SAN FRANCISCO -- On a night when the Giants celebrated one of their most popular players from the ’80s and ’90s, a current member of their lineup, likely unwittingly, drew a direct line between himself and the man of the hour.
When Giants fans think of Will Clark, whose No. 22 was retired in a star-studded pregame ceremony on Saturday, it’s fair to assume the next player that comes to mind might not be Joey Bart. But for one night, in front of a sold-out crowd at Oracle Park, multiple incidents led to a fitting symmetry between Will the Thrill and the Giants’ catcher, all of which led to a 5-4 win over the Cubs.
Here’s what Clark said after his number was retired, when asked if he regretted that he never played at the Giants’ sparkling ballpark by the Bay:
“You had to have a little guts and glory to play at Candlestick [Park],” he said. “Being out here -- I would actually like hitting here. Not necessarily because of [McCovey] Cove, but believe it or not, because the ball goes out of left field pretty good. Candlestick, there were some days you couldn’t hit a cannon out to left field.”
Turns out, a ball hit to left field in the fourth inning -- a cannon, some might even call it -- wound up as the turning point in the Giants’ win over the Cubs.
Bart, in front of Clark, a raucous crowd and one Bay Area music legend (Huey Lewis, who recited the starting lineup to the fans before the game), connected with a 90 mph cutter from Drew Smyly in the fourth inning and turned it into the hardest-hit ball of his career -- a 114.3 mph homer, traveling 411 feet.
It was also the hardest-hit homer by any Giants player since Statcast began tracking exit velocity in 2015. It surpassed Mac Williamson’s 114.2 mph homer on April 20, 2018, and capped a three-run inning that began with a two-run homer from Luis González.
“He's incredibly talented,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Bart. “I think the ground ball that he hit was 100 miles an hour, if I'm not mistaken, and [he] lined another ball down the right-field line that was 100 miles an hour. Not that we're solely dependent on exit velocity, but seeing him square the baseball up is good. Having some barrel accuracy is good.”
Bart said the only time he recalls hitting a ball that hard was at Single-A San Jose, when he connected with a 3-0 fastball and hit it at 114 mph.
“I don’t know if that was harder than that one, but either way, I’m not complaining about any of it,” Bart said with a chuckle. “I’m just glad that I could connect.”
There’s more fun symmetry to chew on, too. Bart and Clark have this in common: As the No. 2 overall pick in their respective Drafts -- Clark in 1985, Bart in 2018 -- the two share the distinction of being the two highest Draft picks in Giants history.
Now, they work closely together -- Bart, who’s still working to establish himself at the big league level, and Clark, now a Giants special assistant who works with hitting prospects throughout the system.
The magnitude of the day of celebration was not lost on Giants players. They felt the energy from the crowd and the emotion from Clark as he delivered his impassioned 15-minute speech. They want to win every game, of course, but it seemed especially important to win this particular one.
Bart spoke reverently about the Giants legend following the win, and he admitted it did mean a little more to him to provide a big hit on such an important day.
“Will's really been in my corner for a while now,” Bart said. “So he cares. He cares a lot about us, and everything he said out there today, it was real.
“Having a day like that for him and really the whole week, just leading up to today has been super special. And it's something that a player can only dream of. Just hearing what he had to say, it was just very inspiring. I'm extremely happy to be able to get a win tonight on his day.”