© Kamil Krzaczynski | 2021 Sep 12
Getting the nod to return to the Giants for one game in Chicago didn’t come as a surprise for Wilmer Flores. He and manager Gabe Kapler had discussed his possible reinstatement on Wednesday and Thursday. They knew the Cubs would have a left-handed pitcher, Jason Steele, starting on Sunday, which could be an ideal matchup for Flores.
In his career, Flores has posted an .816 OPS against southpaws, nearly 100 points better than against righties. So Flores had a feeling Sunday could be his game back, and he had no problem making the trip.
After flying from San Francisco to Chicago, Flores seamlessly rejoined his team after coming off the injured list. He made the four-hour flight worthwhile, going 3-for-3 with three RBI, two runs scored and an integral walk in Sunday’s 6-5 win over the Cubs.
“We’re in a run here,” Flores said. “Any little thing, every game counts. I always want to play. If I have to fly for one game, I’d do it again.”
Flores doesn’t remember exactly when his left hamstring started to bother him. “Like a month ago,” he thinks. Earlier in the year, he hit the IL with hamstring tightness on the other side. But now, he’s heading back to the Bay feeling as healthy as ever.
“You can tell, both in his face and his body, that he is feeling better,” Kapler said. “I think he was grinding for a really long time, just not feeling healthy all that often. He looks sturdier, looks physically sturdier, like he got a little bit of a break and had a chance to recover. And you can see in his eyes that he is feeling much better. And I think that, at least in part, is what led to his success today.”
With Flores back, the Giants were able to give Brandon Belt a breather. The team’s newest captain had previously had just one rest day since Aug. 29. And he was able to spell Belt while also providing the power SF has grown accustomed to receiving from the first base position.
Flores’ 18 home runs gives him the fourth-most on the team. San Francisco’s first basemen — Belt, Flores, Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr. — have now blasted 42 total home runs while playing the position. They’ve combined for over a .900-plus OPS, rivaling the best first basemen in the game.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Max Muncy, C.J. Cron, Joey Votto and Matt Olson are the only first basemen with at least .900 OPSes, and only Guerrero Jr. has over 40 homers.
Flores is a key cog in SF’s elite first base platoon, and he made his presence immediately known Sunday. Flores singled home SF’s first run in the second inning, driving an 0-1 sinker from starter Jason Steele into shallow center field to score Buster Posey. The single left Flores’ bat at 103.6mph, the hardest he hit a ball in the game.
Then in the fifth, Flores pulled an inside fastball down the left field line for a two-run homer. It was the only time San Francisco left Wrigley Field on Sunday. Flores had two of SF’s four hits with runners in scoring position.
But he also made an impact without swinging the bat. Two innings after his two-run shot, he drew an eight-pitch walk off Codi Heuer. The full count changeup off the plate he laid off skipped past catcher Wilson Contreras for a wild pitch, allowing Kris Bryant to score from third.
Bryant crossing home gave Tyler Rogers, Tony Watson and Jake McGee the breathing room they needed to help the Giants stave off Chicago. Flores had a hand in four of San Francisco’s six runs, helping the Giants to extend their winning streak to seven after watching the previous six on television.
“I’m sure it’s gratifying for him,” Kapler said. “And obviously for us as a team as well. What I’d say is that wasn’t a tough decision (to reinstate Flores) at all.”