— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) July 23, 2019
ORACLE PARK — Before the four-game series against the Mets that started the week, Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar said there was “nothing magical” about the surge that saw San Francisco pick up two spots in the standings and enter into the wild card discussion; it was just good baseball, he said.
Minutes later, when asked how this team compared to Torture and Even Year Bulls**** teams of the past, Pablo Sandoval smirked. “It’s just different,” he said. “It’s fun.”
With the Chicago Cubs in town on Monday, a first-place team in need of bullpen help at the trade deadline and likely hoping to shop San Francisco’s wares, the Giants — unquestionably sellers as of three weeks ago — won their ninth game in their last 10. By scoring three runs on four hits in the eighth off reliever Pedro Stropp to win 5-4, they edged over .500 and got closer to a wild card berth.
“That eighth inning, that’s October baseball,” said second baseman Joe Panik, who capped off the rally by driving in the go-ahead run with a two-out double down the third base line.
As the ball skittered into the bullpen — where Sam Dyson was warming up — Tony Watson looked at his fellow reliever and at first, calmly told him to move, then, more urgently, “Dude, get out of the way!” Watson, balancing on one leg as he threw, just barely hopped over the ball and allowed it to pass, allowing Austin Slater to score.
With two outs in the ninth, Dyson walked Martin Maldonado, then allowed a bleeder through the right side to pinch hitter Addison Russell. In the finest tradition of Torture, he got Kyle Schwarber to pop out to Crawford in shallow center to end the game.
For retiring manager Bruce Bochy — now 23 wins away from 2,000 for his career with 61 to play— the Giants’ three extra-inning walk-off wins this week plus Monday’s comeback elicited memories of the 2010 World Series team, which tortured fans with bullpen gymnastics and comeback wins on their way to the club’s first championship since moving West.
“Similar,” Bochy said. “It’s exciting. Guys are used to playing these tight ballgames, they’ve done a great job at finding a way to win ‘em.”
Starter Shaun Anderson allowed a 454-foot splash hit by Robel Garcia in the second and a Kyle Schwarber bomb with two outs in the third. With one out in the fourth, he hit Anthony Rizzo with a 1-1 slider, Garcia bunted him over and Jason Heyward took a five-pitch walk. Albert Almora Jr. lined a single to right, and while Slater’s throw home beat Rizzo, Stephen Vogt’s tag did not. Anderson got behind Cubs starter Alec Mills 3-0 before fanning him to end the inning with the bases loaded.
The Giants — hitting .205 over their first four home games after the All-Star break — got two on with no outs in the bottom of the frame, but only managed a run as Vogt’s leadoff double was cashed in on a first-pitch double play by Pillar.
Panik led off the fifth with a single, then a Brandon Belt flare dropped in front of Almora and Mike Yastrzemski lined an RBI single through the right side. It was his 10th RBI since July 15, a period over which he’s hit .395. That chased Mills, but reliever Kyle Ryan got Sandoval to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
In his bullpen debut, Drew Pomeranz — who had a first-inning ERA of 10.59 in his starts — was able to rear back and throw in the mid-90s, striking out four and retiring six straight.
The Cubs would add an insurance run in the eighth on an RBI double by Rizzo off of Trevor Gott, illiciting a sizeable “Let’s Go Cubbies” chant from a crowd of 37,119 — mostly Chicago fans.
Those chants were replaced by “Let’s Go Giants” as Sandoval doubled to right to lead off the eighth. He would score on a Brandon Crawford worm burner up the middle. Pillar legged out a fielder’s choice on a would-be double play, and with two outs, Slater tied things up with a double over the outstretched glove of Almora into Triples Alley, before scoring on Panik’s two-bagger, pitting the Giants over .500 for the first time since Aug. 14, 2018.
Winners of 16 of their last 19 games, San Francisco (51-50) has climbed back up above .500 after sinking as far as 12 games below as late as May 31. Once in last place in the NL West, the Giants are now in third, just two games back of the second National League wild card.
“There’s something about this team,” Panik said.
“They’re fighting, and that’s what it takes,” said Bochy. “They believe.”
San Francisco is now two games back of the second wild card, and improved to 23-10 in one-run games — best in the Major Leagues — in large part thanks to their coveted bullpen that owns the sixth-best ERA in baseball, and second-best in the National League. That bullpen is full of valuable trade chips for a team needing to rebuild, but it’s also one that would be crucial to a playoff run, something that president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi acknowledged on Saturday.
“In here, the trade talk has stopped,” Panik said, sweeping his eyes across the clubhouse. “It feels good to be here on July 22, and making a playoff push.”