He was just trying to make Justin Turner uncomfortable in the batter’s box.
Camilo Doval, the Giants’ 24-year-old shooting star of a closer, entered a clean ninth inning of a tense 1-1 Game 5. He got catcher Will Smith to lead off the inning with a routine groundout.
Then Turner stepped in, and his first pitch fastball ran just a little too inside. His first hit batter since May 15 in Pittsburgh came at the worst possible time.
After Gavin Lux worked a six-pitch at-bat into a single, Doval had to face 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger. To try to induce an inning-ending double play, he said he wanted to throw more sliders to the left-handed hitter than usual.
Bellinger took the first bender outside for a ball. Then swung through the next one. He fouled off a third. The fourth slider hung too far over the plate, and Bellinger sent it up the middle, scoring Turner.
Turner was the last player to touch home plate in the Giants’ historic 2021 season. Doval wasn’t the goat of a 2-1 game, but he felt the weight of what happened.
“Like I always say, I never look back,” Doval told reporters postgame. “I always like to look forward and I’m looking forward for the team to give me the opportunity. If they do, I’m going to work really hard to earn my spot. “
There’s no doubt the Doval will have another opportunity to close. The Giants wouldn’t have been in position — the best of the best baseball teams duking it out in a historic Game 5, seasons hinging on every pitch — without Doval. He returned to the big league club on Sept. 5 and proceeded to earn Reliever of the Month accolades by throwing 14.1 scoreless innings in the month. His electric 100-plus mph fastball and mid-80s slider made hitters look foolish.
In the NLDS, Doval pitched a perfect inning to earn the Game 1 save and another two perfect innings in Game 3. His legend only grew, until it didn’t. Despite ending the year on a low point, Doval — still pre-arbitration — is still San Francisco’s closer of the future.
“He’s got a really, really bright future,” manager Gabe Kapler said postgame.
Doval struggled early in the season with command, and got sent back to Triple A after a string of blowups, including a no-out, two-run appearance in Colorado. He spent over two months with the River Cats before rejoining the big league club.
In Sacramento, Doval dedicated himself to honing his pitches. The most common word in his pre-translated interviews is “trabajo” — work. His fastball is in the 99th percentile in MLB and his slider has yielded a .167 opponent batting average, but he’s had to work to be able to consistently hurl them over the plate.
Once the hard work paid off, Doval was virtually unhittable. Doval struck out 20 while walking three in September. He earned so much trust within the team that the coaching staff trusted him with a six-out save in Game 3. The Dominican Republic native executed flawlessly.
And when SF asked him to enter with two outs in the eighth inning in Game 5, he only needed one out to force the NL batting champion Trea Turner into a lazy flyout. He strutted calmly back to the dugout like a starter would.
But Game 5 was the first time since May 15 he allowed three base runners in an inning. May 15 was also the last time he hit a batter.
Doval has said this year that he tries to learn as much as he can. He latched on to Johnny Cueto, one of his favorite players growing up, for advice. He tries to be a sponge.
No words of wisdom can teach him the hard lessons of Game 5’s loss. But his teammates tried. When Doval returned to the dugout Webb, Game 5’s ace, made sure to pick him up.
“The first thing I did was I went in and gave him a hug, just because he feels awful, which is kind of brutal because he pitched so good for us,” Webb said. “And for that to happen, like for him to be the guy who gave up the run, it just sucks. But he’s going to be a big part of this team for a long time and I think that’s the first thing he needs to know is how big a part of the team that he’s going to be in the future and to not let that get his confidence down because it’s crazy to see how calm he is when he comes in the game and I don’t think that’s going to change, but I hope this doesn’t get him down at all.”
Brandon Belt also embraced him. Doval remembers the veteran telling him to continue working and that he’ll be a great closer.
“It feels really great when you have all your teammates come over, give you a hug and tell you that you did a great job. And also tell you that, ‘Hey, you have to lose in order to learn how to win.’”
Doval will be back. He will continue to close games for the Giants, most likely for many years to come. One pitch won’t change that.