ORACLE PARK — Mike Yastrzemski never broke stride as he sprinted for home.
With two outs, the bases loaded and Brandon Crawford at the plate in the eighth inning on Sunday, Miami Marlins reliever Ryne Stanek threw a 1-1 splitter in the dirt. It kicked away from catcher Jorge Alfaro, and as Alfaro slid on his shin guard to recover it, he double clutched. The ball never made it into Stanek’s glove.
Yastrzemski sprawled into home, Stanek fell on top of him, the ball skittered away and the 28-year-old rookie provided the winning margin in a 2-1 win after five shutout innings from Johnny Cueto.
“In that situation, you need to be aggressive,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He was.”
Yastrzemski had singled with one out, and was followed by a base hit up the middle by Brandon Belt, which spelled the end for reliever Jarlin Garcia. A 3-2 walk to Evan Longoria loaded the bases, but Stephen Vogt struck out, bringing on Stanek.
The Giants knew that Stanek’s splitters were tough to block. Once Stanek delivered the wild pitch to Crawford, he hesitated before sprinting toward home. Yastrzemski didn’t.
Yastrzemski’s heroic sprawl salvaged a series win, and ensured Cueto’s gem didn’t go for naught. Unlike his last outing — his first back from Tommy John surgery — Cueto labored against the Marlins. His 29-pitch fourth — 11 more pitches than his previous single-inning high since his return — saw him allow a single and a nine-pitch walk, before getting a flyout and striking out the next two men with his trademark changeup.
Sitting on 65 pitches with a pitch count of 70 in his second start back, Cueto needed just six pitches to get through the fifth. He felt good enough to lobby to pitch the sixth, but will have to settle for throwing 80-85 pitches in his next outing, with the goal to reach 100 by season’s end.
“I have a lot of confidence,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I think that things are only going to get better.”
Cueto has now thrown 10 shutout innings since his return, with six strikeouts, four hits and three walks.
“I don’t know if anybody expected him to get off to a start like this,” Bochy said. “You look at how he’s throwing the ball, and it’s Johnny before his surgery.”
Rookie second baseman Dubon led off the third with his first home run at Oracle Park — where his host families would take him during his summers in Sacramento — to put San Francisco ahead, nearly tripping over first base. He had to extend his right arm to keep his balance, but by the time he rounded third, with host family the Ritcheys in attendance, he broke into a wide grin. With his third career homer, he’s now hitting .291 (.318 in September), and has been one of San Francisco’s most consistent bats in September as the offense has swooned.
The Giants — who have hit just .210 in September — stranded two men in the fourth, stranded Brandon Belt at third in the sixth and struck out nine times against Eleisar Hernandez, while the Marlins tied things up in the seventh thanks to a Longoria throwing error and a Jon Berti single in the seventh.
As he’s done before, though, Yastrzemski put himself squarely in the middle of yet another game-winning rally. He knew Stanek featured a splitter — a tough pitch to block — and third base coach Ron Wotus told him, when he got to third, “If there’s a chance to get there, take it.”
The only souvenir from Yastrzemski’s eighth-inning play at the plate was a dirt burn on his right forearm. He wasn’t sore from the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Stanek falling on top of him, nor was he sore from taking a ball to the toe the night before.
“Going to Boston, I don’t think anything’s going to stop him from playing,” Bochy said.
The last time Yastrzemski — grandson of Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl — visited Fenway, the Boston-born outfielder was working out as part of the Cape Cod League while at Vanderbilt. He remembered “just being in awe.” It was the first time he’d ever been on that field. The Giants begin a three-game series there on Tuesday.
After seven years in the minor leagues, Yastrzemski will return as a reliable big league leadoff man, slashing .265/.325/.512 with 19 home runs and 17 doubles in 95 games.
He’ll have well over 40 friends and family in the stands, including, for one game, his grandfather.
“It’s going to be pretty emotional and try to contain those things,” Yastrzemski said, “and try and make it feel like it’s a just a regular thing.”