ORACLE PARK — Two weeks ago, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had joked that struggling rookie Jaylin Davis should take some advice from Willie Mays, who was 1-for-24 to start his career. One week ago, Bochy called Jaylin Davis into his office. As Davis entered, Mays was sitting across from Bochy’s desk, and he had some advice: Relax and have fun.
Davis, after being acquired at the trade deadline for top bullpen arm Sam Dyson and hitting 10 homers in 27 games with Triple-A Sacramento (35 on the year), was hitting just .143. The advice was easier to hear than to follow.
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the end of a 16-inning marathon loss to the Colorado Rockies, Davis slugged a 2-2 ninth-inning curveball over the center field wall for his first career homer — a walkoff shot to give San Francisco a 2-1 win to salvage a brilliant Jeff Samardzija start. Even in a meaningless game at the end of a third straight losing season, Davis and Farhan Zaidi’s other acquisitions gave a peek at an optimistic future.
“I’m excited to get some some guys in here and take a look at these young guys we have,” Samardzija said. “I know Farhan’s a competitive guy and he wants to compete. I want to win.”
Davis’s homer marked just the third time in big league history that a player’s first career home run decided a game. Anthony Alford became the second player to ever to have his first career homer be a walk-off only two days prior for the Toronto Blue Jays. Davis’s homer was preceded by a base knock to center in the seventh, Davis’s first hit since Sept. 11 — a span of 12 at-bats. He came into his final at-bat hitting .125.
“The last few days, I’ve been doing pretty good kind of back to myself,” Davis said. “When I got that first hit, it definitely helped out a lot.”
Along with Davis, Kevin Pillar — one of Zaidi’s first big league acquisitions in his first season as president of baseball operations — played a part, driving in the Giants’ first run in the second thanks to some dandy baserunning from Mauricio Dubon, Zaidi’s second baseman of the future. It was Dubon’s dancing off of third that prompted starter Tim Melville to throw a high changeup to Pillar, who banged it into center.
Pillar now has 43 RBIs at Oracle Park (16 more than the next-highest Giant, Evan Longoria) and 11 home runs, four more than Mike Yastrzemski. By any and all measures, since being acquired the first week of the season, the lifelong Dodgers fan has been the Giants’ MVP, having his most productive season at age 30 in a pitcher’s park.
“That Pillar signing might have changed our season,” Samardzija said.
Since being acquired by the Giants, he’s driven in 84 runs, and may wind up with 90 RBIs (a career-high) on a team that will have scored fewer than 700 runs (they have 668 as of Wednesday). He’ll pace the team in plate appearances, runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, stolen bases and the percentage of pitches he hit 100 mph or harder (4.9%). His RBI single? 100.7 mph. Despite his propensity to swing at the first pitch, he’ll also be second in OPS and batting average.
That run was enough for Samardzija, who threw six shutout innings on 111. It was a marked departure from earlier this season, when Samardzija was pulled frequently after five innings, as the Giants hoped to build up his arm strength after an injury-plagued 2018. On Wednesday, he allowed just five hits and a walk while striking out five.
The start was the last on the season for Samardzija, who threw 181 1/3 innings (12th in NL) and posted a 3.52 ERA (14th in the NL), the second-best ERA he’s posted in a full season as a starter. He’ll stay in San Francisco this offseason, replicating the winter of 2018, as his young son enters school. “I’m going to wear this training staff out,” he said.
Said Bochy: “He’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Once Samardzija was done, Tyler Rogers came in and put two on right away in the seventh. One of those two — Wolters — collided with Dubon while running from first to second as the Giants second baseman charged a would-be double play chopper by pinch hitter Yonder Alonso.
“It felt like a minivan,” said Dubon, who was on the ground for about two minutes, but stayed in the game after getting the wind knocked out of him.
Mauricio Dubon is a tough kid. He's staying in the game (for now) after going down hard: pic.twitter.com/WBRbTWbhWX
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) September 26, 2019
One out later, Raimel Tapia sent a bouncer up the middle. Brandon Crawford made a sliding grab, but threw low to Brandon Belt, who couldn’t pick it. The ball skipped away to the edge of the infield dirt, but Rockies first baseman Josh Fuentes seemed to slow at third. When he saw an upset Belt merely jog after it, Fuentes ran home with the tying run.
Dubon — like Davis, a foundational piece for Zaidi’s rebuild acquired at the deadline — kept the game tied in the eighth. He snared a line drive for the first out, and with men on second and third, threw a strike to Stephen Vogt at home on a Fuentes grounder for the second out. Fernando Abad came on and fanned Wolters to escape the jam.
Will Smith struck out the side in the nith, paving the way for Davis to end the proceedings two hours and 18 minutes earlier than the series opener.
In the locker room, Davis got the ball from a team staffer, and was thrown into a laundry basket. He knew the tradition — heaps of clubhouse detritus thrown on the game’s hero — and he didn’t want to know what was thrown on him. He closed his eyes, and just had fun.
“He had some pretty impressive numbers, and there are a lot of guys who have come up here who had a tough time getting it going,” Bochy said. “It couldn’t come at a better time.”