After blowing the lead in the top of the ninth, the San Francisco Giants recaptured some of the magic that made them National League Western Division champions in 2021 via an Austin Slater walk-off double to defeat the Miami Marlins 6-5 on Opening Day at Oracle Park.
After Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. crushed a go-ahead homer against Camilo Doval in the top of the ninth, Giants second baseman Thairo Estrada wasted no time and deposited a line drive into the left field seats to knot the game at 5-5.
With two outs in the home half of the tenth, Slater whacked a double down the left field line to score Darin Ruf all the way from first to bring home the victory. It was a gutsy send from new third base coach Mark Halberg, especially considering Ruf’s lack of speed. It resulted in the desired outcome: the first walk-off hit of Slater’s career.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler was in favor of Halberg’s aggressive send:
I’m 100% behind that move, even if he gets blown up at the plate. It’s so hard in this league to get two out hits against nasty relievers that anytime you get an extra base hit with a runner on first base, you have to be thinking score and you have to make them throw you out of play even with Darin Ruf running. I thought was an excellent call.”
Ruf said he doesn’t have an extra gear when it comes to running. Instead, the veteran outfielder referred it to “downshifting”:
“There’s no replicating in-game situations like that. Hopefully as the year goes on, you get more comfortable doing stuff and I don’t think i’ve gone first-to-home I had to do it last year. So yeah, it’s just it’s one of those things that when you play the game, you just do it.”
The Giants had a strong effort turned in by ace righty Logan Webb, and Joey Bart launched his first big league home run in the fifth. San Francisco (1-0) also improved defensively as the game dragged on, and continuously worked the count against Marlins all-star righty Sandy Alcantara
Coming off a remarkable 2021 season in which he emerged as San Francisco’s ace, Webb (0-0, 1.50 ERA), replicated his success and effectively rolled through six scoreless innings, allowing five hits, four walks, an earned run and striking out three Miami hitters.
Born and raised in Rocklin, Calif., near Sacramento, Webb’s Opening Day start was somewhat of a homecoming for him. He reflected on having family present and getting text messages from friends:
I got a text from (Kevin) Gausman. He said ‘good luck today,’ so I’ll be watching his games. That one was really cool.”
The right-hander mixed in three pitches – sinker, changeup and slider – and commanded each of them in any count. Though he wasn’t recording the swings and misses he usually does, Webb received help from his infield defense, which was initially shaky to open up the game.
In his last 23 starts, including two starts in last year’s NLDS, Webb has gone 12-0, eclipsing Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell’s long-standing record of 22 starts without losing a decision. Hubbell, a notable New York Giants left-hander during the black and white film era, recorded his streak from 1936-37.
On the outing, Kapler said:
Logan owned the mound like he did for four months last year. … And then he was able to maintain his stuff and continue to attack with a lot of strikes. Both with his fastball and his changeup. I don’t think he’s slider was his best pitch today, but he’s able to mix it in effectively. Being a hometown kid, I think was a huge moment for him in his career, among many others that he was able to build on from last year.”
Webb, 25, is now the youngest Giants opening day starting pitcher since Madison Bumgarner’s 2014 start when he was 24 years old. The last right-hander younger than Webb to pitch in the opener was two-time Cy Young award-winner Tim Lincecum in 2009 at 24.
A sudden burst of concern occurred in third when Webb attempted to field a slow roller up the first base line, tumbled on the dirt and gingerly stood back up to his feet. The alarming sight readjusted itself and Webb was back on the mound after a few practice pitches.
Postgame, Kapler said Webb suffered a mild right ankle sprain. Both say it shouldn’t be much of an issue, as he still wound up finishing his outing.
Protecting the health of Webb – along with other vulnerable veteran Giants starters – is increasingly vital and will require strategic workload measures because of the current situation around the sport.
There were seven games played throughout baseball’s official start on Thursday and only three starting pitchers completed six innings. Heading into the game, manager Kapler noted that Webb would follow suit with the rest of the league and would follow a predetermined pitch count of his own.
