Webb muscles up in 'No. 1 day, for sure'

Pitcher slugs first career homer, gets win as Giants seal division title

October 4th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- There was no underselling the magnitude of what was to unfold on Sunday at Oracle Park. With a win, the Giants had not only history but the division. With a loss, their fate was out of their hands.

The Giants entered the final day of the regular season in control of their own destiny. Behind the single greatest performance of his career, decided what that destiny would be.

Webb, yes, did the job he was assigned, pitching another gem and setting the tone for an 11-4 win that felt more like a coronation and less like a thriller. What was thrilling, however, was Webb’s first career home run, the two-run shot heard ‘round China Basin. It served not only as the exclamation point of Webb’s season, but his team’s as a whole, a unit that won a franchise record 107 games. In Webb’s mind, the day has no comparison:

“It was awesome,” Webb said. “No. 1 day, for sure.”

It was a two-sided performance that evoked memories of another Game 162, one that still lives fresh in Giants lore.

On Oct. 3, 2010, 11 years ago to the day, the Giants needed one win against, coincidentally enough, the Padres to clinch the NL West. A loss would’ve set up the dreaded Game 163 -- sound familiar? -- which would’ve taken place in San Diego. Jonathan Sánchez not only handled business with five shutout innings, but roped a one-out triple in the bottom of the third, setting the table for a two-run inning and eventual clinching victory.

Unlike Sánchez, however, Webb’s fireworks came in a different scenario. When Webb stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fifth, San Francisco already led by six runs. With the way Webb was pitching, the Giants were in cruise control.

Webb then proceeded to step on the gas. He sat on an 0-1 changeup from Nabil Crismatt and just barely lined it over the left-field fence for a two-run home run. The home fans, a group that was ready to erupt as loudly and as frequently as needed, went into a frenzy. On an afternoon filled with plenty of offensive fireworks, none came close to generating as much collective catharsis.

“He’s known for a while that it was a matter of time before he was going to get one,” said catcher Buster Posey.

A matter of time indeed, considering it almost happened in this season’s infancy. Webb nearly had a home run earlier in the season, hitting a two-run triple on April 25 off the very top of the right-center-field wall. And with the designated hitter potentially coming to the National League next season, Webb’s blast might be the final regular-season home run ever hit by a pitcher (not including, of course, Shohei Ohtani).

Webb joked that he’ll use the home run as a point of pride against fellow starter Kevin Gausman, who had a pinch-hit, walk-off sacrifice fly several weeks ago.

“[Gausman] was telling me he watches that video every single day,” Webb said. “The first thing I did [after the home run] is I came here and said, ‘You know how you watch your walk-off? I’m going to watch the home run every single day.’”

The home run wasn’t Webb’s only exhibition of his offensive skillset as he reached base in three of his four plate appearances and scored three runs. Along with a single, Webb worked a seven-pitch walk in the fourth inning, keeping the line moving in what became a five-run frame.

While Webb’s blast was this game’s signature moment, it almost overshadowed Webb’s masterful performance on the mound. Given the circumstances, it was Webb’s magnum opus.

Webb neutralized San Diego’s perpetually potent lineup with one final masterful outing to end the regular season. Although his final line took a hit with a rocky eighth inning -- he’d allow four total earned runs -- Webb surrendered just one run across his first seven frames with eight strikeouts.

When Webb, who finished the season with a 3.03 ERA across 148 1/3 innings, was relieved of his duties in the eighth inning, he received a thunderous standing ovation, tipping his cap to the collective that saw him evolve from borderline starter to budding ace.

“From first pitch on, you could see that his confidence level was high,” said shortstop Brandon Crawford. “I kind of expected a performance like this, honestly. He’s been doing that all year.”

When Posey, who has caught quite a few significant games in his career, was asked if Webb’s performance will be talked about in the same air as Sánchez, he didn’t hesitate to find an answer: “I do.”