, 7-3, 4.63 ERA) and the Giants didn’t melt down so much as just opt not to exercise caution with the Diamondbacks All-Star first baseman at the plate, with results predictable to anyone who has seen Goldschmidt when he’s right or when he’s batting against the Giants.
Pablo Sandoval launched a first inning 447-foot solo homer (4) with an exit velocity of 110-mph over the right-field wall. But the Giants did little else with the bats before the ninth, striking out 12 times, grounding into two double plays and going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position until the walkoff swing from Crawford in the 10th.
They almost added on again in the second when Hundley swatted a one-out triple on a sharp liner to the deepest part of the yard at the 421-marker. But Jackson failed to deliver, leaving it up to Stratton, batting .087 on the season. Unsurprisingly, he went down swinging.
Buchholz led off the next inning by doing what his opposing counterpart couldn’t, hitting a line drive to right for a single. After Jarrod Dyson took Buchholz’s place at first on a force out, Goldschmidt came up to bat.
This plate appearance produced Goldschmidt’s second of four knocks Wednesday, a line-drive single to right to move Dyson to second. Jake Lamb flied out to follow, but during his at-bat a wild pitch moved Dyson to third and Goldschmidt to second.
With two outs and a 3-2 count, Daniel Descalso hit a high popup behind home plate that looked to be Stratton’s ticket out of the traffic jam. But Hundley either lost sight of it in the sun or the swirling winds of AT&T Park got a hold of the foul ball, and ultimately he failed to make the catch. It was the difference in the inning, and nearly the ballgame itself.
Bochy empathized with his backup catcher:
“I knew that was gonna be a tough one for Nick. You’re looking up at the sun and [the] wind’s blowing. I was yelling, ‘Help him out!’ hoping somebody could get there and help him out. You know, as a catcher, how tough that play is with the wind blowing.”
Descalso didn’t waste the extra out, slapping a double to right that plated Dyson and Goldschmidt to get the Diamondbacks on the board with a 2-1 lead.
Goldschmidt has been struggling so far this season. He came into the game batting .220. But against the orange and black he’s now hitting .457 (16-for-35) with six home runs and 16 RBI. Meanwhile non-Giants pitching has limited him to a batting average of just .188 (35-for-186) with six homers and 16 RBI. Half of the man’s RBI have come at the Giants expense — Half. And that’s in just nine games this season.
Bochy said he’s glad to see the back of the three-time Silver Slugger:
“He had quite a series. We had a tough time with him and he did a lot of damage against us, he’s a good hitter. He’s not gonna hit what he’s hitting now [for the rest of the season]. It looks like he’s finding his swing and fortunately [the Diamondbacks] are leaving town, cause it looks like he’s getting hot.”
The Giants inexplicably pitched to “Goldy” three times with runners in scoring position and a base open. He hit three doubles and a single, knocking in two runs, en route to 4-for-5 performance.
San Francisco added a second run in the third when a McCutchen double brought Joe Panik home after he led off with a walk, tying it up at 2-2.
But Stratton tussled with the top of Arizona’s order again in the fifth inning, allowing a single to Dyson and Goldschmidt’s second double of the afternoon to score Dyson, putting the D-Backs ahead again, 3-2. Bochy pulled Stratton after he walked Lamb, ending his day after just four innings.
Will Smith mopped up and no further damage was done. But pitching the sixth, Reyes Moronta, too, struggled with the top of the Diamondbacks order, walking Dyson, and allowing him to steal second with Goldschmidt at the plate.
Unsurprisingly to just about any one of the 41,042 onlookers at the yard or those watching on Facebook, Goldschmidt hit a double to right to cash in his second RBI of the day and give Arizona one more run for cushion.
Of Moronta’s sixth inning the skipper said:
“[Moronta] had two strikes on [Goldschmidt] when he gave up that double down the right field line, that probably is a mistake with the base open. … Lamb’s a good hitter, too, so hopefully you’re making your pitches, but we did make some mistakes there.”
A clean inning from Tony Watson and two more from the Giants newly-minted long man Ty Blach kept San Francisco close enough to make Hanson’s timely pinch-hit a game-changer.
Hunter Strickland (W, 3-2, 2.25 ERA) got the unlikely win when he came in to open the 10th inning. He immediately struggled to find command, giving up two walks (one intentional after reaching an unintentional 3-0 count on Owings) and a wild pitch. But with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Ketel Marte and a coaxed fly ball from Nick Ahmed, the San Francisco closer got out of the sticky situation without allowing a run.
Crawford’s walkoff clutch single in the bottom of the 10th off lefty specialist Andrew Chafin (L, 0-2, 2.18 ERA), to chase home Andrew McCutchen sealed the deal for the Giants as they took the series and capped off a 5-1 homestand on getaway day.
Bochy said of the victory:
“The boys fought hard, that’s what you have to do. The whole game they kept coming back. [This] could be our best win [so far] this year.”
The Giants have an off-day Thursday following which they will embark on a three city, 10 game road trip Friday. They will stop in Washington for a three game series against the Nationals before heading to Miami to take on the Marlins in a four game set. They will end their road trip in Los Angeles in a three game series against the Dodgers. Probable starters for Friday’s series-opener in Washington are Andrew Suárez (2-4, 4.74) and Stephen Strasburg (6-5, 3.20).
Starting Friday the Giants will play 17 games in a row without an off-day. Manager Bruce Bochy has noted the difficulty and importance of getting some of the regulars a day off over the course of the road trip especially:
“I’m gonna have to get some guys a day [off]. Craw — we’re grinding him pretty hard— so at some point I’m gonna have to give him a break, and Longo [Evan Longoria] — he hasn’t had a day off in a while. With [Brandon] Belt going down it’s made it a bit more difficult to give him a break, but it’s gonna be important at some point that I find a way to freshen ’em up.”
Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.