There was a foul-territory crash, a headshot at home plate, a reliever whose ERA took a babyhop to 67.50, a hitter momentarily forgetting the count, a botched pop fly.
The baseball in Oracle Park wasn’t particularly well-played. That’s what you sign up for when it’s a game between a club on the fringes of the wild card picture and another vying for the worst overall record.
San Francisco entered Friday’s series-opener with the Pirates a season-high 7.5 games out of a wild card spot. Then the Giants danced around three Pirates home runs with a quality start from Carlos Rodón and just enough solid work from their bullpen to protect their lead. Any victory helps the Giants’ cause, and Friday’s 5-3 win counts as much as any other.
But boy, was it ugly.
“You know, we came out on top,” Mike Yastrzemski (2-for-4, 3RBI) said postgame.That’s kind of the only way to look at it. I think there were some things that could’ve gone a little better, some things that definitiely could’ve gone worse. But we fought hard, we hung in there.”
Thairo Estrada got caught in a pickle for no apparent reason to end the second inning.
Two Pirates collided in foul territory trying to track down a pop fly, with an unsuspecting Giants ball boy unsuspectingly watching nearby.
Michael Chavis’ throw from first base to home ricocheted off Pirates catcher Jason Delay’s facemask.
There were three head-scratching plays in the fifth inning alone. Bryan Reynolds misplayed a fly ball to deep center field. Brandon Belt barely scored from second on that play because he mistakenly tagged up with two outs. For the third out, Brandon Crawford got picked off first base moments after getting intentionally walked there.
Through the sloppiness, Yastrzemski gave the Giants an early lead with an opposite-field solo home run. In his past five games, Yastrzemski now has three home runs and two doubles.
The Giants added another in the third, but also stranded the bases loaded. Then Rodolfo Castro crushed a high and outside Rodón fastball 105.6 into the left field stands. Giants fans threw the ball back, but it didn’t take the run away from Pittsburgh.
Fans also tossed back Ben Gamel’s sixth inning home run, which cut the Giants’ lead to 4-2. It was only the second time all season Rodón allowed multiple homers in a game.
Rodón’s 110th pitch of the night struck out Oneil Cruz and stranded Castro at third.
Rodón handed the ball, and a 4-2 lead, to Thomas Szapucki for the seventh. Giants manager Gabe Kapler said pregame that they think they can help improve Szapucki, who came over in the Darin Ruf trade. The Giants like his fastball-curveball arsenal and diagnosed what he was doing wrong when they tagged him for nine runs earlier this year in his only 2022 MLB game.
“That combination gives us confidence and is encouraging enough to want to use him in a big spot tonight if the opportunity presents itself,” Kapler said pregame.
So Szapucki got a clean inning, and he got to face Greg Allen, who was hitting .163 and whose last home run came two Augusts ago. It was just about the easiest way for the lefty to ease his way into his Giants career.
Only Allen sent Szapucki’s third delivery over the Chevron cars in left field for a solo home run. Then Tucupita Marcano singled into center. Two hitters into his Giants career, Szapucki required a mound visit from pitching coach Andrew Bailey.
Szapucki was supposed to give a taxed Giants bullpen a breather. Instead, he got them one out and shrunk their lead in half.
It wasn’t all ugly. Rodón struck out seven and walked none. Joc Pederson made a rangy play in the left-center gap. Gamel made a diving catch of his own. Alex Young got out of a tough jam. Luis González, hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, gave the Giants an insurance run with a two-out double into the left-center gap. And Camilo Doval, armed with his new 103-mph sinker worked a perfect ninth inning for a save.
“This is the best we’ve seen,” Kapler said of Doval postgame.
But the fact that Szapucki was entrusted in a two-run game, and the fact that he looked like he did, shows how dry the bottom of San Francisco’s barrel is.
Against the Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Mets and Cardinals, San Francisco is 15-29. Except for the Brewers, the Giants haven’t been able to hold their own against baseball’s best.
The Giants are still capable of preying on the league’s bottom-feeders. And this time of year, it feels like there are more and more hunted than hunters — even with the expanded playoff. SF’s next 11 scheduled games are against the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Tigers.
San Francisco didn’t need to play its best ball to beat the Pirates. For the next couple weeks, they might be able to get away with that.