The facemasks remain on, but the sights and sounds of baseball have finally returned.
After a quiet 2020 season with empty stands, Major League Baseball celebrated its 2021 Opening Day in front of thousands of eager fans filling stadiums around the country. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s much better than the season prior, as normalcy begins to find its way back to America’s Pastime.
Backed by a outburst of power from the middle of the Giants lineup, Kevin Gausman (6-2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BBs, 6 Ks) cruised into the seventh before the San Francisco bullpen completely imploded, coughing up a 5-1 lead before Jose Alvarez walked three straight batters in the 10th to force home the winning Seattle run in an 8-7 loss.
After a 2020 season that resulted in the Giants missing the playoffs by just one game, a full 162-game season will put the Giants roster to the test as they look to sneak into the playoffs in an already loaded National League.
For the Giants, a solid offensive performance from Evan Longoria (2-for-4, HR, RBI), Buster Posey (1-for-4, HR, RBI, BB), Austin Slater (1-for-3, HR, RBI, BB), Alex Dickerson (1-for-1, HR, RBI), and Donovan Solano (2-for-5) gave Kevin Gausman (6-2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BBs, 6 Ks) the insurance he needed to mow through the Mariners order.
Prior to Thursday’s season opener, Giants manager Gabe Kapler had this to say regarding his lineup against Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales:
“It’s a pretty deep lineup. Last year at this time I think we had a high level of confidence in our lineup against left-handed pitching. This year I think we can say the same against right-handed pitching. It just provides a lot of confidence to see [Donovan] Solano hitting in the three-hole, and Buster [Posey] hitting seventh. We’re talking about a perennial all-star and Hall of Fame-caliber player, and it just speaks to the depth of the lineup we can throw out there against left-handed pitching. I’m proud of the group we’re putting out there today.”
The Giants countered with Gausman, who got the opening day nod over veteran Johnny Cueto.
Gonzales had no issue with the top of the Giants lineup in the first. Slater began the game with a walk ahead of a Mike Yastrzemski strikeout and a Solano double-play ball. Gausman came on for the bottom half of the first and retired the Mariners in order. A quick first inning in the books to start the 2021 season.
Longoria, who had an excellent spring training, continued to swing a hot bat in game one of the regular season. An opposite-field home run to right gave the Giants their first run of the season and an early 1-0 lead.
The Giants weren’t done with the long ball in the top of the second inning. After taking a year off, Posey decided to join the party. His first at-bat in over a year resulted in a solo home run to left field, extending the Giants lead to 2-0.
There have been plenty of questions regarding Posey’s ability at the plate after opting out last season. Battling health issues in years prior, we haven’t necessarily seen Posey at full strength in a few years. He certainly made quite the statement in his first at bat of the season.
Meanwhile, Gausman coasted through three innings of work. He had yet to surrender a walk or a hit, throwing only 26 pitches. As the Giants continue their transition into a competitive team, Gausman will play a huge role at the top of the rotation without a true “ace.”
The scoring continued in the top of the fourth inning. Solano led off with a single, followed by a Longoria single that resulted in an out at second base after Longoria attempted to stretch it into a double. Two batters later, Wilmer Flores doubled down the left field line, scoring Solano from third. The Giants extended their lead to 3-0.
T-Mobile Park’s roof was open Thursday night, and the ball was carrying well. In the top of the fifth inning, Slater joined the home run party, lining a solo shot over the right field wall to extend the Giants lead to 4-0.
Two batters later, Solano doubled down the left field line with two outs. Longoria was intentionally walked, and Brandon Belt singled, scoring the Giants’ fifth run of the game.
Gausman continued to slice through the Mariners lineup through six innings, allowing just one hit and two walks. His pitch count remained low, throwing just 79 pitches through six shutout innings.
In the bottom of the seventh the Mariners had a runner in scoring position for the first time all game. With a runner at third and one out, Dylan Moore gave the Mariners their first run of the game on a sac fly to center field. The Giants lead was trimmed to 5-1, and Gausman’s night was finished with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Gausman departed with a comfortable lead still intact. After the game, he discussed the disappointing loss after such a dominant first outing of the season:
“Obviously it’s tough losing a game like that, and it’s unfortunate that it happens to be the one game that we’ve played. I think it’s a little magnified because of that, but it’s tough. Sometimes the game is going to happen like that. I feel like we were on the opposite side of a lot of these games last year as a team that came back and put together quality [at-bat’s] and today we were on the wrong side of it.”
