ORACLE PARK — As Donovan Solano looked down at the chair in front of his locker, and considered the bright orange “Baddest Man on the Field” wrestling belt that sat upon it, he smiled and let out a small laugh.
Having just made the final out of the San Francisco Giants’ wacky, error-filled 4-2 win over the San Diego Padres, Solano — who knocked in two, scored one and turned a key double play — didn’t consider himself much of a standout. After all, he was an afterthought when the season began. A 31-year old with over 1,000 minor league games under his belt, he hadn’t played a big league game since 2016.
Having pounded big league lefties since his first call-up in early May, though, Solano got a rare start on Wednesday against Joey Lucchesi, and wound up right in the middle of San Francisco’s second bizarre comeback win in a row, marking the first consecutive home wins for the club since an April 11-13 sweep of the Colorado Rockies. In a game marred by three (nearly four) San Diego errors, it was the minor league journeyman who took center stage.
“Today was my turn to help the team win,” Solano said through interpreter Erwin Higueros.
Property of the Dodgers in 2018, he was brought over by new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and signed to a minor league contract in January. A veteran of five different organizations and 13 different minor league stops, Solano got off to a hot start this year at Triple-A Sacramento. In his 24 games there, Solano slashed .322/.392/.437 with four doubles and two homers.
He’d been up and down twice in May, serving as a swing middle infielder to give Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik a blow once Yangervis Solarte elected free agency rather than a minor league assignment.
“Everyone said that he needs to be on a big league team,” said Shaun Anderson, Solano’s teammate with the River Cats, Wednesday’s starter, and the beneficiary of some slick Solano fielding.
His ability to hit lefthanders — 12-for-24 this year in Sacramento, and .333 against them in the big leagues this season — was why he got the start, and Anderson was grateful for the help.
Anderson, who had given up six of his 14 runs this season in the first inning, was able to escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first on Wednesday with a tailor-made, inning-ending double play grounder by San Diego’s most dangerous hitter, Franmil Reyes. He busted Reyes inside with a fastball, and Crawford, Solano and Brandon Belt did the rest.
“That’s one of their top guys, and a big RBI guy,” Anderson said. “I knew I had to be smart, and just stuck with [catcher Buster Posey], made a good pitch and Craw and Solano made a good play on that.”
“Huge pitch,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “Bases loaded, really, that’s the ballgame … That’s a big turning point in that game … It’s good to see this kid get on a roll like this.”
After Kevin Pillar’s 109-mph homer off the ambulance beyond the left field wall in the second — his seventh of the season — the Giants (28-38) fell behind 2-1 thanks to a third-inning fly ball double by Eric Hosmer and then a run-scoring grounder by Josh Naylor in the fifth.
A Steven Duggar grounder to the right side with one out in the fifth drew Fernando Tatis Jr. over from short, but after his backhanded stop behind the bag, he threw the ball away, moving the speedy Duggar to second. With two outs and two strikes with Duggar going on contact, Solano flipped a pop-fly single into no-man’s land in left, tying things up once again. An errant throw out of play from left fielder Naylor to first moved Solano to third. Hosmer was initially charged with obstruction on Solano as he tried to corral the throw from Naylor (another error), but it was expunged.
“The pitcher had been throwing inside my first two at-bats, so I just tried to make a swing to straighten out the ball,” Solano said through Higueros. “The pitch was inside, and I was happy that it fell in for a hit. Luckily, they made some errors that helped me to get to third base.”
After a walk to Belt, a grounder to the left side by Evan Longoria brought Solano home, as a diving Tatis bounced his throw to second in an attempt to force Belt.
Yet another error — a swinging bunt misplayed reliever Robbie Erlin — put Duggar on second to lead off the seventh, and Solano obliged by cashing him in with a double down the left field line.
Anderson finished up his third quality start of the year (second on the team only to Madison Bumgarner) and first at home, with just four hits and three walks, striking out six.
The bullpen took care of the rest, with scoreless innings from Sam Dyson and Tony Watson. Closer Will Smith got two quick outs in the ninth, but a tough hop off the bat of Ian Kinsler ate up Crawford to put a man aboard. A Hunter Renfroe double and a full-count walk to pinch hitter Wil Myers loaded the bases.
Smith, though, got Manuel Margot to pop out, and as the ball dutifully fell into Solano’s glove, Smith wiped the sweat from his brow. The 25 pitches he’d thrown were the most he’s had to use in any of his 16 straight saves to start the season, but the deed was done, and appropriately, Solano finished it off.
“He’s a great guy in the clubhouse,” Anderson said. “Brings a lot of energy every single day. Honestly, it’s fun to play with him.”