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Bryant homers in debut, Giants take series from Astros with 5-3 win

Newest Giant Kris Bryant made his highly anticipated debut in the black and orange –– and homered –– as San Francisco claimed the rubber-match and beat the Astros 5-3 at Oracle Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Giants (66-39) also received a strong performance from starter Logan Webb and a three-hit game from Darin Ruf, which was enough to bring home the victory against a first-place Houston (64-42) team and keep San Francisco with the best winning percentage in the big leagues. Brandon Crawford also provided his normal dazzling defense at shortstop while going 2-for-4 including a game-tying single in the third.

This story was updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

Bryant started at third base and hit second in the Giants batting order on Sunday, ripping a solo blast to left in his second at-bat. The line-drive homer drove the Oracle Park crowd into a frenzy and was just the beginning of a third inning that produced three runs that ended up being the difference in the ballgame.

On his first day, Bryant said:

“While I’m on this side, it’s been unbelievable. I mean, I played against the Giants for six years and always been impressed by, you know, how smart and intelligent the fans are, how into it they are. And it’s really cool for them to be cheering for you this time.”

Bryant, 29, is the first big name star the Giants have brought into their organization under President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi. The 2016 NL MVP was putting up strong numbers with the Cubs when San Francisco acquired him from Chicago during the final minutes of the July 30 trade deadline for two prospects – outfielder Alexander Canario and right-handed pitcher Caleb Kilian.

Though he rose through the minor league system and played primarily in the big leagues as a third baseman, Bryant has spent just as much time playing the outfield this season for the Cubs. As versatile position players and their value continue to skyrocket, Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler noted that Bryant will continue to move around the diamond – a part of his game that he finds enjoyable:

Like I told him [Kapler], I’m really willing to play anywhere to help the team. I enjoy doing that. I enjoy moving around the field.”

Bryant is a free agent at season’s end and the Giants have become the front runners to re-sign him and retain a key offensive piece in their lineup. Before Sunday afternoon’s game, he expressed possible interest in re-signing with the club and called the idea “definitely enticing.”

Ironically, Bryant noted that he was a regular admirer of Barry Bonds as a kid and started keeping up with the Giants as a result. He was so obsessed with the home run king that he even took up wearing No. 25 in honor of one of his key idols. When they didn’t have 25 in high school, Bryant chose the highest possible number – 23.

Bryant spoke about his admiration for Bonds:

I still have the autograph that my mom went and bought for me at the mall. It’s in my room in her house but the autograph is fading a little bit. So hopefully I run into him, he can give me another one.

Before the trade to San Francisco, Bryant slashed .267/.358/.503 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI. Against left-handed pitching, his 1.137 OPS stands alone as the best among qualified hitters in the National League. Oracle Park has been known historically as a ballpark friendly to the pitcher, but Bryant has found success as an opponent by hitting .324 with five home runs and 15 RBI in 17 games.

Bryant spoke of the organization’s hospitality:

Everything’s been super professional. Such a classy organization from anybody who’s ever reached out to me so far. I’ve been absolutely blown away. I feel unbelievably wanted and it’s such an amazing feeling.

The addition of a big right-handed bat provides flexibility and presents an opportunity for the lineup to play deeper. As Kapler noted before Sunday’s game, Donovan Solano – last season’s Silver Slugger award winner at second base in the NL – was slotted in the eight hole in the lineup.

Three major Cubs position players were dealt at the trade deadline: first baseman Anthony Rizzo is now a Yankee, shortstop Javier Báez is also in New York with the Mets, and Bryant is a Giant. All three went deep in their debuts wearing new uniforms.

Before Sunday’s game, Kapler praised Bryant’s personality and alluded that he would fit right into the mold of the Giants clubhouse:

We have a good group of individuals – not just baseball players – but a good group of people in that clubhouse. I think we’ve worked really hard to cultivate that type of environment, and to bring in people who are additive. And I think Kris falls right in that category.”

Webb (W, 5-3, 3.33 ERA) made the start for the Giants, coming off four excellent outings where he only gave up four runs in 18 innings pitched. The right-hander was greeted with trouble early on when a Michael Brantley infield single set up a booming homer to left off the bat of Yuli Gurriel to make it 2-0.

It was the only mistake he made all afternoon and navigated carefully through Houston’s tough offense. For only the second time all season, Webb worked into the seventh inning for just the second time this season across 14 starts.

