SAN DIEGO -- A sore arm prevented David Villar from playing third base on Wednesday afternoon, but the Giants decided to keep his bat in their lineup by having him serve as the designated hitter in their season finale at Petco Park.
The move paid off when the 25-year-old rookie blasted two home runs -- including a go-ahead two-run drive in the fourth inning -- to carry the Giants to an 8-1 win over the Padres. The Giants finished 2022 with an 81-81 record, the first mark at exactly .500 in the club’s 140-season history.
“It was a great last game,” Villar said. “I’m happy to see that some of the adjustments I made paid off. It’s always a good feeling to come out with a ‘W’ in the last game of the season.”
Villar snapped a 1-1 tie in the fourth by crushing a first-pitch cutter from Padres opener Craig Stammen over the left-field wall, sparking a four-run rally that put the Giants ahead, 5-1. Villar added a solo shot off Pierce Johnson in the eighth after his 341-foot drive clanked off the glove of a leaping Jurickson Profar and bounced into the left-field stands.
“I was confused because I saw it go into his web, and I thought, ‘Man, it’s a flyout; he made a nice play,’” Villar said. “I’m rounding first and I see Alan [Porter] the [second-base] umpire go, ‘Hey, it’s a homer.’ It’s a nice feeling. It was a little bit of a sigh of relief.”
Villar’s second career multi-homer game gave him nine home runs on the year, eight of which came over the final month of the regular season. He slugged 36 home runs between Triple-A Sacramento and the Majors, the most by any player in the Giants organization since Barry Bonds launched 45 in 2004.
“It was cool to see him finish on such a strong note,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think he’s had some at-bats that he kind of grinded his way through and others that just end with a bang like they did today. I just feel like he’s really represented himself well across the board. He did a nice job on defense and demonstrated his versatility. It’s nice to see him finish up strong like that.”
The relief corps featured yet another newcomer in lefty Andrew Vasquez, who became the 66th player used by the Giants this year, the most in franchise history. Perhaps no player from that pool has raised his stock down the stretch more than Villar, who is expected to compete for a starting job in San Francisco’s infield next spring after batting .231 with a .786 OPS over 52 games this year.
“I think there’s always coming in and wanting to prove that I should be up here and stay up here,” said Villar, who hit .291 over his final 26 games. “Whether I go to Triple-A or the big leagues to start next year, I think there’s always room for improvement.
“There’s a lot of things I want to work on this offseason. Specifically, I want to work on defense. That’s a big factor. And just kind of building off what I’ve been able to do in the last month. That’s something to look forward to.”
While the Padres boarded a flight to New York to face the Mets in the National League Wild Card Series, the Giants found themselves heading home for the winter following their regular-season finale, a disappointing outcome for a club that won a franchise-record 107 games last year.
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Giants’ front office have plenty of work to do this offseason to try to build a younger and more athletic roster that’s capable of competing in the NL West in 2023. But they’ll have a few promising pieces to build around following the emergence of such young players as Villar, Logan Webb, Thairo Estrada, Camilo Doval, Sean Hjelle and Joey Bart.
“It was important to come here and try to win as many games as possible,” Villar said. “Ending the season like we did today, I think that’s a sign of things to come in the future.”