The swing changes — the new “Best shape of my life!” as reason for hope to start a year — have garnered the most attention from the Giants, the tangible tweaks they hope will awake their bats.
But there is more at work than finding barrels. So much of the focus, from Farhan Zaidi to the hitting coaches to Gabe Kapler, is on plate discipline and identifying pitches batters can drive while ignoring the rest.
Well, a lot were ignored Saturday.
The Giants walked 11 times — yep, 11 — taking advantage of these many gifts from wild Texas pitchers and rode a superb pitching effort to a 7-3 win over the Rangers in front of 4,712 cutouts at Oracle Park, clinching their first series of the year and moving above .500 (5-4) for the first time.
It was just the fourth time over the past decade the Giants have drawn at least 11 walks in a game. The Giants’ hitting started, appropriately enough, with a Mike Yastrzemski walk off Texas starter Jordan Lyles. Brandon Belt drew his own, and both came around to score on an Evan Longoria double, a welcome sight in the third baseman’s third game of the year, and the walk parade was on.
Longoria got on base four out of five times on the day. Yastrzemski walked a career-high four times himself, his on-base percentage a major league-best .561 and continuing to prove he is the real deal.
In the third, Donovan Solano (yes, him again) knocked in two more who had been walked. Solano added another RBI single in the eighth and leads the majors with 13 RBIs through nine games.
In the sixth, the Rangers bullpen walked the bases loaded for Yastrzemski with two outs. The major league sophomore fought back from 1-2 to 3-2, fouled off a pitch and then draw a walk of his own for the Giants’ fifth run.
The San Francisco bats did not do a whole lot otherwise, finishing with seven hits, in their first win of the year against an opposing righty starter, but they didn’t need to. Drew Smyly was excellent before left index finger discomfort forced him out in the fifth, extending the Giants’ major league record to nine games without a starter going five innings.
After Smyly, Shaun Anderson got into two-on trouble, but Caleb Baragar was summoned to get big lefty Joey Gallo and proceeded to freeze him with a 95-mph inside fastball.
Rico Garcia, Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott and Sam Selman did the rest without any drama, the Giants’ bullpen more and more looking like the true standout unit on the team.
As for Smyly, his line — four innings, two runs, three hits, two walks and seven strikeouts — did not do him justice. The lefty was ahead throughout, throwing 16-of-17 first-pitch strikes, and Rangers hitters never looked comfortable. He induced 14 swinging strikes on his 68 pitches, but the defense let him down in the first.
One of the stranger baseball plays you’ll see finished with Tyler Heineman trucking third-base umpire Jim Wolf and wound up costing the Giants a pair of runs.
Umpire gets taken out in the rundown 😧 pic.twitter.com/MqLp3EVDTk
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 2, 2020
It began with Elvis Andrus on third and Gallo on first, but Gallo was picked off; it was unclear whether he was trying to instigate the rundown. The rundown did not last long, with Belt throwing across the diamond and Andrus getting into a lengthy rundown (as Gallo took second).
Heineman, the catcher, thought he could catch Andrus at third, but was a half-step too slow. He slipped the ball to Solano, who applied the tag without a clear out/safe call — because Wolf was on the ground.
Heineman’s momentum took him into the longtime ump, who had to make the safe call from his back.
Wolf’s condition was not immediately clear and he left the field. The Giants were burned. Andrus was not the third out of the inning, and instead Todd Frazier singled in both Andrus and Gallo for a 2-0 first-inning lead.
The deficit would not last long, however.