Willie Mays toured the outskirts of the field, traveling around Oracle Park waving to adoring fans in the front seat of a 1956 Oldsmobile as the newly 90-year-old legend witnessed and jump-started a city-wide party thrown in his honor minutes before first pitch.
The Giants didn’t quite cruise, but they kept the celebration going just the same.
The slumping and mustachioed Austin Slater paid tribute to the 660-homer (belated) birthday boy, launching a solo shot in the seventh to put the Giants ahead to stay in a 5-4 win over the Padres in front of 9,219 on Friday night and extend their NL West lead to 1.5 games.
The Giants (19-13) have been stumbling over the past week, but they are now beating second-place San Diego in the season series (4-3), with the Dodgers close behind. Camilo Doval, Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee got a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning job done that the Giants’ bullpen has left uncompleted plenty of times this season.
McGee, whose ERA was 12.71 in his last six appearances, walked Jake Cronenworth to lead off the ninth. But he struck out Victor Caratini, Jurickson Profar and Ha-Seong Kim to finish it off and record his eighth save in style. Rogers had gone through the heart of the Padres an inning prior.
The man of the hour.
Willie Mays gets a standing ovation from the entire stadium including both dugouts 🧡🖤 pic.twitter.com/3H6jiLKkN3
— KNBR (@KNBR) May 8, 2021
There were great moments for Mays; good moments from Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and a returning, also mustachioed Mike Yastrzemski, who chased down a Manny Machado gapper in the eighth, and a worrisome moment when Wilmer Flores was lifted without an explanation from the Giants. The largest moment came from a player who has been boxed out this season, though.
Slater crushed a 93-mph fastball from Keone Kela over the right-field wall for his first hit in seven games played. He has done other things right and continues to walk plenty and steal bases, but he had been 3-for-25 entering the at-bat. He has lost playing time against righties to Mike Tauchman, but home runs like that will help his case for more.
Before his blast, the Giants’ offense came from a few familiar weapons: Posey, Longoria and the walk. In Blake Snell’s 4 2/3 innings they drew six walks, and a fifth-inning Longoria single drove in two of those walk beneficiaries.
Posey had done his damage in the third, homering in Slater — who was on because of a fielder’s choice that erased Anthony DeSclafani, who had, yes, walked.
It was Posey’s eighth homer of the season in 21 games. He had seven homers in 114 games in 2019. It was his first to right at Oracle Park since 2012 and third ever. Posey is doing things he hasn’t done in nine years.
“Buster Posey is in MVP form.”⁰⁰
Opposite field power from Posey who just hit his eighth home run of the season 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/2vsKnskf6i
— KNBR (@KNBR) May 8, 2021
Considering the Giants walked seven times and the entertainment that went on between innings, fans might have been better served taking bathroom breaks when the Giants had bats in their hands. The Giants paid tribute well to Mays — or rather, enabled a whole lot of people to pay tribute well. There were former presidents like George W. Bush (who was booed); there were Bay Area legends like Will Clark and Stephen Curry; there was Tom Brady (who was heartily booed) and Snoop Dogg, because why not.
Mays seemed to eat it all up, including a cake that he and Barry Bonds, who was in his booth, cut together. There was little that went wrong apart from the sixth inning.
DeSclafani was nearly unhittable, then hittable, then hit far too hard.
In his third time facing the Padres already, the 31-year-old did not allow a hit through 13 batters, getting through the San Diego lineup fairly easily with the exception of the second inning, when a Flores error on a hard-hit shot to second cost DeSclafani an extra 14 pitches. Eric Hosmer broke up the no-hitter, but was erased two pitches later when Wil Myers ground into a double play.
The trouble arrived in the sixth, when Longoria couldn’t complete a remarkable dive-and-throw on Jorge Mateo, and Trent Grisham followed with a two-run homer that cut the lead in half. After Manny Machado hit the third bullet of the inning, for a double, Gabe Kapler turned to lefty Sam Selman to get lefty Hosmer.
It didn’t work, Hosmer hitting the second two-run dinger of the inning to tie it up.
DeSclafani went 5 1/3 innings and was charged with three runs on four hits and a walk. His stuff declined as he went deeper into the game; he got five swing and misses in the first and six the rest of the way.
The Giants’ win was not a piece of cake, but it tasted sweet to the club and Mays regardless.