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Giants come back with Brandon Crawford’s walk-off HR

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

For the second time in three games, the Giants won on a come-from-behind walk-off home run.  

The ninth inning rally started again with Thairo Estrada, the dependable middle infielder, coming up clutch.

When Estrada blasted a two-run walk-off home run to sweep the Pirates on Sunday, manager Gabe Kapler said at this point, nothing like that should come as a surprise with the shortstop. 

“He’s come up in big spots and he’s put the ball in the seats,” Kapler said on Aug. 14.

This time, with the Giants down to their last strike, Estrada unleashed a two-out triple off the bricks in right field. Two pitches later, Brandon Crawford drove in Estrada with a walk-off home run to straight-away center field, giving SF the 2-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I knew I hit it pretty good, so I thought it had a chance,” Crawford said postgame. “The way he was going back on it, I knew it was at least getting to the wall. Off the bat, I knew I hit it well.”

Crawford beat an Ian Kennedy fastball down the middle for his first home run since June 3. It was his fourth career walk-off home run and first since 2018.

“There’s always a chance,” Estrada said postgame. “Until they make the last out, there’s always a chance.”

With the two-out comeback, the Giants (59-57) erased a brilliant start from Merrill Kelly to win their fifth straight game. San Francisco now trails the Padres, who lost Tuesday, by 4.5 games for their wild card spot. 

Before Crawford’s game-winner, Kelly and Jakob Junis put on a pitching clinic. 

Junis rediscovered the feel of his slider, posting for seven innings of one-run ball. He generated a season-high 16 whiffs in his deepest outing as a Giant. 

The slider, Junis’ go-to weapon, was particularly lethal — six of his seven strikeouts came on the pitch. But it also served up the Diamondbacks’ only run, when Christian Walker smoked a hanging one over the zone for a solo shot in the fourth. 

After the game, Junis said Walker’s home run “woke me up and lit a fire under me a little bit.” Even when he was getting outs earlier in the game, he didn’t feel as confident in his stuff as he did as the game progressed.

Kelly, meanwhile, was even better. In four starts against the Giants this year, he’s allowed four runs in 28.1 innings — a 1.27 ERA. The righty has struck out 24 Giants and walked seven.

Before the ninth, four of the Giants’ five hits were doubles, but Kelly prevented San Francisco from cashing in.

When asked pregame about what makes Kelly so tough, Giants manager Gabe Kapler said “that’s a great question, we’re thinking about ways to solve it.” 

“He can put the baseball where he wants to put it,” Kapler said. “He’s got a quality changeup that makes it more difficult for lefties. So he’s had, at the very least, even splits. You could probably make the case that he’s been pretty good against lefties as well. So he’s a challenge for lefties and righties, and we haven’t really solved the riddle yet.”

They still haven’t figured out the riddle. But because of Estrada and Crawford, that doesn’t matter.

Junis was watching the ninth inning on a delay from the Giants’ training room. He wasn’t sure if the Oracle Park crowd’s roars signified home runs or otherwise. When he heard fans erupt during Crawford’s at-bat, he rushed up the dugout steps and onto the field for the celebration.

The two-out rally nearly didn’t happen. One pitch before Estrada’s triple, home plate umpire Cory Blaser took a step back and flinched, nearly punching out the infielder and ending the game. But Blaser rightfully called Anderson’s 1-2 outside fastball a ball.

Estrada served the next pitch to the right-field wall. Then Crawford, the second longest-tenured Giant, dug in.

Crawford’s 2022 season has been derailed by injuries. A knee bruise has put him on the injured list twice, and he’s also been hampered by a forearm and other nagging ailments. His OPS is over 200 points lower than it was last year. That’s life as a 35-year-old shortstop.

But the Giants have been cautious with Crawford and given him extra off-days. Nobody’s 100% healthy in August, but Crawford has his feet under him and said he’s seeing the ball much better. He said he can drive off his back leg with more power now than he could earlier in the year when the knee was bugging him.

That showed when Crawford turned on Kennedy’s 93 mph fastball, sending it 103.2 mph and 406 feet in the other direction.

“We always believe in our guys late in the game, and you know Brandon Crawford’s going to get big hits at some point,” Kapler said. “That was a huge one for us.”

At home, Crawford’s family watched his fourth career walkoff bomb. The shortstop said he’s glad his wife, Jalynne, kept the kids up on a school night.

“All wins are great, obviously, but walkoffs are always a little bit more exciting and fun,” Crawford said. “With how the season’s gone, kind of up and down, definitely nice to have some fun, exciting wins.”

For the 20,897 fans at Oracle Park, at least the ones who stayed until the end, the feeling was mutual.

 

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