ORACLE PARK — In the bottom of the 10th on Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs, after having committed what could have been a costly, game-losing error the inning prior, Pablo Sandoval grounded out weakly to second with the bases loaded.
Through 12 innings, the beloved Giants third baseman — who had succeeded as a part-time player in the first half, but had begun to struggle when thrust into a starting role — was 0-for-5. He’d grounded into a pair of twin killings.
Then, leading off the 13th, he crushed a shin-high first-pitch offering for a solo home run the other way to left to cap off a 5-4 win, the Giants’ fourth walkoff win in six days, all of which went into extra innings – the first time the team has accomplished the feat since 1958, the year it moved to San Francisco.
The home run was the fourth walk off blast by Sandoval and his first on the year, and like Donovan Solano’s walk-off five days ago, helped take the sting out of what may very well have been Madison Bumgarner’s final start as a Giant at Oracle Park.
“You guys like extra innings?” manager Bruce Bochy asked reporters gathered for his end-of-game press conference. “You’ve come to the right place.”
Sandoval’s round-tripper, combined with another solid effort from Bumgarner, moved San Francisco (52-50) a season-high two games over .500. The Giants have now won 17 of their past 20 – the first time the club has gone 17-3 in a 20-game stretch since 2001. By improving to 10-2 in extra innings, San Francisco stays just two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League wild card.
“It’s probably the best stretch I’ve been a part of,” said Bumgarner, who has been a part of three World Series teams.
Though Bumgarner was quick to give credit to his teammates, the lefthander himself has been essential to the Giants’ run, going 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his past six starts (36 innings).
San Francisco’s sudden charge into postseason contention has called into question what was, at least a month ago, a surety that the Giants would be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. In an indication of the local sentiment surrounding the resurgent Giants, fans behind home plate brandished signs reading, “We love you MadBum,” and, “Please don’t do it Mr. Zaidi” – a plea to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi not to trade the 2014 World Series MVP.
Now, the Giants appear to have a real shot at making the playoffs, an appealing narrative in what could be the last season for both Bumgarner and manager Bruce Bochy, with Bochy retiring and Bumgarner’s five-year $35 million contract set to expire at the end of 2019.
“I don’t care about that,” Bumgarner said in response to a question about potential moves the Giants could make before the deadline. “Nobody in here cares about that. We’re just trying to win games. We are winning games. All that matters is us. All that other stuff is just noise.”
“We want to win games and go out there fire-breathing,” Sandoval said. “No matter what moves they make, it’s not our decision. We’re going to continue to play for the Giants.”
Bumgarner got through seven innings on 102 pitches, giving up three earned runs on six hits and striking out seven. It was the lefthander’s 14th quality start of the year and came after a one-run, nine-inning performance his last time out against the Mets.
The outing saw the battery of Bumgarner and Buster Posey extend its franchise-leading mark for starts by a pitcher-catcher pair in the franchise’s West Coast era to 193. Mike Krukow and Bob Brenly are the next closest duo with 141 games between them.
“He’s the face of the team,” Sandoval said. “He’s the greatest pitcher I’ve ever played with.”
Left fielder Alex Dickerson made a triumphant return to the Giants lineup after being on the bench in three of the team’s past four games with back soreness. He doubled in his first at-bat in the second, narrowly missing a home run on a ball lofted to Triples Alley. He would tie the game at 1-1 on a sac-fly by Mike Yastrzemski, avoiding the tag as left fielder Kyle Schwarber threw a seed to the plate.
The first two runs scored off Bumgarner came twice from the one-two punch of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. In the first, Baez doubled and scampered in on an RBI single by Bryant. In the third, Baez singled then stole second and third before Bryant again knocked him in with a single.
Baez and Bryant represented four of the six baserunners that reached base against Bumgarner in his first 13. After that, Bumgarner sat down the next 10 batters en route to his sixth straight start in which he has allowed three or fewer runs – the stretch includes a two-inning outing against the Cardinals in which he was pegged by a liner on his left elbow and left the game.
Dickerson again jump-started the Giants offense in the fourth when he muscled a 372-foot opposite-field blast over the head of Schwarber to open a three-run inning. Kevin Pillar, the team leader in RBIs, gave San Francisco the lead three batters later on a two-run double ripped into the left-center gap.
Pillar and Dickerson were the only Giants to record multi-hit games, with two apiece.
Chicago crept back into the game in the seventh and eighth, scoring a run each inning and knotting the score at four. The game proceeded into extra innings when neither team could score in the ninth and the Giants used the services of Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson, Will Smith, Mark Melancon and Sam Coonrod to span the next six innings. Coonrod, in particular, was impressive in the 13th, consistently hitting 98 and 99 with his fastball and mowing down the heart of the Cubs order in Baez, Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to record his first major league win.
With the Giants now owners of the best — and deepest — bullpen in the National League, San Francisco could stand to part with relievers at the deadline to improve the team for the playoff push, rather than dealing closer Will Smith and Bumgarner for prospects. Those relievers held the line, as the Giants twice came within inches of a win.
Pillar was inches away from ending the game with a walkoff homer of his own in the 10th, and with two men on later in the inning, reliever Steve Cishek hit Posey in the lower leg — coming an inch away from throwing a wild pitch and allowing the winning run to score. Instead, Sandoval grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat, making him 16-for-76 (.211) with just two home runs since June 22, after he hit a team-leading .291 with nine home runs over his first 68 games.
After the game, Sandoval said that he joked with his Pillar that he was stronger than him because of Pillar’s near-miss.
Three innings later, he put an end to the game with his first-pitch, opposite-field shot, sending a 93-mph fastball 356 feet — short enough that it required review — to left for his first homer since July 6.