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Giants’ surprise reliever has a debut to remember



Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Nothing about this is normal for Caleb Baragar.

He was not supposed to be in the major leagues this year after spending most of last season at Double-A Richmond. He was not invited to major league spring training in February; he was not among the initial invites to the 60-man roster pool.

Yet there he was on the Dodger Stadium mound, a late invite after working at the Giants facility and his improvements catching their eye, putting down the top and heart of a lineup that inspires fear in any pitcher.

So of course, nothing about his celebration in a socially distant clubhouse was normal.

“They told me not to talk about it,” Baragar said with a smile over Zoom on Saturday after recording his first appearance, outs, strikeout, win, etc. “So, no comment.”

Typically a pitcher, after his first victory, gets showered with all sorts of liquids and plenty of alcohol, though that surely got tweaked. However they did it, there was real cause to party.

Baragar, a success story of the Giants’ analytical minds, “was essentially on the couch a month ago,” Gabe Kapler said. The lefty already was looking toward 2021 when the Giants called, and the Michigan native impressed his way to the Opening Day roster.

It took three games for him to get his chance, in the fifth inning in relief of Logan Webb, against Max Muncy. And then Mookie Betts. Have fun!

“I really just tried not to focus on who it was in the box,” Baragar said after the 5-4 Giants’ win at Dodger Stadium. “I really just tried to focus on the catcher and just try to throw my game instead of trying to worry about: They just got one MVP last year or this is one of the best hitters in baseball.”

Muncy flew out. Betts lined to shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who then fired to first to double up inherited runner Austin Barnes. Eight pitches to get three outs — not bad. But Kapler wanted more.

In Baragar’s last tuneup against Oakland, Kapler noticed his fastball was sailing high. He sensed there might be some nervousness, might be feeling the moment.

So Kapler was on high-alert wondering “if was he going to be breathing especially heavy, and I didn’t see any of that,” Kapler said after his first victory as Giants manager. “He looked calm and composed. He’s a pretty intense dude, and he still had that intensity, but he had it with kind of a sense of calm, and he had it without being out of control.”

In control and leading off the sixth, Baragar faced Cody Bellinger, who popped out. Baragar threw four pitches and four strikes to Justin Turner, the fourth a 92-mph fastball the All-Star swung through. Corey Seager put a good swing on another fastball, but a spinning Austin Slater tracked it down just before crashing into the wall.

Five batters, six outs. And more than 150 text messages, Baragar said.

It is unfortunate his opportunity is coming at a time when his family cannot watch in person, but everyone in his life is watching.

“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” Baragar said. “I know when I got the news I was on the team, it took me a day or so before it really resonated with me, so I think … it might take me until tomorrow or maybe later tonight when I really finally realize, like, Hey, that was my debut.”

And a great one.