It was a night of firsts. Logan Webb’s first start, first strikeouts, first everything. It was the first time Kevin Pillar racked up five hits in a game, adding three runs scored and an RBI. It was Brandon Belt’s second, not first, career grand slam, but it was the first time it has felt like Belt is snapping out of this funk. It was likely the first time a catcher struck out Mike Yastrzemski, as Alex Avila did in the ninth inning of a five-run game.
And Saturday’s victory marked the first time a Giants starter not named Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija or Dereck Rodriguez has recorded a win in more than a month – since July 14, when Tyler Beede last broke through.
Webb was shaky to start but solid to finish in an impressive major league debut, helping the Giants top the Diamondbacks, 11-6, at Chase Field in Arizona.
The Giants (63-61) kept pace with the Cubs, 2 ½ games back of the second NL wild card. After a 1-7 start to August seemed to KO the Giants, they’ve looked OK the last week and a half, going 7-2 — including taking the first three in Arizona — to bounce back into a race in which no one is gaining separation.
If the Giants have a reliable middle-rotation guy in Webb, they would be a serious threat. The 22-year-old, the youngest Giants starting pitcher since Madison Bumgarner, made just one Triple-A start and only four Double-A starts, shooting through the system partially because of results and partially because of a desperate need at the major league level for starters who could give the Giants a chance. Have they found one?
Apart from a first inning filled with nerves, Webb’s debut couldn’t have gone much better. He did not look overwhelmed, his fastball was in the mid-90s, his slider was effective and his changeup perhaps his best pitch. When he was finished following 93 pitches, the line read five innings allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits, a walk and seven strikeouts.
After the first, he allowed just two hits, both singles, the second of which (Wilmer Flores) getting erased by a double play. He struck out the side in the fourth.
Webb waited 22 years for the moment, though it didn’t start smoothly. It took 26 pitches for him to get his first three outs. Flores (who had four hits) doubled in one run, while Evan Longoria made a wayward throw on a tough grounder from Adam Jones for the second Diamondbacks run. The defense made it up a batter later as Belt’s diving grab retired Jake Lamb.
Speaking of Belt, the game was never much in doubt following his second-inning grand slam that turned a 2-0 Giants hole into a 4-2 cushion. The Giants loaded the bases mostly accidentally, Alex Dickerson walking, Scooter Gennett hitting a grounder that Flores got too fancy on for an error, and Pillar blooping in a single to right. Belt then pounded a fastball over the right-field fence. The Giants loaded the bases again in the inning, and a Longoria long flyout made it 5-2.
For Belt, it was the second homer in as many nights, and he finished 2-for-5 with six RBIs. It may be three games, but he has enjoyed himself in Arizona, going 5-for-14 with a walk. If this is his way out of the slump that has turned his season, the Giants’ lineup would be much more potent.
Arizona tried to make it interesting, three straight hits – including a Christian Walker homer — and a sacrifice fly put up two runs in the seventh off Andrew Suarez, and Nick Ahmed hit a two-run shot off Travis Bergen an inning later, but the Diamondbacks couldn’t match the ridiculousness of a night earlier, which saw 12 homers. This one only featured three.
After the Giants’ second-inning explosion, it was mostly tacking on, getting one in the sixth and two apiece in the seventh and eighth. (Yet zero in the ninth, when Avila came in to an 11-6 game and set the Giants down 1-2-3.) Pillar was the biggest compiler, recording four singles and a double. In an August in which Alex Dickerson has been mostly absent and Longoria only recently began to resemble Evan Longoria, Pillar is batting .453 (24-of-53).
He will be important to the stretch run if the Giants want to stick in this. As will Belt. But Webb may have just established himself as suddenly an integral Giant.