© Orlando Ramirez | 2021 Sep 21
When LaMonte Wade Jr. — his teammates now calling him ‘Late Night LaMonte’ or ‘Mr. 9th Inning’ — flared a single inches over Fernando Tatis Jr.’s outstretched glove, the Giants didn’t take a lead just yet.
Brandon Belt, reading the play from second base, had to make a split-second call on whether to hold or release. He correctly chose the latter. He’d slide into home safe by a stride or two.
Tuesday’s late-game heroics didn’t come in a vacuum. San Francisco’s ninth inning combined so many things that have made the Giants an elite team in tight games: veteran savvy, clutch hitting, strong high-leverage pitching and, of course, a little bit of luck.
With the 6-5 win fueled by another clutch Wade Jr. moment, the Giants are now 29-15 in one-run games in 2021. Their .659 winning percentage in such contests is the best in baseball.
Not only do the intense victories help separate SF from the Dodgers in the tightly contested National League West race, they may help prepare the Giants for October.
“I think we win those games because of the veterans we have,” Kevin Gausman said. “They don’t get nervous in tight situations. Any time the game’s close, some young guys will get a little nervous. But these guys have all been there, done that…It doesn’t matter if we’re down three runs or one run going into the last inning, I feel like everyone in that dugout feels like we have a chance to beat any single team on a given night.”
Late Game LaMonte strikes again pic.twitter.com/0nSPuti3FF
— KNBR (@KNBR) September 22, 2021
The veteran leadership is no secret. The Giants have leaned into it this year, too, occasionally sporting “Let The Old Guys Play” t-shirts. SF has one of the oldest rosters in MLB, with the most aged batting order and sixth-most seasoned group of pitchers.
The two singles that set up Wade Jr.’s go-ahead single on Tuesday came from Buster Posey (34 years old) and Belt (33). Manager Gabe Kapler said he trusts Belt’s base running because although he’s not the fastest, he has an innate ability to read the ball and make smart decisions. That comes with 11 seasons in The Show.
Know-how alone doesn’t win close games, though. The Dodgers are similarly experienced, but have gone 23-24 in one-run games.
Timely hitting can make or break teams when it’s close. The Giants have gotten historic production out of their pinch-hitters, with role players ready to strike at any moment. In situations deemed “high leverage” by Baseball Reference, SF has posted a .794 OPS — higher than that in medium and low-leverage moments.
Wade Jr. specifically has put up gaudy ninth inning numbers. He’s 12-for-19 (.632) with 11 RBI and a 1.597 OPS. He’s smacked go-ahead or game-tying hits against the Athletics, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies and now Padres.
LaMonte Wade Jr. has now beat the entire NL West in the 9th inning.
7/22 vs Dodgers (tie-breaking two-run single in 5-3 win)
8/5 vs D'backs (game-tying two-run single in 5-4 win)
9/8 vs Rockies (go-ahead two-run single in 7-4 win)
9/21 vs Padres (go-ahead single in 6-5 win)
— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) September 22, 2021
Wade Jr.’s approach has always been the same: listen to coaches, choke up and focus on putting together a solid at-bat. The 27-year-old outfielder keeps a steady, calm pulse with the game on the line.
“We definitely never count ourselves out and we just continue to keep playing and just try to scratch across runs when we’re behind one at a time,” Wade Jr. said. “It’s been working out for us.”
Clutch hitting needs to be buoyed by back-end relievers who can finish the job. Despite some stressful moments and occasional outside frustration, the Giants have reliable high-leverage options in Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers.
The Giants lead MLB in total saves (53) and have a team save percentage of 67% — well above the league average of 60%. Rogers and McGee have combined to save 44 games and blown just 11. Rogers overcame Crawford’s fielding error on Tuesday, generating three ground balls to secure the win.
Still, there are clutch hitters and stout closers all around the league. Escaping with narrow victories requires a healthy portion of luck, too.
As Padres reporter AJ Cassavell pointed out, SF’s game-winning hits had exit velocities of 71, 75 and 65 mph. Manny Machado’s game-ending double play ball was smoked at 112.2 mph with an expected batting average of .360.
Incredible game-winning double play pic.twitter.com/xJSP99f7ld
— KNBR (@KNBR) September 22, 2021
Expected doesn’t mean guaranteed. Belt made a fantastic stop at first base and turned two with the help of Brandon Crawford and Rogers sprinting over to cover the bag.
The team’s official hashtag, #ResilientSF, may seem corny in just about any other season. This year’s club, though, has a way of reminding everyone of where perseverance manifests on the diamond.
“It just shows that we’re going to fight all nine innings,” Wade Jr. said. “We’re never going to throw in the towel. We feel like whatever the deficit is, it’s never too big for us to come back and get it. Because the way our lineup is, the way our guys come off the bench, everybody’s just tough one through nine…So I feel like we’re always in the game.”