After going through a tunnel of head slaps, back pats and high fives in the San Francisco Giants dugout, Brandon Crawford smiled and let out a sigh.
Crawford was supposed to be getting the day off against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. Since April 10, the Giants shortstop had hit just .155 — a far cry from his career-best start to last season, yet in the bottom of the eighth, manager Bruce Bochy told him to get ready. He’d faced closer Raisel Iglesias in the series opener. He’d seen his changeup. Iglesias, Bochy figured, was going to come out of the bullpen in the ninth.
Despite falling behind 4-0 in the first four batters, the Giants came back to tie things up on a Buster Posey home run against National League Pitcher of the Month Luis Castillo, and after a Posey double in the top of the ninth, Crawford hit his first homer of the season, erasing a rocky start for Jeff Samardzija, earning a beating from his teammates and a 6-5 win — San Francisco’s second comeback in three games.
“That comeback was as good as the first game, I think,” Bochy said of the 8-0 deficit the Giants erased on Friday. “Their guy, he was tough. He was dealing … We were getting no-hit down four.”
San Francisco slammed two of the game’s six home runs, with three of the remaining four coming on three straight pitches by Samardzija in the first.
“I’ve said it before: Great American Small-park,” Samardzija said. “You’ve got to not quit and understand it’s the same size for both teams.”
No. 2 hitter Eugenio Suarez slugged his ninth homer of the season to get things going, a two-run job which barely cleared the fence in right, landing on top of the roof of the Reds bullpen. The next pitch Samardzija threw wasn’t such a close shave, as Jesse Winker hit his ninth home run of the year 10 rows into the right-center field bleachers. Samardzija then missed middle-up with an errant off-speed offering to a eye-black-mustachioed, bare-chested, gold-chain-wearing Derek Dietrich, and he deposited it five rows from the top of the right field bleachers, 421 feet away.
It was the first time that one Giants pitcher gave up three straight home runs since Brett Took surrendered three straight to Adrian Beltre, Juan Encarnacion and David Ross on April 18, 2004. The last time it happened in the first inning was April 13, 1987.
“It’s hard to have a rougher first inning than what he had,” Bochy said.
Samardzija wound up settling down, getting late life on his cutter and retiring the last 13 men he faced and 16 of 17, giving San Francisco five innings after throwing 35 pitches in that nightmare first. He was followed up by 3 2/3 no-hit innings from the bullpen.
“I’d just like to avoid having to fight for your life from the get-go,” Samardzija said, laughing.
Meanwhile, Castillo — the Cincinnati ace with a 1.45 ERA who the Giants traded for Casey McGhee in December of 2014— was masterful on the mound against his former organization. He threw 5 1/3 hitless innings before a Steven Duggar single in the top of the sixth. Castillo then walked first baseman Steven Vogt, and Joe Panik, going with the changeup away (Castillo’s bread and butter against left-handers on the day) shot an RBI single through the left side.
Had Duggar not gotten the single, Bochy said, he would not have pinch-hit Vogt for Samardzija, and let the big right-hander go longer to eat some innings. Instead, Vogt stayed in at first, and that walk keyed the rally, which culminated with Posey.
“Great at-bats, Duggar got us going with the ground ball beating the shift, that kind of got things going,” Bochy said. “We kept the line moving, and set that up for Buster. Good inning for us off a tough pitcher, the pitcher of the month.”
The Giants catcher, whose game-winning single gave San Francisco a series win over the first-place Dodgers last week, punched a 400-foot two-out homer to right center, tying the game and showing again that his surgically-repaired right hip is getting stronger by the day. It was his first opposite-field home run since a cheapie 311-footer at SunTrust Park in Atlanta on June 22, 2017.
Castillo exited after seven innings, striking out nine. After Posey popped a 2-1 changeup for a one out double in the ninth, Bochy tapped Crawford. On Friday, Crawford had taken extra hacks to try and get himself right. After starting the season with just three RBIs and three extra-base hits in 125 plate appearances. That night, he saw four changeups in five pitches against Iglesias. He knew what to expect.
Crawford sent a 1-0, 90-mph Iglesias change at the knees deep into the right field bleachers for a two-run home run.
“That’s one of the best feelings of the year for me, so far,” Crawford told NBC Sports Bay Area.
“He picked a good time to hit his first one, didn’t he?” Bochy said. “Something like that can get a guy going … He got all of it, too.”