The Giants and Dodgers shared this weekend’s two-game series, which was shortened by Friday night’s rainout but had more than enough excitement and tension, with both games tight-knit affairs that went right down to the wire in extra innings.
Saturday’s five-hour, 16-minute showdown had a distinct game seven feel to it, which is odd given that this is only game seven of the regular season. There have already been some classic moments this year, and now we’ve witnessed the first event that will surely feature in end of season highlights showreels, regardless of how successful this season turns out to be.
Andrew McCutchen chose the right time to come to life with the bat, going 6 for 7 in Saturday night’s thriller. His first five hits paled in comparison to the walk-off bomb that he delivered to kickstart bid for Giants hero status and win Saturday’s game 7-5. His final plate appearance, in which he fouled off pitch after pitch before connecting with the one he knew he could do something with, was a thing of beauty. In his postgame pitchside interview with Amy Gutierrez McCutchen acknowledged his slow start and emphasised his efforts in the field, which have continued to be sound. Cutch insisted that he knew the bat would eventually heat up, and perhaps we are guilty of underestimating the difficulty in adjusting to playing in the vast right field of AT&T after so long playing centrefield in Pittsburgh.
This series was more than just the McCutchen show, however, with notable mentions due to Kelby Tomlinson, Ty Blach, and the Giants bullpen.
Coming into the game in the 14th inning, Kelby Tomlinson hit a leadoff single and started the rally that ultimately won the game. He is often criticised for being a one-dimensional singles hitter, but in this instance, it was all that was called for. His skills with the bat might be limited but as a defensively sound and versatile infield backup, he will be successful this year if used sparingly and if he continues to get on base at key times. He got a hit in Sunday’s game too, when deputising for Brandon Crawford at shortstop as the Giants opted to load up with right-handed hitters against Clayton Kershaw.
The bullpen performed admirably this weekend too. Firstly, on Saturday it was the rookie relievers Pierce Johnson, Reyes Moronta and Roberto Gomez who were given the responsibility of dealing the Giants last five innings. Johnson was perfect through his two innings whilst Moronta allowed three walks, he did get four strikeouts. Gomez, ironically, got credit for the win but was the only wobbly performer of three, giving up three hits and the fourth run that would’ve decided the game had McCutchen not chipped in with his heroics.
Then last night it was the turn of the more established Cory Gearrin, Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland to shine, restricting the Dodgers to just four baserunners in three innings. In the absence of Bumgarner, Samardzija from the rotation, and Mark Melancon and Will Smith from the ‘pen there has been much made of the added weight on the shoulders of the relief corps, and so far they have massively over-performed relative to my expectations. Tony Watson and Hunter Strickland have both been lights out, and nobody has really blown up yet – touch wood!
Ty Blach did what he seems to do best and made the Dodgers look mediocre. You would forgive him for wanting to face them every outing – he is fast developing a reputation as a Dodger-killer. As good as he was, he only struck out one hitter, and he had to rely on the defence to strand seven baserunners. He is not striking out at the same rate as last year and is allowing more baserunners too but he has kept things tight and twice kept the Dodgers at bay – he will get plenty less difficult starts than two of the three he has had already.
We are just eight games into the season, and whilst nobody is jumping to conclusions, there are early signs that this team relishes is capable of digging in when necessary and they have shown signs of thriving under pressure. Not everyone is firing on all cylinders yet but in every series so far there have been guys who’ve chipped in at the right time and carried the team along. I’m on record of not having faith that the team would start this well, so I’m both pleasantly surprised that we have witnessed such a plucky, spirited start to 2018. Long may it continue!