This is a result of the extended lockout between the MLB owners and the players, many starting pitchers were unable to accumulate the necessary innings to properly stretch out in time for the regular season. Webb threw only nine innings across three starts in the Cactus League, allowing five earned runs and striking out 15.
After allowing a leadoff walk to begin the seventh, Webb was removed at 85 pitches in favor of righty Dominic Leone, who coughed up a two-run homer to Marlins catcher Jacob Stallings to make it a one-run game at 3-2.
Bart’s first big league homer came in the fifth inning when he obliterated Alcantara’s fastball deep into the left field bleachers. The towering drive jumped off his bat at a blazing 108.9 mph and gave San Francisco a 3-0 lead.
A lot has been written about Bart, especially as he’s taking on the responsibility of taking over the catching position from his eventual Hall of Fame predecessor Buster Posey. A strong spring training offensively helped his cause, hitting .364 with three homers with seven runs batted in and a 1.258 OPS.
In 103 at bats in his shortened, cup-of-coffee 2020 season, Bart often appeared overwhelmed and phased by his apparent rush to the big leagues. Now, with the chance to gain trust from a group of experienced pitchers, a much cooler and relaxed Bart has been the theme of his new opportunity.
The Giants hopped to a lead in the third inning after Bart drew a one-out walk, followed by Brandon Belt’s bunt up the third baseline. Joey Wendle, Miami’s third baseman, charged the ball but made a wild throw down the right field line to allow Bart to score all the way from first. Designated hitter Ruf was next, ripping an RBI single off the glove of first baseman Garrett Cooper to make it 2-0.
Belt added extra padding with a line-shot homer to right, a bullet that left the park in mere seconds. “The Captain” – Belt’s nickname dubbed last season after he played a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago with a duct-taped “C” on his uniform – was honored before the game by being paraded down the left field line on a boat while sporting a white captain’s hat. He then threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Kapler.
Webb got a kick out of Belt’s unexpected entrance:
I don’t know anybody else that can do that. But he can do that. The Captain.”
After starting off the game uneasy defensively, the Giants infield picked up the pace in the middle innings and started making strong plays across the diamond. One of them came via Estrada, presumably San Francisco’s everyday second baseman.
Jake McGee would open the season as the closer, Kapler instead used him in the eighth inning, a move that undoubtedly made fantasy baseball team owners cringe. Doval entered in a save situation in the ninth and quickly allowed a leadoff single to Wendle, who later scored on Stallings’ RBI single two batters later to make it 4-3. Stallings finished with three RBIs on the day.
After the game, Kapler declined to name a closer.
As the game headed into extra innings tied at 5-5, the ghost runner was implemented at second but was no match for the Giants bullpen. In the home half, San Francisco was set up to win the game but Belt flied out to right and the ghost runner, Mauricio Dubon, was doubled up at second after being indecisive on whether to tag or not on the deep fly ball. The dramatic turn of events set things up for Slater’s winning hit after Ruf walked.
The Giants face the Marlins in the second game of the series on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Newly acquired left-hander Carlos Rodon will make his first start in a Giants uniform as he matches up against Miami righty Pablo Lopez.
- The Giants will start the season without three of their key position players. Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. was placed on the 10-day injured list with left knee inflammation after leaving a spring training game on March 28. … Third baseman Evan Longoria, one of the club’s few relied-upon right-handed bats, hits the shelf after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his right index-finger. He took ground balls ahead of Friday’s opener but didn’t throw – his hand was in a small brace. … Infielder Tommy La Stella is also out, he experienced some soreness and inflammation in his right achilles that was originally generated from offseason surgery.
- Longtime Giants coach Ron Wotus raised the 2021 National League West Champions Pennant ahead of Friday’s opener. Wotus, who retired from coaching after the 2021 season, has been in San Francisco’s organization for 34 seasons and is the second coach in franchise history to record 2,000 wins. He’s now a special advisor for the team.