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Giants shut out in historic Opening Day pitcher’s duel between Webb, Cole



© Brad Penner | 2023 Mar 30

BRONX, NY — Enough reporters in the home clubhouse to fill two Opening Day rosters. More fans watching the Giants’ batting practice 90 minutes before first pitch than a Tuesday night at Oracle Park. The greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera, throwing a ceremonial strike.

One team penciled in three former Most Valuable Players. Another made last-second roster moves that affected a slew of players most tuning into MLB Network had never heard of. 

If the Giants are going to sneak up on people this year, this was as good a place as any to hide in plain sight. Engulfed under the iconic frieze, in the cathedral that houses baseball’s most storied franchise, with all eyes on the American League home run king and one of the greatest pitchers to never win a Cy Young. 

“There’s not a bigger stage than Yankee Stadium,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said before a sellout crowd of 46,172 filled the seats.

If they achieve their goals, the Giants will have to, by definition, fly under the radar. No pundit from The Athletic picked them to win the National League West. Las Vegas odds have them more likely to finish fourth than win the division. Baseball Prospectus’ projection model, PECOTA, predicted a second straight 81-81 season. 

That’s even as the Giants committed over $200 million in free agency — including Wilmer Flores’ in-season extension — adding four former All-Stars, two World Series champions and a Gold Glove catcher. 

“I think it’s the best roster that we’ve started a season with since I’ve been here,” Kapler said before SF’s final spring training game. 

But on Opening Day, that roster with sights on surprising skeptics got shut out in Yankee Stadium, letting down a record-breaking performance from starter Logan Webb. Webb, the first Giant to make back-to-back Opening Day starts since Madison Bumgarner, broke Bumgarner’s franchise record with a career-high 12 strikeouts. Only Gerrit Cole, the Yankees ace opposite Webb, was even more marvelous, fanning 11 in six shutout innings. 

The 5-0 loss opens the season for the Giants (0-1) a year after finishing 81-81.

“I think for me personally, this is very much a story of two excellent starts,” Kapler said postgame. “Couple home runs for them. We weren’t able to get the ball in the air and hit those home runs, and that’s why they came out on the winning end of this.”

Aaron Judge, who hit 62 home runs in his MVP season last year then flirted with coming home to San Francisco, knocked the first homer of the MLB season. 

“He’s the best hitter in the game,” Webb said postgame.

Judge’s 422-foot solo shot in the first inning came on the second Webb pitch he saw. Before the game, when asked about facing the team he considered joining in the winter, Judge praised Webb — one of the people involved with courting the superstar. 

“Logan Webb’s a great pitcher,” Judge said. 

And Webb has been great. He registered a 2.90 ERA and earned down-ballot Cy Young votes last year. The 26-year-old is one of the finest young pitchers in the game, in fact. 

Webb’s superpower is keeping the ball in the park. Over the past three seasons, no starter has suppressed home runs better than the Rocklin native. In just one of his 32 starts last year, Webb allowed multiple home runs. 

He has the rest of the season to repeat that statistic in 2023, though, because Gleyber Torres took him deep for an opposite-field, two-run home run in the fourth. It was only the third time in his career he allowed two bombs in a start. 

Aside from those two mistakes, Webb was flawless. When he struck out Judge for a second time in the fifth inning, he matched Madison Bumgarner in 2017 for most strikeouts by a Giant on Opening Day with a career-high 11. The next inning, he broke it with 12. 

It took Webb (6IP, 4ER, 4H, 12K, 2BB) five innings to set his career-high. It took Cole four to reach double-digits, breaking the Yankees franchise record for an Opening Day start. 

“Logan pitched about as good a game as he could’ve hoped, and all of us could’ve hoped,” Kapler said.

Cole touched 99 mph on his fastball and fanned 2022 All-Star Joc Pederson thrice. He only allowed three hits, but San Francisco ran his pitch count up enough to knock him out after six innings. 

“I don’t think it’s smart to try to match a guy like that,” Webb said postgame. “He’s the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. I wasn’t trying to go toe-to-toe with him. I was just trying to not give up runs.”

Nineteen of the first 24 outs came via strikeout. Thirty-two of the 51 total outs were strikeouts. The pitch clock, infield shift and other rule changes were supposed to increase action, right? 

Once Cole and Webb departed, more activity surfaced. Thairo Estrada knocked his second single and advanced into scoring position by drawing a balk. But two pinch-hit tries against NYY relievers didn’t produce their intended results. 

The Yankees scored twice, once John Brebbia relieved Webb. Two singles scored the runner Webb was responsible for, and Judge fought off a fastball on his hands for a bloop single to put New York up 5-0 in the seventh. 

In the eighth and ninth, the Giants mustered just one baserunner.

If Yankee Stadium was the stage, the starters took a bow — and the Giants’ lineup bowed out.