'Pretty sick': La Stella starts unreal DP

Second baseman also has two singles and draws crucial walk in NLDS Game 1

October 9th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- There’s something about the autumn air that has brought out the best in the Giants’ second basemen during their championship runs. Freddy Sanchez in 2010. Marco Scutaro in 2012. Joe Panik in 2014. Through one postseason game this season, has begun laying the foundation of his own memorable run.

On the defensive end, La Stella helped orchestrate a double play that was equal parts critical and beautiful. At the plate, La Stella pestered opposing starting pitcher Walker Buehler, reaching base three times in three opportunities. Combine those contributions from the Giants’ 4-0 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday at Oracle Park and, given the context, it was a night that was arguably La Stella’s finest of the season.

“This is sort of who we thought Tommy was going to be,” said manager Gabe Kapler.

The highlight of La Stella’s night -- and arguably of his entire season -- was the leading role he played in the opening act of an inning-ending double play, one that evoked shades of Brandon Crawford and Panik’s duet in the 2014 World Series.

With one out in the top of the fourth, a runner on first base and the Giants leading by two, Justin Turner lined a grounder up the middle that looked destined for center field. If the ball had made its way through, the Dodgers would have had at least runners on first and second with one out and Will Smith due up. Third baseman Kris Bryant admitted that he thought the ball was going to be a hit. La Stella would have his say.

La Stella, positioned closer to second base than shortstop Crawford, broke to his right, backhanded Turner’s grounder and crossed over to Crawford’s side of the bag. Crawford rerouted once he saw that La Stella had the angle. With La Stella running at full speed, his momentum taking him toward left field, his only option was to glove-flip to Crawford from behind him and hope for the best.

“It's not a play that you practice all that often,” said Kapler. “You're not flipping the ball with the glove with all of your momentum going up the middle all that often. So, it really is an instinct play. It really is an athletic play.”

The flip ended up being more of a lob than a dart, but well within Crawford’s range. With La Stella having handled his part, the Gold Glove shortstop brought it home. Crawford snagged the ball with his glove, pirouetted to tap on second base, then fired on the run to an awaiting Wilmer Flores at first base. Double play. Inning over. Madness ensued.

“That was a huge play for Tommy to have the, whatever, to do that, and then obviously Craw coming across the bag there,” Bryant said. “Definitely a nice SportsCenter Top 10 play.”

“He does it so frequently, at this point, for him it's routine,” La Stella said of Crawford. “For anybody else, it would blow your mind, but he makes that play 10 times out of 10.”

Logan Webb, who pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings in his playoff debut needed only a few words to describe the magnitude of the moment.

“That was pretty sick,” Webb said. “That was awesome. I was screaming and yelling. Everyone was screaming and yelling. It was a special play.”

That play would’ve been enough for La Stella to earn a gold star in Game 1, but he also set the tone in the leadoff spot, drawing a walk and smacking two singles as well. La Stella, who saw 16 total pitches off Buehler, drew a five-pitch free pass to lead off the first inning, paving the way for Buster Posey’s two-run homer.

“His at-bat quality has been pretty consistently good, and I think on a night like tonight you could kind of see a different level of concentration from him,” Kapler said. “He's always focused both in his preparation, then also at the plate. But tonight it did look like he had even a different level of concentration and I think that led to some barrel accuracy.”

From a health standpoint, this season has been a trying one for La Stella, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal, the longest contract that president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has dished out.

La Stella was limited to 76 regular-season games due to a variety of different ailments. Whether it was his back, thumb, hamstring, side or Achilles, La Stella has been on and off of the injured list throughout the spring and summer. But now healthy -- he did concede that “it feels like October” -- La Stella is leaving his mark on what the Giants hope to be a lengthy postseason run.