Flores doubled for a second time down the left field line in the top of the eighth inning, advancing to third on a wild pitch. Two batters later, a ground ball off the bat of Brandon Crawford resulted in a throwing error at first base, scoring Flores. The Giants led 6-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
After Gausman departed, the Giants bullpen ran into trouble. In the bottom of the eighth, relief pitcher Matt Wisler surrendered two hits and a walk without recording an out, allowing the Mariners to score again, now trailing 6-2.
Jarlin Garcia replaced Wisler and with two runners on, walked the bases loaded. With nobody out, the Mariners brought the tying run to the plate. Garcia struck out one Mariner before walking in a run after loading the bases. Tyler Rogers came in to try and clean up the mess and only made it worse. Moore lined a double down the right field line on the first pitch, scoring two more runs. What was once a 6-1 lead is now just 6-5.
Disaster struck and struck again. A routine double-play ball to Belt at first resulted in a wild throw to Crawford at second, sending the ball into left field. Two more runners scored, and the Mariners jumped out ahead 7-6.
Belt reflected on the very costly throwing error:
“No doubt, it definitely would have been a double play. I’m not really sure what happened, i felt like i did everything right and just kind of yanked it a little bit. It’s a play i feel like i make 99 times out of 100. It’s unfortunate that it happened at the time it did, but i don’t really have a good answer for why, i just shanked it.”
Two batters later, the inning was finally over, but not before the Mariners batted around. The Giants head to the top of the ninth now trailing by a run after leading by five runs most of the game.
After Thursday’s tough loss, Kapler discussed Wisler’s performance late in the game, as well as other veteran relievers who struggled in extra innings:
“Jarlin Garcia, Jose Alvarez, [Matt] Wisler, these are guys that we are going to count on to come into the game and throw strikes. The reason you count on them is because they’ve done it, all three of them have done it in their careers. That’s why you bring veteran guys in, to handle those things. It’s one game, and I want to call it like it is, which is we need to do a better job of coming in and throwing strikes. I also want to keep things in perspective, these guys have a history of strike-throwing, and I trust that’s who they are going to be moving forward.”
Would you be surprised if I told you the Giants homered again? Pinch hitter Alex Dickerson led off the top of the ninth inning with a solo home run to right center field. Miraculously, the Giants tied the game just minutes after blowing a five-run lead.
The Giants went down in order following the home run. Jake McGee, who the Giants signed this offseason to fill the closer role, came on for the bottom of the ninth with the game now tied 7-7. Fortunately for the Giants, a 1-2-3 ninth inning sent this game into extras.
Longoria, who made the final out in the top of the ninth began the top of the tenth inning at second base with nobody out. Yes, that rule is still in place throughout the 2021 season.
Two ground balls and a fly out to right field, and the Giants waste the runner in scoring position. The Mariners will begin the bottom of the tenth inning with a runner in scoring position as well.
Jose Alvarez (L, 0-1, ∞ ERA) took over in the bottom of the tenth. Two quick walks loaded the bases with nobody out, and now the Giants bullpen was in a familiar situation. A 3-1 count to Jake Fraley resulted in a third consecutive walk, which forced home the winning run. The Giants lose the season opener in probably one of the ugliest ways possible, a walk-off walk.
Following their opening day loss to the Mariners (1-0), the Giants (0-1) play another night game Friday. Johnny Cueto will start for the Giants, facing Mariners lefty Yusei Kikuchi.
- For the first time in over a decade, Buster Posey is batting as low as seventh in the batting order. The aging veteran opted out of the 2020 season, and the level at which he’s capable of producing remains an unknown.
Prior to Thursday’s game, Kapler discussed his thought process behind batting someone with Posey’s pedigree in the seventh spot:
“I think Buster [Posey] is a true professional in every sense of the word, and I think our players understand that. In particular, this year, if you’re batting a little bit lower in the lineup, it’s because somebody really capable is hitting a spot higher. I think our players are professional enough to understand that.”