At the deadline, San Francisco was linked to numerous starting pitchers but never pulled the trigger to improve their rotation. Instead, the team will continue to roll with the likes of Webb and veteran Johnny Cueto in an effort to produce useful innings in the final two months of the year. Kapler also noted that Sammy Long could return from Triple-A to provide length and so can Aaron Sanchez, who was recently activated off the injured list.

In the month of July, the Giants rotation ranked 12th in ERA at 4.02 and held opponents to a .249 batting average.

After Bryant’s homer against Astros starter Luis García (L, 7-6 3.49 ERA) cut the lead in half to make it 2-1, the Giants kept adding on. Mike Yastrzemski followed him by lifting a long double to right-center field – a home run in most other ballparks – that bounced over the wall for an automatic double. Buster Posey walked and Crawford rolled a base-hit through a vacant hole on the right of second base to tie the game.

The baton was then passed to Ruf, who singled in Posey to give San Francisco a 3-2 lead. In the fifth, Ruf stepped up again and slammed a two-run, no-doubt homer to left field to add some extra insurance and make it 5-2. The shot was his second in as many days and it knocked Garcia out of the game. Ruf, usually a regular against southpaws, received his second straight start against a right-handed pitcher.

The Astros led off the eighth with a single and double against righty Tyler Rogers (2-1, 1.98 ERA), then scoring a run on a 1-6-3 double play ball to make it 5-3. For the second straight day, San Francisco turned to Jake McGee to close it out. The veteran left-hander fired a 1-2-3 inning to record his 23rd save, tying him for third in the National League.

The Astros outscored the Giants 18 to 14 in the series.

On the series win, Ruf said:

“I felt like this series really showed our entire team in a way. We made a few mistakes defensively, but we’re able to overcome them with great pitching. Our offense did really well, or at least these last three games in particular. But our pitching has been outstanding all year.”

Series Wrap

Friday – Astros 9, Giants 6: In a highly-anticipated interleague matchup, San Francisco dropped the first game of the series thanks to a powerful hitting display from Jose Altuve, who belted two homers including a grand slam in the top of the sixth. The all-star second baseman finished the day with five runs batted in, despite the loud boos from the lively crowd at Oracle Park.

After Houston took a quick 2-0 lead in the top half of the first, the Giants answered back in the third when Austin Slater singled home a run and Posey pulled a double to the wall to tie it up. The offense strung together a few runs in the sixth and seventh, but it wasn’t enough to catch a Astros team with one of the best offenses in the American League.

Kevin Gausman (9-5, 2.35 ERA) has now strung together a few rough starts and it took him 43 pitches to navigate through the first inning. He settled down until he was knocked out of the game in the fifth, finishing with three earned runs allowed, six hits allowed, and nine strikeouts. Gausman – one of baseball’s best performers on the mound during the first half – has now given up 11 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings of work across his last three starts.

Saturday – Astros 6, Giants 8: In the middle game of the series, the home runs rose to become the theme of the afternoon with a combined eight homers launched between the two teams – the Giants had five. Solano started off the scoring with a line-drive homer to left off Astros ace Zack Greinke in the second and Wilmer Flores tied it up with a majestic drive to left after Houston tied it up in the third. In the fourth, LaMonte Wade Jr. skyed one into McCovey Cove – right over the head of where his mother was sitting in the right field arcade–– which made it a 5-3 Giants lead. The Astros put up two runs in the fifth to knot it up, but the Giants countered when Ruf deposited a solo-shot to left field to regain the lead. Houston tied it yet again in the sixth, but Crawford answered back with a clutch two out, two strike single to right to give the Giants a 7-6 lead. Yastrzemski added some extra insurance in the eighth when he blasted a solo tater to right. It ended up being enough for McGee to cruise through the ninth and rack up his 22nd save of the season.

Up Next

The Giants travel to Arizona to begin a four-game series against the Diamondbacks on Monday at Chase Field. Right-hander Anthony DeScalfani (10-5, 3.10 ERA) will make the start for San Francisco against right-hander Taylor Widener (1-1, 4.42 ERA). First pitch is set for 6:40 p.m.

Notes

To make room for Bryant on the active roster, the Giants optioned infielder Jason Vosler to Triple-A Sacramento before the game. … Bryant will wear No. 23, the same number he wore in high school. Ron Wotus, who previously had the number, will switch to No. 8. … Wilmer Flores, who exited Saturday’s game early due to lower back tightness, pinch-hit in the eighth inning and is considered day-to-day. … After the game, Bryant noted that his first game was memorable and it “felt like Christmas morning.”

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