'Safe!' 8th-inning rally vaults SF back into 1st

September 3rd, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- “Safe! Safe! Safe!” the crowd chanted.

Kris Bryant had just been called out trying to steal second, ending the eighth inning, but manager Gabe Kapler opted to challenge the call. On Oracle Park’s video board, various replay angles showed that Bryant was, indeed, safe. The home fans pleaded their case, yelling “Safe!” and mimicking the motion by repeatedly spreading their arms. The call was overturned. Bryant had his steal.

Two batters later, Bryant strolled into home, easily scoring on Darin Ruf’s go-ahead double. And after Ruf gave San Francisco the lead, Thairo Estrada busted the game open with a three-run home run. The home fans burst into a cacophony of cheers that they’d been waiting to unfurl for several days.

One moment, the inning was over. The next, the Giants had the inning they so desperately needed, paving the way for a 5-1 win over the Brewers on Thursday afternoon at Oracle Park. They snapped their season-high four-game losing streak and are right back at the top of the NL West, tied with the Dodgers.

“It was a much-needed victory for us, obviously,” said Kapler. “It’s a good boost of confidence going into the next series, but obviously, all of our attention and focus was on today’s game. It was important because we needed every ounce of mental energy.”

That sequence in the eighth inning was exactly what San Francisco had been looking for in recent days. Coming into play, the Giants had lost five of their last six games. During their four-game losing streak, they only scored five runs. Given the circumstances, it was their worst stretch of the season.

Along with the losses on the field, there was also the litany of injuries that San Francisco had suffered.

Prior to the game, infielder Wilmer Flores was placed on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, and he is expected to miss a couple weeks. Flores was just the latest Giant to hit the injured list in recent days, joining Donovan Solano (COVID-19), Alex Wood (COVID-19) and Johnny Cueto (right elbow strain). That doesn’t include Tommy La Stella, who is day to day with left side tightness.

As the game wore on, it looked like those woes were bound to continue, albeit by no fault of Logan Webb. The right-hander continued his recent mastery by throwing seven innings of one-run ball and tying his career high with 10 strikeouts.

Under the hood, Webb’s start was even more impressive. Webb induced 21 whiffs, 38 combined called strikes and whiffs, and had a combined called strike and whiff rate of 41.3 percent, all of which were career highs. But with an initially quiet offense, it appeared that Webb’s outing was destined to go to waste.

Austin Slater didn’t waste any time putting the Giants on the board, hitting a solo home run on the first pitch he saw from left-hander Eric Lauer. From there, crickets.

San Francisco had an opportunity to tack on more runs in the third, putting runners on first and second with one out, but couldn't cash in on the opportunity. The next half-inning, Milwaukee tied the game at 1 when Jace Peterson reached out and smacked an RBI single into center field. That score stood until Bryant’s daring dash. 

Bryant drew an unassuming walk with two outs in the eighth inning, then broke for second on a 2-1 pitch to Brandon Belt. After the call was overturned and Belt drew a walk, Ruf delivered a clutch swing to give the Giants the lead, an especially rewarding feeling given that Ruf had some hard-hit balls with runners in scoring position earlier in the game that found gloves.

“It’s all about your perspective on what a good at-bat is,” Ruf said. “If I hung my hat every time I lined out or didn’t get the job done, I think I’d be doing a disservice to myself and the team. You just have to keep the same approach and do your job as a hitter to swing at good pitches and try to hit them hard.”

The same can be said for Estrada, who had some bad luck early in the game. In his three at-bats prior to the home run, Estrada produced exit velocities of 102.8, 96.7 and 95.1 mph, none of which yielded a hit. When he connected on Devin Williams’ signature changeup on a 2-2 count, there was no chance the ball would find a glove.

“My thought was just to be able to compete, take it turn by turn, stay positive, stay ready and just be ready when that opportunity comes to help the team win,” Estrada said through interpreter Erwin Higueros.

Now, comes the most important meeting between the Dodgers and Giants in recent memory.

San Francisco welcomes Los Angeles for a three-game set on Friday. Both teams boast an 85-49 record, so whoever wins the series gets possession of first place. With the teams tied entering play on Friday, it’s the first time that both teams have been tied for the NL West lead in September since Sept. 18, 1997. Needless to say, it’s shaping up to be an electric weekend.