SAN FRANCISCO -- Occasionally a ballplayer comes around whose performance eclipses mere statistics.Gregor Blanco fit this description for the Giants.Blanco, who recently agreed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league camp, fell short of joining the ranks of Giants who are officially
SAN FRANCISCO -- Occasionally a ballplayer comes around whose performance eclipses mere statistics.
Gregor Blanco fit this description for the Giants.
Blanco, who recently agreed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league camp, fell short of joining the ranks of Giants who are officially stamped as club legends. Blanco neither made a National League All-Star squad during his five years as a Giant, nor lasted nine seasons with San Francisco. These are the standards for inclusion on the franchise's "Wall of Fame."
However, those familiar with Blanco's body of work understood his impact upon the Giants, who won World Series titles in 2012 and '14 during his tenure as the team's fourth outfielder.
"I would say Gregor will always be remembered as a 'Forever Giant,'" said left-hander Javier Lopez in a recent text message, citing the label that the franchise frequently attaches to its favorite sons.
Blanco created an enduring memory with his running, lunging catch of Jordan Schafer's drive to the right-center-field warning track leading off the seventh inning on June 13, 2012, against Houston. Blanco's defensive wizardry preserved Player Page for Matt Cain's perfect game, which Lopez called "one of the biggest games ever to be played at AT&T Park."
As remarkable as Cain threw that night, striking out 14 and flinging 86 strikes in 125 pitches, his excellence shall always be linked to Blanco's stupendous play -- and vice-versa.
"There's no doubt that he and I will always be connected in our baseball careers because of that amazing catch," Cain said via text. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around how he got to that ball. He made it look so easy and that's what makes Gregor so amazing. He did that a lot as a Giant, and I know he'll do that for the rest of his career."
If that catch were Blanco's lone glorious moment as a Giant, it would remain a cherished one-hit wonder, such as John Tamargo's game-winning home run in the 1979 home opener, Ron Pruitt's late-season bloop single in 1982 that perpetuated the team's postseason hopes or Darren Ford's daring dash around the bases to score the go-ahead run in a critical Sept. 1 contest against Colorado in 2010.
Yet Blanco sustained the Giants on multiple occasions.
His deft seventh-inning bunt that rolled halfway up the third-base line and stayed fair helped set up the first run in San Francisco's 2-0 victory in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series against Detroit. Earlier that night, Blanco's relay from left field launched the sequence that ended with Prince Fielder being tagged out at home plate.
Though Blanco wasn't a slugger, he delivered a two-run homer in the second inning of Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series at Cincinnati that put the Giants ahead to stay. This was the second of San Francisco's six consecutive elimination-game triumphs in that postseason.
With runners on first and second and nobody out in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the 2014 NL Championship Series, another Blanco bunt prompted a St. Louis misplay that generated the Giants' winning run.
Obviously, Blanco's meager .183 batting average in 37 postseason games with the Giants did not reflect his value.
"Playoffs, World Series ... he really stepped it up when needed," former Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery said in an e-mail. "His defense, bunting and baserunning always were weapons for us that blended nicely. He was the perfect extra outfielder who brought amazing defense and versatility."
For the record, Blanco batted .259 with a .338 on-base percentage in 649 games as a Giant. He posted a .291/.368/.413 slash line in 2015, achieving career highs in each category. Slumping to .224/.309/.311 last year likely prompted the Giants to let him go when he entered free agency.
Yet Blanco's departure won't dim his reputation.
"I loved coaching him," said Flannery, mentioning Blanco's "child-like joy for the game."
"Tremendous work ethic, great teammate and above all great attitude and personality," Lopez summarized.
Said Cain, "Blanco has such a quiet energy about himself and he brings a lot to a team because he connects so well with everyone. The guys are going to miss his attitude on the field and in the clubhouse."
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.