ORACLE PARK — As he stood on deck with the bases loaded and one out in the early hours of Saturday morning, after he and the rest of the San Francisco Giants bullpen had turned in 13 scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies only to find themselves tied, 2-2, reliever Travis Bergen couldn’t help but debate himself.
“I was scared to death, that’s for sure,” Bergen said. “I was trying to decide if I was going to swing at the first pitch or not. I must’ve gone back and forth 50 times. It felt like three hours out there.”
The last time Bergen had swung a bat was in 2012 — his senior year at McDonough (Ga.) Union Grove High School — he grounded out to first base on a check swing. On Saturday morning, after five hours and 34 minutes of baseball, Bergen didn’t have to make a decision.
Thirty-eight-year-old Erik Kratz, who had caught all 18 innings, hit a grounder to the right side. A drawn in Ian Desmond dove to make the stop, and fired home. Brandon Belt — aboard on a leadoff double — crossed home, while catcher Chris Ianetta’s foot was pulled off the plate. In the second-longest game ever at Oracle Park, on the first Orange Friday of the season, after the worst attendance slump in stadium history, the Giants walked off with a 3-2 win at 12:50 a.m.
“I got a second wind in the 17th inning, I think,” Kratz said. “You get energy from seeing the pitchers come out and throw longer than they’re used to, execute pitches. There wasn’t any easy at-bats there.”
Kratz — who became a cult hero for Milwaukee Brewers fans, and fans of the game during the postseason for his improbable tale of success after 13 different franchises in 17 professional seasons — already had plenty of fans in the Giants clubhouse before his walkoff, and the feeling only deepened Saturday morning.
“Here he is, 38 years old, and he caught that whole game,” Bochy said. “He battled. That’s what you want. He stayed away from a strikeout, and they almost made a great play on it … Kratzy, that was quite a game for him, He was the guy putting down the numbers and getting these pitchers through it … He’s got to be exhausted, but found a way to put the ball in play.”
Ten times last season, the Giants got walk-off wins, including a memorable 12-inning affair ended by a pinch hit from Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner was on his way home by the time Kratz sent his grounder towards Desmond, scheduled to pitch on Saturday afternoon. Instead, Dereck Rodriguez was called upon to inch hit in the final innings, while the Rockies sent two starting pitchers to the plate as both the bullpens and benches dwindled.
Even the fans had to dig deep into their reserves and get creative.
Giants pitchers struck out 24 batters (five by Bergen, who earned his second big-league win) — three more than capacity of the hand-operated K-meter in foul ground in right field. So, a group of enterprising fans stood next to the final backwards orange K and made three Ks with their arms in the 18th — including a child, and a fan holding a baby — with three other fans waiting in the wings.
“That’s a great win, a great team win, and we used everybody,” said manager Bruce Bochy.
“They did an incredible job executing each pitch we needed in each situation,” Kratz said of the pitching staff.
The Giants, coming off of a Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T/Oracle Park-record four straight games with attendance below 30,000, welcomed 33,616 in for a fireworks show that would be delayed until after midnight, a crowd that was as noisy and as engaged as any thus far this young season.
The Giants and the Rockies came into Friday night’s game as the No. 27 and No. 28 teams in the Major Leagues in terms of runs scored, but after three straight seven-inning starts from Derek Holland, Rodriguez and Jeff Samardzija, it was the well-rested San Francisco bullpen that proved to be the difference.
“They pitched their hearts out and won that us,” Bochy said.
Bergen had one more inning left in him, after the seven relievers who came before him. Should the game have continued, Holland would have taken over, mere days after throwing a seven-inning start. Bochy said that the whole bullpen would be available for Saturday afternoon, with Holland also available to help alleviate any personnel strain.
“That’s pretty special right there,” Bergen said of the bullpen’s 13-inning, seven-hit performance, where Giants relievers retired the final 23 of the final 24 batters they faced. “Everybody comes in and does more than they’re usually asked. Every guy was extended.”
Only seven times in franchise history had the club gone 18 or more innings. Only four of those happened after the team moved West, and only one of those had happened in San Francisco. The most recent — May 29, 2001 at then-Pac Bell Park —ended in a 1-0 loss for the Giants. Friday’s endeavor was nearly as painful.
