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Carlos Rodón’s special season continues in last Oracle Park start of 2022

Chris Mezzavilla | KNBR.com

At 6:43 p.m., Carlos Rodón emerged from the Giants’ dugout. Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” blared from Oracle Park’s speakers for the final time of the 2022 season. 

Giants manager Gabe Kapler, a music zealot who notices every player’s walk-up music, thinks “Rooster” is particularly fitting for his ace. The 1992 metal track is slowly paced, but still packs an edge. It’s fierce. 

And “Rooster” applies more than Kapler even knows. 

Roosters, at least according to one online farming source, protect against predators and danger. They’re the primary defenders against harm. H.C. Summers Feed & Supply dedicated an entire web page to the benefits of having a rooster in your flock. 

“Although they may appear aggressive, they are always alert and on the lookout for predators from the sky and the ground,” the site says. 

So there came the rooster, out for his 31st start of the season — and possibly his last at Oracle Park as a Giant — loosening up his cannon of a left arm to defend leads and protect his home field.

The grunge faded, and Rodón shone. He fanned 10 Rockies in six shutout innings in a 6-4 Giants (78-78) win. Rodón’s 11th double-digit strikeout game padded the franchise record he already owns. The ace allowed two base runners and looked as impressive as he has all season. 

In 15 starts at Oracle Park this season, Rodón has posted an 8-2 record with a 1.93 ERA. His gem cemented a three-game sweep that brings the Giants back to .500 for the first time since Aug. 2. SF has won nine of 10 and isn’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but still needs a miracle.

“Unfortunately we have a limited amount of games left,” Rodón said postgame. “But we’ve played some really good baseball leading up to the end here. Just like we played some really good baseball leading into the All-Star break. I guess it’s better late than never, right? Hopefully some things go our way.”

Rockies center fielder Yonathan Daza socked Rodón’s third pitch of the game into the right-center gap for a double. But then the next 15 Rockies trudged back to the visitor’s dugout empty-handed. 

Rodón retired 15 straight, spending most of his start with a healthy lead. Ford Proctor’s first career homer, a grand slam, gave San Francisco a 5-0 lead. Proctor’s opposite-field blast made him the first Giant since Kelby Tomlinson in 2015 to have his first MLB home run score four. 

Byron Paz, a longtime Giants fan from San Francisco, caught Proctor’s home run ball and later exchanged it for a signed bat, ball and photo with the rookie. Proctor plans to ship the souvenir home to his family in Beaumont, Texas.

Shortly after Proctor’s bomb, Rodón reclaimed the National League strikeout lead from Corbin Burnes. With 237 after Thursday’s start, the All-Star has six more than Burnes. 

When Rodón’s on the mound, he doesn’t necessarily need to paint the corners of the strike zone to be effective. His stuff is so nasty, the location matters less than it does for mere mortal pitchers. His four-seam fastball, one of the five most valuable single pitches in the sport, generated 12 whiffs on 35 swings against the Rockies. 

He struck out the side in the fifth and only allowed two base runners in his entire outing. MLB’s leader in strikeouts per nine innings and fielding independent pitching piled onto his video game numbers. 

On the year, Rodón is now 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA. He’ll undoubtedly finish in the top-five of NL Cy Young voting. 

Rodón had already set the franchise record for double-digit strikeout games in a season, passing Tim Lincecum and Jason Schmidt with 10. Thursday, in front of 24,112 paying fans, was No. 11. 

“In many ways, he’s come as advertised,” Kapler said postgame. “The reports on Carlos when we first got him were: this is a guy that, when he’s on the bump, is as good as anyone in the league. Is as electric as anyone in the league. Can do things that most can’t. And that’s really what’s happened.”

The southpaw likely could have added more, but walked off the mound after 95 pitches. Since Oracle Park opened, only Lincecum in 2000 has posted a lower home ERA. 

“I’ve always enjoyed pitching here,” Rodón said. “It’s definitely a home-field advantage when I show up and pitch at this park.”

The Giants have handled Rodón, and their pitching staff in general, cautiously in September. Kapler said pregame that they’ll check in with Rodón and Logan Webb specifically on a day-to-day basis to ensure they’re all set to make their respective final starts of the season. 

Both starters set a career-high in innings this year. Rodón, though, has a longer injury history and a complicating opt-out clause in his contract. 

But Rodón stayed healthy in 2022. Despite a blood blister and split nail, he never hit the injured list. His velocity never meaningfully dipped; his last pitch on Thursday clocked in at 97.7 mph. 

He kept demanding the ball and kept performing in September, even as the Giants trap-doored out of the playoff picture. 

“It’s a testament to his durability,” Kapler said before Thursday’s win. “His toughness. His desire. His grit. He’s wanted it every time out, and that says a lot about who he is as a pitcher and as a human as well.” 

Rodón will become a free agent as soon as he declines the 2023 opt-out — a formality for him. The prospect of pitching at Oracle Park for the last time as a Giant didn’t cross Rodón’s mind; he just goes out and competes.

“That’s something to think about later,” Rodón said.

If Rodón does leave San Francisco this offseason, if Thursday was the last “Rooster” routine, he’ll go down as one of the most dominant One Year Wonder Giants ever. 

No, no, no, you know he ain’t gonna die.

 

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