On the far side of the narrow channel of water that runs along the shores of China Basin stands a statute of Willie McCovey, the Hall of Famer and San Francisco Giants legend.
At his feet, emblazoned onto plaques on the bank of McCovey Cove, are the names of Giants icons past and present: Jack Clark, Joe Morgan, Mike Krukow, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Madison Bumgarner, to name a few.
It’s the list of Willie Mac Award winners, the annual honor bestowed upon the most inspirational Giant.
No one wins it in April, but Andrew McCutchen, already entrenched as a team leader and author of clutch moments, is the early front runner.
McCutchen, who along with Evan Longoria, was one of two former franchise cornerstones imported to jolt the Giants lineup, has delivered a pair of walk-off wins in his first 10 games.
The first such walk-off was a final flourish on one of the most productive offensive games in baseball history. Fittingly, it came against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Saturday night.
McCutchen struck a three-run homer in the 14th inning to send everyone home.
“It’s one of those Giants-Dodgers games that will be talked about,” manager Bruce Bochy gushed.
With that drive, McCutchen became the second player in MLB’s Modern Era (since 1900) to record at least six hits and a walk-off home run in a game.
“Oh yeah,” McCutchen said when asked if he knew he’d exited the park. “When you hit a homer, you know how it feels.”
McCutchen, it seems, has that “champions blood,” as Pence would say.
Bochy loves watching his new right-fielder do what he does.
“He’s been great,” Bochy said. “I’ll start with that.
“He’s been a lot of fun,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed watching how he goes about his business, how he prepares for a game [and] how he plays the game.”
In his short time with the club, McCutchen has shown a propensity for finding himself in the middle of the action. He’s aggressive — for better and worse — in right field, runs with abandon on the base paths and owns that pair of walk-offs at the plate.
His second game-winner, a ninth-inning single to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, wasn’t nearly as dramatic as his Dodger bomb. As he waited in the dugout, McCutchen recognized that the big stage was once again beckoning.
“I was just sitting there like, ‘This is about to happen again,’” McCutchen recalled. “Just telling myself, not trying to psych myself out, but in the sense just getting pumped and excited because that chance was possible. And then it happened, and I was able to come through.”
Bochy often talks about how he admired McCutchen from afar before the veteran landed with the Giants. Having the the 2014 National League MVP on his roster has only bolstered that already healthy level of respect.
“When you have great players and you get to see them everyday, really you can appreciate their gifts and talents even more,” Bochy said. “[To] see how he competes up there with the game on the line. I enjoy watching that.”
McCutchen has been a hit with his teammates, too.
He carries himself with the confidence of a five-time All-Star and former MVP, often holding court in a veteran corner of the clubhouse that he shares with Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Austin Jackson and Gregor Blanco. He’s built a fast rapport with Barry Bonds, who’s been a fixture at batting practice and who, like McCutchen, starred in Pittsburgh before embarking on a second act in San Francisco.
“He’s great in that clubhouse, too,” Bochy said. “Guys have fun with him. He’s got an outstanding personality that is fun to be around.”
Buster Posey, who brought a .375 average into the weekend, has seemingly benefited from being bracketed in the lineup by McCutchen and Longoria, even if the latter is still finding his swing.
Before the Giants headed out on their current 10-day, three-city road trip, Longoria, as he made his way through the clubhouse, told reporters that he was reluctant to show his face in restaurants around San Francisco. He wants more hits first.
Asked if he was serious, Longoria said he was only half joking.
“You want to impress guys,” Longoria said. “I haven’t played against or with a lot of these guys. It sucks, for lack of a better term. But, like I’ve seen, I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s going to end at some point. It’s just tough when you’re going through it to convince yourself that it is going to end.”
As one former All-Star searches, McCutchen, a smile ever on his face and his pant legs always pulled up to his knees, is feeling right at home, especially when the lights get bright.
“They’re rare. You don’t get the opportunity a whole lot, and when you do, you’re not always going to come through,” McCutchen said. “But I definitely love those situations because those are lasting ones, those are lasting impressions that you are leaving on fans, on teammates, on everyone.”