Neither starter — Colorado’s Chad Bettis nor the Giants’ Drew Pomeranz — had anything to do with the decision, but neither offense could do much against either of them. Bettis was 0-2 with a 11.88 ERA coming in. Pomeranz hadn’t gotten out of the fifth in two starts and had allowed 12 hits and four walks in nine innings. Betts gave up six hits and two walks in his five innings. Pomeranz gave up four hits and one free pass in five innings. They were charged with a total of four runs.
Colorado came in hitting .208 as a team for the season, and scored their runs in dubious fashion.
After Kratz cut down a would-be base stealer form his knees to start things off in the top of the first, the Rockies broke through in the fourth.
With Garret Hampson aboard with a one-out triple, a would-be highlight-reel play by Belt to chase down a Trevor Story pop-up for an over-the-shoulder grab was wiped out by a questionable balk call on a Pomeranz quick pitch.
Story, who stayed alive because of the balk called by third base umpire Paul Nauert, promptly singled up the middle, and rode home on a double by Desmond.
The Giants got on the board in the bottom of the inning, when Steven Duggar led off with a walk, moved to third on a single to right by second baseman Joe Panik, and scored on a double play grounder by Longoria.
After just one hit in their past 20 at-bats with men in scoring position, the Giants finally got their second in the sixth. After pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval doubled to lead off the frame, Duggar sent a roller into the grass on the left side of the infield and beat Story’s throw to first to put men at the corners.
A sixth-inning leadoff double by Pablo Sandoval was cashed in on a single by Duggar and a sacrifice fly to right by Panik, tying things up.
Colorado loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth, but for the third and fourth time this season, came up empty.Reliever Tony Watson got a line-out to short from Ian Desmond, and struck out Josh Fuentes to bring the crowd of 33,616 toits feet.
Mark Melancon entered in the top of the 10th continued his streak of scoreless ball, making it 7 2/3 innings this season inwhich he had yet to allow a run, getting a 6-4-3 double play to get out of a two-on, one-out jam in the 10th, and getting apair of strikeouts and a groundout to get out of a two-on, no-out jam in the 11th. San Francisco was equally flummoxed, with 19 straight Giants retired, and only two reaching base between the sixth and 17th innings.
With the Rockies sending starting pitcher Jon Gray in to pinch hit with two outs in the 15th (the second time they’d done thaton the night), Belt fielded what looked to be a foul ball — it just grazed the bag, and was therefore fair — and tagged first, ending the inning as mascot Lou Seal curled up with a pillow atop the Giants dugout, decked out in silk pajamas.
In the bottom of the 18th, Belt — who had tripled to Triples Alley in the fourth more than four hours prior — slugged what looked to be a game-winning homer to the same spot. Despite an intrepid fan reaching for the ball, it went for a double.
Belt advanced to third on a fly to deep left center by Kevin Pillar, who had driven in 10 of San Francisco’s 14 runs over the previous 14 games. After a pair of intentional walks, Kratz came to the plate, and sent his grounder to the right side.
Kratz had caught an 18-inning game before, in July of 2016 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His team won that one, too.
“We had a shutout going until the ninth inning, two outs, Mark Melancon shook off five pitches,” Kratz said. “Rhrew a cutter in, Daniel Murphy hit a home run and we were tied 1-1 until the 18th, and Starling Marte hit a home run off of Oliver Perez.”
When he got down 0-2 against reliever DJ Johnson on Saturday, the only thing he could think was, “How the heck did I miss those first two pitches?” His mindset: 0-2 was no different than 2-0.
“You’re trying to put a bat on the ball somewhere in the outfield and score that run,” he said. Kratz came up a bit short of that, but it did the trick. “I’m running down the line, going, ‘How did he dive and get that ball? Jimminy Christmas, go play the outfield.’ He dove and made a nice play, and as I hit the base, I’m hearing the crowd cheer, and I have no idea what’s going on. I just put my hands up, like, thank goodness.”
As the decisive play was reviewed, Belt went up to Kratz and assured him that Iannetta’s foot was off the plate.
“He was like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, he was definitely off the plate,’” Kratz said.
When the decision was announced, Kratz was given a standing ovation by a crowd still waiting for its Friday night fireworks early into Saturday morning.