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Deconstructing the ‘crazy’ moment of Will Smith’s baseball life


Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports


In the bowels of Oracle Park was Trevor Gott, who had already pitched (and hit!) and was watching on TV from the clubhouse.

“I think I smiled the rest of the night,” the reliever said. “I was just so happy for him.”

In the dugout, there was mostly insanity with a touch of concern.

“It’s pretty crazy,” described Scooter Gennett. “… Kind of mixed emotions. Shock. It’s almost more exciting than a grand slam. … I’m just glad he was able to get to first base on time.”

Right, getting to first base. On the top step of the dugout was Bruce Bochy, who hadn’t let the jumping all around him peel his eyes away from the field.

“We were yelling, ‘Run!'” the manager recounted. “[Bryce] Harper threw it to first. If it’s on the money, he probably would’ve been out. … Smitty, I think he assumed that that’s a hit. I know he’s not the fastest guy.”

And there, safely on first, 90 feet from home plate, wearing a smile as big as the down-the-middle fastball he just saw, was Will Smith, who didn’t hear a word Bochy & Co. were shouting — “I was blacking out a little bit” — and who might take some offense to Bochy’s subtle charge of celebrating too early.

“No,” Will Smith said after his two-out, two-run single propelled the Giants to a 9-6 victory over the Phillies on Sunday night. “I’m just that slow.”

To be fair, the Giants didn’t have much to work on to gauge just how slow he is. This was the first at-bat of his professional life, in a major league career that began in 2012. This was his first at-bat, he said, since he played at Gulf Coast Community College.

Were you a good hitter then?

“For sure. Duh,” Smith said.

He didn’t forget how to swing. Smith actually hit a few balls off a tee in the cage before the game. There was a healthy dose of foreshadowing, according to Gennett, who said Smith was bragging along the lines of, “I rake,” around the second or third inning, as a group discussed that Smith needs an at-bat.

Will Smith the pitcher entered into a 6-5 game with one out in the eighth and couldn’t fully extract himself from Tony Watson’s two-on jam, allowing a sacrifice fly to tie it. Technically, he blew a save. But what didn’t he do in front of the baseball world on “Sunday Night Baseball”?

As the Giants rallied in the bottom of the inning, Smith picked up a bat — the same thing he said he does on his off-days, to send a message to Bochy that he’s ready. Bochy never made him drop it this time, and the 30-year-old All-Star, drafted all the way back in 2008, finally got his chance.

Gott remembered the last time he had an at-bat; a strikeout against Matt Harvey in 2016 spring training. Smith will remember Nick Pivetta on the mound, a 94-mph fastball over the middle of the plate on a 3-1 count. He put a swing on it that he felt good about, even if it was entirely too late. He volleyed it to right field.

Kevin Pillar and Brandon Crawford rounded the bases. The dugout exploded. Gott’s smile curled. Smith put one foot in front of the other in a fashion that resembled running. Bochy shouted. Harper came up throwing — off target, pulling Rhys Hoskins off the bag.

“That throw’s on line, I’m probably out, for sure,” Smith said. “But I’d have made Bochy challenge it probably.”

The swing and most of what followed, he went on, are “a blur.” What he does remember is the Gatorade that washed over him after the save. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to a pitcher who’s typically noticed only when he fails.

“It was literally the first one,” he said. “It was freezing cold.”

What he does remember is the feeling.

“That was the peak of my fun-ness on a baseball field.”

 

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