ORACLE PARK — As the Oakland Athletics loaded the bases against San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith, down by two runs, Oracle Park was filled with constant, dueling, overlapping chants of “Let’s Go Giants” and “Let’s Go Oakland!”
For the first time since 2014 — when both the A’s and Giants made the postseason — both Bay Area teams are within four games of at least a wild card berth. On Tuesday night, a heavily mixed crowd showed it.
In an electric playoff-like atmosphere, Smith struck out powerful first baseman Matt Olson for the second out, then walked Mark Canha to cut the lead to one, only to get Chad Pinder swinging on a fastball up as the crowd erupted. A study in contrasts, Tuesday’s 3-2 Giants win served to show just why the A’s should be nervous headed down the stretch, and why, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, San Francisco has reason to hope.
”Sometimes,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “you wish you had a seatbelt in the dugout.”
The Giants (60-60) have now won 28 one-run games, and while they only just returned to .500, they’re three games back of the second National League wild card. They got there against a team 15 games over .500 that is, nevertheless, only 2 1/2 games back of the second American League wild card.
While the A’s made three moves ahead of the trade deadline to go all-in on a playoff run, the Giants played both buyer and seller. San Francisco kept ace Madison Bumgarner and Smith instead of dealing them for prospects to fuel a rebuild, adding Scooter Gennett and still finding a way to add a handful of intriguing prospects.
The Giants have gone 9-1 in Bumgarner’s last 10 starts, a stretch over which he’s 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA, holding opponents to just a .200 average.
On Tuesday, he fanned eight of the first 14 men he faced, getting calls a ball’s-width off the plate, weak contact and uncertain half swings. The only hit he allowed before a fifth-inning solo homer to Stephen Piscotty a twisting first-inning pop-up to the right side that Aramis Garcia — just called up and playing for former Gold Glover Brandon Belt — was unable to track.
“He was in control the whole way, commanding the strike zone so well tonight,” Bochy said of Bumgarner. “Everything worked.”
Piscotty’s homer on a 2-2 thigh-high fastball was emblematic of the power differential between the two teams. After Tuesday, the A’s had 185 home runs to the Giants’ 126 (27th in baseball). While San Francisco (60-60) hasn’t been able to generate much offense at home (.229/.293/ .366 with 47 homers in 60 games) and saw a 420-foot Bumgarner drive to Triples Alley end up in Piscotty’s mitt, they did showcase their penchant for the dramatic.
After throwing five innings of three-hit, shutout ball, A’s starter Brett Anderson allowed three straight two-out doubles in the sixth. First was a Buster Posey drive to Triples Alley. Then, Evan Longoria — who, before going down with a foot injury, hit .400 with six homers over the first two weeks of July as San Francisco went 7-2 — sent a two-bagger of his own over a leaping Matt Chapman at third, tying things up at 1-1. Kevin Pillar smacked a first-pitch changeup to left center put the Giants ahead.
A pair of walks by Jake Diekman to lead off the seventh, plus a sac bunt by Bumgarner and a fly ball by Gennett added to the lead.
The A’s got a bloop single from Dustin Garneau and a soft liner up the middle from Khris Davis, and after Smith got a check-swing strikeout from Marcus Semien, Chapman sent a payoff pitch deep down the line in left, only to have it land just foul as the crowd of 36,663 stood. Smith, trying to will the ball out of play, said to himself, “Go foul. Please.”
“I was walking down the line, just hoping it would go foul, and thank God it did,” Smith said.
On the next pitch, Chapman sent a single to right, through the shift, to load the bases, setting off another round of dueling chants and sending Sam Coonrod sprinting to the bullpen mound.
“Will’s earned every second he’s got out there,” Bumgarner said. “He hasn’t given anyone any reason to doubt him.”
Smith — who threw 36 pitches out of the stretch to Bumgarner’s two — fanned Olson, but couldn’t finish off Canha after getting ahead 2-2. Buster Posey blocked a slider in the dirt to prevent runners from advancing, but Smith missed again to walk in a run. Smith then he got Pinder swinging to sew up his 29th save of the season.
“We just had to throw in a little bit of Torture there,” Bochy said.
San Francisco has now won four of its last five, including a series win over Philadelphia, another playoff contender.
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