Sandoval, Giants stay hot with 11-inning walkoff

It took the Giants and Cubs 11 innings to untie the knot in their series-opener at AT&T Park Monday night.

San Francisco (48-45) faced a familiar scenario: a close ballgame that would be left for the bullpens to sort out. And familiarly reliable faces Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Reyes Moronta and Ty Blach (W, 6-5, 4.57 ERA) tag-teamed to get the Giants the 15 required outs, without giving an inch.

It was eventually Pablo Sandoval who found a way to break through with a liner to left off Pedro Strop in the bottom of the ninth to take the 2-1 victory over the Cubs (51-37) and tag Steve Cishek (L, 2-1, 2.01 ERA), against whom the Giants set the table, with the loss.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

There were hopeful moments on both sides that things could come to a decision sooner than the 11th inning. 

The Cubs got men on first and second in the sixth. Ben Zobrist hit a two-out double in the ninth. Hunter Pence roped a one-out triple to center with one out in the 10th, setting the stage for either Chase d’Arnaud or rookie Steven Duggar, both freshly called up from Triple-A, to make his mark with a walk-off. But none of these amounted to anything.

In the end, it came down to Sandoval who, after the humbling experience of being unceremoniously released by the Boston Red Sox mid-2017 season and returning as something of a prodigal son after a fractious 2015 divorce from the team that raised him, has found redemption in being whatever the Giants have needed him to be this year.

A guy who was not supposed to be the Giants starting anything this year, but has dutifully taken over at third since Evan Longoria  fractured his hand several weeks ago.

A guy who has played no fewer than four positions (five if you count the DH) this season for the Giants, including pitching a hitless ninth inning against the Dodgers in a blowout earlier this year to save a bullpen gearing up for the second half of a double-header. A guy who was responsible for five of the Giants 13 RBIs Sunday afternoon. A guy who once upon a time was present for three San Francisco titles in four years.

And Monday night, a guy who got the bases-loaded clutch-hit that sent the Cubs fans among the 38,024 at the yard home unhappy, while what seemed a smaller contingent of Giants fans enjoyed smug jubilation as the Giants winning flag was hoisted up the right field foul pole.

Sandoval demurred from talking much about the big picture, what he’s meant to the Giants or what the Giants have meant to him:

 “All the guys here — 25 guys — we’ve got one goal: to try to play every day, hard. I come here every day to have fun and play the game the right way. I got a good pitch to hit so I got that hit to win the game.”

The Giants couldn’t do much with Kyle Hendricks (ND, 5-8, 3.93 ERA), and the Cubs didn’t muster much against Andrew Suárez (ND, 3-5, 3.75 ERA), either. For the first 10 innings the only action came on runs-thrown-in, one apiece.

Suarez’s 15th start of the season wasn’t his strongest in terms of command. He walked a season-high four batters, and it took him a season-high 103 pitches to get through just six innings. But he gutted it out, allowing just the just one run on three hits, keeping his team in the game.

He said:

“I just kept grinding and tried to throw strikes. I didn’t really have my stuff as you can see with the four walks, but keeping that lineup with just one run definitely says a lot.”

A wild throw to first from Alen Hanson, on what should have been an inning-ending double play in the third, that even all six-feet-and-five-inches of Brandon Belt couldn’t salvage, allowed Albert Almora Jr. to score from third base — the first of the runs-thrown-in.

Hendricks had no issue with command, notching a season-high eight strikeouts — and also breaching the century mark with a season-high 109 pitches. But in his case, the high workload came to 8-1/3 innings as Joe Maddon, a manager of the old-school variety, sought to let him finish his own game even if it meant entering the ninth at 102 pitches. Nevertheless, with one out Hendricks walked Belt and Maddon pulled the plug, replacing him with Randy Rosario.

An errant pick-off throw in the fifth was a run-thrown-in of Hendricks’ own making, though.

His attempt to catch the speedy Hanson sleeping was haphazard and got by Anthony Rizzo, allowing Hanson to make amends for his miscue in the third. As Rizzo and second baseman Javier Báez chased the errant throw down, Hanson just kept running.

Through translator Erwin Higueros, Hanson said:

“I turned around at second base and I saw the third base coach called me to come over to third. Then I turned my head over to see Báez, where he was, and I saw that he was pretty far away.”

Báez caught up with the ball near the visiting bullpen, but perhaps not believing Hanson would have the gall to swipe home, he paused, and Hanson did just that, tying it up 1-1.

Hanson said he took it upon himself to take the final 90-feet, admitting that the normal play would’ve been for him to stay at third once Báez got to the ball, but he blew through third base coach Ron Wotus’ stop sign to challenge the Cubs second baseman.

Hanson added:

“I think that he thought that I wasn’t going to try to score from first and when I saw that he was just taking his time and when I saw that he lowered his guard, that’s when I took advantage of that fact and scored from first.”

Bochy was glad to benefit from Hanson’s wheels on the base paths:

“That’s what speed does and you don’t see that very often from first base. It was a close play at the plate, but its nice to have speed out there like that and we needed it because [Hendricks] was tough.”

Up Next

It was previously believed that Johnny Cueto (3-1, 1.95 ERA) would make his second start after coming back from the brink of Tommy John surgery Tuesday facing Cubs southpaw José Quintana (7-6, 4.22 ERA) in the 7:15 p.m. game. But that was called into question after Monday’s game when Bochy hinted that Derek Holland, who was moved to the bullpen when Cueto first returned, had a start in his near future. Bochy said he would make information on the status of Holland’s start available later.

Notes

Posey has declined his selection to this year’s All Star Game as a reserve catcher so that he can treat right hip inflammation that has nagged him for most of the season. He will receive cortisone injections and take the break to rest the injury. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will go in his stead. … MLB announced Sunday that Belt is among five players eligible for the Final Vote to fill the remaining roster spot on the National League All Start Team. Fans can submit unlimited votes until Wednesday, July 11, at 4 p.m. … Giants No. 2 overall draft pick Joey Bart hit a Grand Slam for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Monday night


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.