The San Francisco Giants keep on making history, and, they hope, if they can make enough of it, management may just keep them together.
That was starter Jeff Samardzija’s sentiment after the Giants beat the San Diego Padres 2-1 in 11 innings on a Pablo Sandoval home run, after a loving tribute to retiring manager Bruce Bochy: “It’s pretty obvious right now the direction we should be going,” he told reporters after allowing just one run over six innings.
Samardzija may have had nothing to do with the decision, but his recent run of success, combined with that of Madison Bumgarner, have helped San Francisco win 17 of its last 23 games, making the front office’s approach to the trade deadline all the more complicated. Needing to acquire prospects for a future rebuild, the prospect of winning now has become very real.
Over the last 10 games, the Giants have played into extra innings six times in their last 10 games — the first time they’ve done that since 1912, which is as far back as such records go. The 1996 Boston Red Sox are the last team to play six extra-inning games in a 10-game span.
For the second time in that span, it was Sandoval who provided the winning blow. In the top of the 11th inning against Padres reliever Logan Allen, Sandoval pounded a 1-2 fastball into left center field. A Giants fan — wearing a Willie Mays jersey with a baby in the crook of his left arm — reached out with his right hand to snare the drive. Sandoval — who sent the Giants home in 13 innings with a homer just four days prior and whose pop-up on July 19 beat the Mets in extras — would later say that father’s catch was the most impressive play of the night.
The Giants had gotten ahead in the third on a double by Donovan Solano — who’s now 22-for-59 in the month of July (.373) — but the Padres evened things up with an Austin Hedges fifth-inning homer off the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left. He did that just a half inning after San Francisco loaded the bases with no outs, but did not score.
San Francisco’s pitching, though, was as good as it’s been throughout the recent run of success, a run that’s made the front office reconsider dealing Bumgarner to kick-start what was once expected to be a several-year rebuild. After Samardzija tossed his fourth quality start in his last five outings and the five Giants relievers held the Padres scoreless for five innings, striking out four without a walk.
Once 12 games under .500 and in last place in the National League West, the Giants are now in second place in the division, and despite a -42 run differential (fourth-worst in the NL), are 2 1/2 games out of the second National League wild card.
With the best ERA of any bullpen in the National League, the relief corps is one place where the Giants can deal from and still remain competitive (they’re 25-10 in one-run games). Even without dealing closer Will Smith, San Francisco could package Mark Melancon and either Tony Watson or Sam Dyson for a clutch of prospects. All three threw shut-down innings on Friday.
Melancon, for his part, sat at 94 with his fastball and showed off a devastating curve, fanning two and earning his fourth win of the season. Since the All-Star break, Melancon has allowed just one run in 7 2/3 innings over six appearances. San Francisco is 6-0 in those games.
The bullpen got help from the defense, as Brandon Belt made an over-the-shoulder grab for the first out in the 11th, and Kevin Pillar helped send the game to extras with a running, leaping grab of a Wil Myers drive at the center field wall for the second out in the bottom of the ninth, eliciting a clapping ovation from Watson.