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Giants take battle of the bullpens, claim series from Phils

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Sunday’s series finale between the Giants and Phillies turned into a bullpen game, but the Giants put a new spin on the term.

Not only did the Giants require seven relief arms in the series-clinching 9-6 victory over the Phillies (60-58), but closer Will Smith (W, 4-0, 2.42 ERA) enjoyed his first big-league at-bat to the max with a two-out knock in the eighth, good for a pair of RBI to go with his ‘W.’

This story will be updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

After Tony Watson stumbled in the eighth inning, Bruce Bochy asked Smith to clock in a little early to protect a one-run lead and bail Watson out.

Corey Dickerson executed a sac fly off Smith to tie it up, though, handing the lights-out closer just his third blown save in 29 opportunities in 2019. It set the stage for what Smith described as:

“The peak of my fun-ness on a baseball field.”

Evan Longoria led off the bottom of the eighth with a single off of José Álvarez  (L, 3-3, 3.02 ERA) and he took second on a Nick Pivetta wild pitch two batters later.

With two outs Kevin Pillar launched a triple to center to snatch back the lead. The Phils then decided to walk Brandon Crawford to get to Smith, assuming Bochy would leave him in to pitch the ninth and he’d make an easy out. This turned out to be a big mistake on Philadelphia skipper Gabe Kapler‘s part.

Bochy said Smith did not shy away from the opportunity:

“He’s been wanting to hit, I know he’s been talking about it. He was excited about getting the chance to hit up there.”

That might be an understatement. Of his previous attempts to persuade Bochy to send him to the plate, Smith said:

“On my off days I’ll carry around a bat all day just to see if he’ll put me in but he hasn’t, so today was finally the day I got in.”

Smith chuckled and grinned broadly as he stepped in to take his first at-bat in a live game since his playing days at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida.

He watched the first three pitches from Pivetta go by for balls. Then after sitting on a called strike-one, he swung, sending a 94-mph fastball over the heart of the plate into right field, and taking off for first.

Bochy said he was worried the elite closer wasn’t running fast enough. He speculated that maybe Smith thought where the ball was hit made it a guaranteed knock.

“I think he was so excited about the base hit, I don’t know how hard he was going down the line. We were yelling, ‘RUN!’ Harper threw it to first and if it’s on the money he probably would have been out or I know it would have been close.”

Smith said he wasn’t dawdling. He laughed:

“I’m just that slow. That’s just how it goes.”

From first base, Smith could be seen giggling with glee at the turn of events. Both Pillar and Crawford had scored, and he would now be able to lord this hit over the two other Giants relievers, Jandel Gustave and Smith’s locker-mate Trevor Gott, who also made their first career big league plate appearances Sunday and failed to get hits.

“I felt like a little leaguer out there when I was running the bases. I was just having fun playing baseball. I felt like a little kid honestly.”

Scooter Gennett, who gave the Giants the lead two innings earlier on what should have been a much more noteworthy hit—a Splash Hit homer into McCovey Cove, the third of the weekend—said the idea of Smith getting a shot at the plate had been discussed in the dugout:

“We were actually talking about that earlier about how he needs to get an at-bat, I think that was in like the second or third inning. And he was like, ‘I rake!’ Obviously he does.”

Smith said he uses the same model of bat that Giants Silver Slugging Madison Bumgarner hefts, and he plans to make sure people remember that he’s a weapon off the bench:

“I’m the leader of the bullpen of raking now.”

Brandon Crawford, for one, believes it. As Smith fielded post-game questions from reporters, Crawford said:

“Will, I’ll be here early Tuesday if you wanna show me how to do it.”

Before Smith proved himself a slugger Sunday afternoon, though, the Giants and Phillies put on a wild show.

Neither starter made it past the third inning, and San Francisco took the opportunity to prove that even after selling off several significant pieces at the trade deadline, they maintain an extremely formidable bullpen.

If not for a stellar Saturday performance from Jeff Samardzija, in which the big righty ate up eight innings, the Giants would have had a much more difficult go of it, though. As it stood they had plenty of arms ready to go in what turned into a nearly seven-inning relay race for the bullpen.

The Giants gave the rookie starter Conner Menez (ND, 0-1, 7.11 ERA) a two-run lead to play with early.

Brandon Belt drew a walk from Jake Arrieta (ND, 8-8, 4.64 ERA) to lead off the bottom of the first, and Mike Yastrzemski walloped his 14th double off the left field wall. With runners at first and third, Longoria singled to left to clear the bases.

And Menez had a superb first frame. He whiffed Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, and coaxed a fly-out from Jean Segura. It seemed a good omen, but it was not to last. 

It appeared that a different Menez came out for the second frame. He issued back-to-back free passes to J.T. Realmuto and Scott Kingery right out of bed, and though he managed to whiff Sean Rodríguez he could not find his rhythm again.

Bochy said he was surprised to see Menez lose his control because that’s usually a strong point for him:

“He just had trouble getting the ball where he wanted and sometimes when that happens, especially for a young player, it’s hard for them to get back on track.”

César Hernández slapped a liner down the left-field line that Longoria was able to stop at the infield, but could not make a play. With the bases loaded Menez struck Arrieta out, but he forced home a run by walking Roman Quinn, which brought up Harper, the last guy the Giants wanted at the plate with the bases loaded.

The highly touted right fielder hit a soft single to center to score two and take a 3-2 lead. Bochy had seen enough, and at 51 pitches he changed course bringing Gustave in to get San Francisco off the field.

The Phillies charged right back in the third. With Gustave back out for another inning he allowed a Realmuto single and a Kingery double before Bochy hooked him for Andy Suárez.

Suárez almost got the Giants out of the jam scot-free, but Hernández beat the shift with a slow grounder up the middle and two scored, putting the Phillies up 5-2.

Bochy said he enjoys managing these types of ballgames even if they seem outwardly stressfull:

“They’re actually fun, they really are. You’re seeing things that you normally don’t see—pitchers hitting, guys coming in to pick each other up. And it’s a little tougher to navigate when you go to the pen that early but it actually becomes a little bit of a chess game, so I enjoy it. It’s up to us to get creative.”

The afternoon was young, and the Phillies hadn’t heard the last of the Giants offense.

With one out in the third, Yastrzemski launched the inning’s opening salvo with a solo homer to right (12). Longoria singled to follow and Gennett doubled him home. A Pillar single down the left-field line tied it up at five apiece.

Gennett’s sixth-inning leadoff splash hit wouldn’t be quite enough to seal the deal and it was easily outshone by Smith’s lousy single, but it was certainly a marvel to look at.

Gennett said the atmosphere in the dugout after Smith’s knock was much more exciting:

“It was pretty crazy. It’s like, ‘Wow a pitcher gets out there who hasn’t taken a swing all year and gets a hit’. It was almost more exciting than a grand slam, just a single to right. I’m just glad he was able to get the first base on time.”

Up Next

The Giants will enjoy a day off Monday before opening a two-game set at Oracle Park with the Oakland A’s. The Giants will take advantage of the off-day to utilize a four-man rotation, allowing them to avoid making any rotation-decisions with Shaun Anderson on the mend from a blister on the middle finger of his right hand. Madison Bumgarner (7-7, 3.74 ERA) is scheduled to take on Athletics southpaw Brett Anderson (10-7, 3.99 ERA)

Notes

Pablo Sandoval has received less playing time this week due to right elbow inflammation according to Bochy. The Giants hope the off day will help clear that up.


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