Gausman the unlikely hero in 11-inning epic

Solano revives Giants in 9th in first game off injured list

September 18th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was September baseball at its finest on Friday night at Oracle Park.

crushed a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning, and right-hander delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly to lift the Giants to a stunning 6-5 win over the Braves in 11 innings.

With the win, the Giants improved to a Major League-best 96-52 and created more separation over the Dodgers, who lost to the Reds, 3-1, on Friday.

Giants’ playoff picture
• Games remaining: 14
Standings update: Two games ahead of the Dodgers for first place in the NL West
• Magic number for division title: 13

Tyler Rogers, filling in for injured closer Jake McGee, surrendered a three-run home run to Travis d'Arnaud that gave the Braves a 5-4 lead in the ninth, but the Giants -- down to their final strike -- came back to tie the game on Solano’s pinch-hit blast off Will Smith to force extra innings.

That ended up setting the stage for Gausman’s unlikely heroics in the 11th. With the Giants out of position players, manager Gabe Kapler was forced to send Gausman up to pinch-hit against Braves reliever Jacob Webb with the bases loaded and one out.

Gausman worked a full count against his former Atlanta teammate before lifting a 256-foot fly ball to right field that was just deep enough for automatic runner Brandon Crawford to dash home and slide in safely ahead of Joc Pederson’s throw to the plate. It was the first walk-off RBI by a Giants pitcher since Madison Bumgarner on Sept. 25, 2018, against the Padres.

“That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my entire career,” said Gausman, who was immediately mobbed by his teammates at first base. “That’s in the top two moments of my life. Probably the birth of my two children and then that.”

Gausman said he initially wasn’t sure if he hit the ball deep enough to score Crawford, as one look at his spray chart reveals his tendency to go to left field for his knocks.

“Well, that’s the first time I’ve pulled a ball in the big leagues,” Gausman said. “So I didn’t really know how to gauge it. I really had no idea, to be honest. I felt like I hit it pretty good. I was shocked when I turned around and saw that Craw was running.”

Logan Webb, who worked seven innings of two-run ball and struck out nine, said he started screaming in the clubhouse as soon as he saw Gausman get the job done. Part of him felt a twinge of jealousy, though, as Webb said he would have loved a chance to have his own shot at pinch-hitting glory.

“Honestly, at first, I was a little pissed,” Webb joked. “I was sitting in the clubhouse being like, ‘This is the dream. This is what I’ve been waiting for all year, and, of course, I pitched this day and Gaus gets it.’”

“That was the first thing he said when I got in the clubhouse,” Gausman said, laughing. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m so jealous, that would have been me if it was any other situation.’ And it probably would have been. He pitched tonight and did a hell of a job, but I guess it was my night tonight. I got the opportunity, and somehow it ended up working out.”

Kapler’s faith in Solano ended up paying off for the Giants, too. Solano hadn’t played since Aug. 24 after missing 21 games with a breakthrough COVID-19 case, but he was activated on Friday and tapped to come off the bench with the game on the line.

“I just felt like Solano was the best option,” Kapler said. “There wasn’t anything specific other than trusting him and believing in him.”

The 33-year-old veteran hadn’t faced Major League pitching in over three weeks, yet he managed to turn on a 2-2 slider from Smith and drive it over the left-field wall for his seventh home run of the year, sending the 26,644 fans in attendance into a frenzy. It was the 16th pinch-hit homer of the year for the Giants, leaving them one shy of matching the Major League record set by the 2016 Cardinals.

“We’re trying to win the division, so it was a huge win,” Solano said in Spanish. “We moved another game ahead of the Dodgers, so we really needed this win. I was really happy to be a part of it. I think it’s one of the biggest home runs I’ve ever hit in my career.”

Solano’s blast capped a four-homer night for the Giants, who now rank second in the Majors with 227 home runs, the second most in a single season in franchise history. Brandon Belt, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Crawford also went deep to help the Giants move closer to breaking their record of 235 homers from 2001.