After Hicks' strong start, Giants celebrate home opener with walk-off

April 6th, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO -- Not much fazes an experienced manager like Bob Melvin, but the new Giants skipper admitted to feeling some jitters leading up to Friday afternoon’s home opener at Oracle Park.

“Opening Day here is a special day for not only myself and the players, but the fans here,” said Melvin, a Bay Area native and former Giants catcher. “It’s going to be a really exciting day. You really want to put on your best show on Opening Day. Hopefully that’s the case for us. There are very few days that get you kind of nervy like this. There’s basically one in 162, and that’s the home opener.”

The Giants didn’t disappoint in their first game before their home crowd, as delivered a game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth inning that lifted the club to a thrilling 3-2 walk-off win over the Padres.

After Matt Chapman reached on a hit-by-pitch, Estrada drove a misplaced fastball from Padres reliever Enyel De Los Santos into the left-center-field gap to score Chapman from first and snap the Giants’ four-game losing streak. It was the second career walk-off hit and RBI for Estrada, who thrust his hands in the air after watching Chapman slide in safely ahead of shortstop Ha-Seong Kim’s strong relay throw to catcher Luis Campusano at the plate.

“It was a great team win,” Estrada said in Spanish. “Great effort by our pitchers, the offense, the defense. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to give our team a win.”

The Giants’ dramatic comeback ensured that they didn’t squander a superb start from converted reliever , who gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits over a career-high seven innings. Hicks walked none and struck out five in the efficient 91-pitch outing, lowering his ERA to 0.75 over 12 innings in his first two appearances of the year.

“That was my first time going seven innings since 2017, so it felt good to be out there for that,” Hicks said. “It gave me even more of an urge to want to be out there and push myself a little bit.”

Hicks has hit 105 mph as a reliever, but the 27-year-old right-hander is learning to dial it back so he can better maintain his stuff as he pitches deeper and deeper into games this year. His average sinker velocity was down from 100.1 mph to 94.6 mph on Friday, though he still topped out at 98.9 mph while facing his final batter in the seventh.

Fifty-nine of Hicks’ 91 pitches (65%) were sinkers, which drew only three whiffs but generated plenty of ground balls.

Hicks gave up an RBI single to Jake Cronenworth in the first inning, though his only other mistake came in the third, when he committed a costly throwing error that led to an unearned run for the Padres.

With a runner on first and one out, Hicks fielded a comebacker off the bat of Xander Bogaerts and fired to second to try to initiate an inning-ending double play, but his throw sailed wide of shortstop Nick Ahmed, allowing Bogaerts to reach on a fielder’s choice. That brought up Fernando Tatis Jr., who bounced a single past a diving Chapman at third to put the Padres ahead, 2-1.

“Thank God we won because we did a couple of things here early in the game that basically swung the game to their side,” Melvin said. “We have to be really good about the intangible stuff.”

Michael Conforto continued to swing a hot bat by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles while batting out of the cleanup spot for San Francisco. Conforto tied the game with an RBI double off Padres right-hander Dylan Cease in the bottom of the first, though he cost the Giants a chance to go ahead with a head-scratching baserunning blunder in the fourth.

The Giants put runners on first and second with no outs after Conforto doubled and Chapman reached on a fielder’s choice, but the promising rally was quashed after Conforto tried to score from second on a wild pitch by Cease. Conforto thought he had a chance to come home after Cease neglected to cover home plate, but the ball was quickly corralled by Campusano, who ended up catching Conforto in a rundown for the first out of the inning.

“It was very, very stupid,” said Conforto, who is slashing .419/.455/.839 with three homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs over his first eight games. “Just trying to make something happen. It completely took the air out of that inning.”

Conforto redeemed himself after he singled to help set up Chapman’s game-tying RBI groundout in the sixth, but the Giants know they’ll have to clean up their baserunning to avoid more rally-killing mistakes in the future.

“For us to hold onto that one, I think it’s a big one,” Conforto said. “We’ve just got to play better baseball. We’re a better team than that.”