Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were supposed to get the day off. With a quick turnaround back to San Francisco on Sunday night, the three veterans — along with Buster Posey — were going to get a rest in the finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It’s a good thing for San Francisco that they didn’t.
Belt and Crawford’s defense helped keep the Diamondbacks off the board in the ninth, and Sandoval hit his seventh home run of the year — his second as a pinch hitter in as many days — to secure a 3-2 win in the 10th, bringing the Giants home with their first series win since May 1. It was the second time in six tries that San Francisco has won a deciding game of a series this season.
“Amazing, it really is, what he’s doing,” said manager Bruce Bochy said about Sandoval, who became the first Giant since Armando Rios in 1998 to hit pinch-hit homers on back-to-back days (Sept. 4-5 at Dodger Stadium). “And, with two strikes, you expect good things to happen. That’s how good he’s been.”
Over Sandoval’s previous six games, he’d hit three homers, two doubles, knocked in six runs and hit a scorching .421, but the reason he wasn’t in the lineup on Sunday was that left-hander Robbie Ray was on the mound, and Sandoval would be hitting right-handed against him. Sandoval, hitting .293 this season as a part-time player, is a better hitter from the left side than the right (.294 versus .247). The same reasoning held for the left-handed swinging Belt and Crawford.
Longoria was an easy decision to start over Sandoval, especially given his 5-for-8 career line against the slider specialist Ray. In the top of the third, Longoria — who had earlier in the day gotten his sixth hit off of Ray Ray — drew a five-pitch, bases-loaded walk in the third, following a six-pitch free pass to Tyler Austin, to give San Francisco a 1-0 lead. After seeing 10 pitches his first at-bat, Kevin Pillar sent a first-pitch grounder to first off the end of his bat to score another, before Ray was able to get out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Giants starter Drew Pomeranz held the Diamondbacks hitless over his first three innings.
Before a lat strain sat Pomeranz down following a disastrous May 6 start where he allowed seven runs on nine hits, the Giants’ offseason acquisition was having the worst year of his professional career, with a 5.93 ERA, eight home runs allowed in 30 1/3 innings and opponents hitting .295 against him.
After dancing around two walks and a hit batter in his first three innings, things came apart in the fourth. David Peralta sent a 108-mph liner off of Pomeranz’s left leg to lead off the inning, hitting just over the lefthander’s knee. The ball ricocheted to Longoria, who had a chance to throw him out, but couldn’t get the ball to first in time. With two men on, Pomeranz left a middle-in fastball out over the plate at the belt, and Nick Ahmed bounced a ground-rule double over the right field fence, scoring one.
On a 1-1 offering to John Ryan Murphy, Pomeranz and Stephen Vogt got their signs crossed, and a fastball up and in hit off the mask of home plate umpire Joe West and to the Giants dugout, bringing home the tying run.
Ray exited after having thrown 87 pitches in four innings, but despite Pomeranz being at 83 pitches, he kept going into the bottom of the fifth, given the fact that San Francisco needed to save bullpen innings, with call-up Andrew Suarez and rookie Shaun Anderson slated to start the next two days. Pomeranz got highlight-reel plays from Pillar in right — a diving snag on a sinking liner — and Longoria — spearing a hot shot up the line, but walked Peralta. Trevor Gott came in to get the final out to end the frame.
“The stuff was good,” Bochy said of Pomeranz. “It was up a tick. I thought he had great stuff. He’s a good competitor, and wanted to show him some confidence, too. He wasn’t showing any signs of wearing down. He came in after four and said, ‘I feel pretty good, man, I’d like to go back out,’ but we let him start the inning, and once he let a guy on, we got a little concerned there with 90-some pitches first start back, but I was really impressed.”
With the score still tied and Nick Ahmed aboard to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Sam Dyson, the Giants caught a break. Instead of sending Ahmed to steal off the slow-to-the-plate Dyson, the Diamondbacks elected to bunt him over, burning an out. A grounder by Blake Swihart off the mound — which ricocheted to Panik — moved Ahmed to third, and, after a lengthy review, Swihart was called out on what appeared to be a tie at the first base bag, thanks to a good stretch by Belt, who entered as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth.
A top-spin shot to the hole at short by Adam Jones looked to score Ahmed, but a diving Brandon Crawford — who pinch hit for Solano in the eighth — spoiled the would-be game winner. Crawford he backhanded the ball on the bounce, popped up and fired to a stretching Belt to nip the fast-running Jones at first.
“That saved the game for us,” Bochy said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that. The game’s over, and he makes that play, and Belt, nice job on his end. Gave us a chance there.”
Sandoval led off the 10th against split-finger right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano, carrying his heavy bat — a 35-ouncer — to keep his hands back. He got behind 1-2, then drove a 92-mph fastball well off the plate away 415 feet and into the left field seats for what would prove to be the game-winning home run, tying Belt for the team lead, and giving him the big-league lead for pinch hits, with nine in 25 at-bats.
“It’s really incredible what he’s done off the bench,” Bochy said. “He’s just playing unbelievable baseball. When he’s not starting, that’s a pretty nice weapon, coming off the bench. He delivered in a big way.”