Giants expand West lead in Kazmir's return

September 23rd, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- At the beginning of the year, couldn’t have fathomed what awaited him in 2021. 

A second Major League comeback. An Olympic silver medal. And now, a chance to make a meaningful start for the first-place Giants in late September.

“It’s been a crazy year, a very eventful year,” Kazmir said. “I don’t think I ever would have thought I’d be in this position. It’s all good. I love every moment of it. It’s been a great experience. ... It’s been a hell of a ride, that’s for sure.”

• Games remaining: 10
• Standings update: Two games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West
• Magic number for division title: 9

Kazmir made the latest stop of his remarkable journey at Petco Park on Wednesday night, where he returned to the Majors for the first time in three months and allowed only one unearned run over four-plus innings to help the Giants roll to an 8-6 win over the Padres and increase their lead over the Dodgers in the heated race for the National League West.

Kris Bryant delivered a bases-clearing double to give the Giants a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and Buster Posey went 4-for-5 with three runs scored, but the biggest moment of the night belonged to hard-throwing rookie Camilo Doval, who helped Kazmir escape a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth. 

Kazmir issued a leadoff walk to Victor Caratini to begin the inning, and pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick followed with a sharply hit single to left field that deflected off the glove of shortstop Brandon Crawford. Another free pass to Fernando Tatis Jr. loaded the bases with no outs for Jake Cronenworth, who then reached on a rare catcher’s interference by Posey to force in a run and cut the Giants’ lead to 3-1.

It was only the fourth catcher’s interference of Posey’s 12-year career and his first since Aug. 19, 2013, against the Red Sox.

With Manny Machado looming, manager Gabe Kapler opted to lift the 37-year-old Kazmir in favor of the 24-year-old Doval, who came in for only the 23rd appearance of his nascent Major League career. Still, an unfazed Doval promptly struck out Machado on three consecutive sliders and then got Tommy Pham to roll into an inning-ending double play to abate the threat.

“I think it was one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our 'pen,” Kapler said.

Doval celebrated the escape job by calmly pumping his fist and pointing to the sky as he walked off the mound. Assistant pitching coach J.P. Martinez later approached Doval in the dugout and pressed two fingers on his neck to check if the young reliever still had a pulse.

“We definitely had a little chat right after the half-inning in the dugout,” Kazmir said. “Just thanking him and basically saying I owe him dinner. It was unbelievable. He’s got ice in his veins.”

The Giants stretched their lead to 8-1, but the Padres clawed back and managed to make it interesting late in the game. Tatis’ 40th home run of the year ignited a three-run rally for San Diego in the seventh, compelling Kapler to summon Tyler Rogers to protect a four-run lead in the ninth.

The Padres scored twice to bring Tatis to the plate with a chance to walk it off, but the NL MVP candidate hit a 333-foot flyout to left field to end the game, sealing the Giants’ 99th win of the year.

Kazmir hadn’t pitched in the Majors since 2016 when he joined the Giants on a Minor League deal during Spring Training, but he completed his stunning comeback when he was called up to face the Dodgers on May 22. The three-time All-Star recorded a 6.43 ERA over three appearances before he was designated for assignment in June, though that ultimately opened the door for him to fulfill his dream of pitching for Team USA this summer.

After finishing runner-up to Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, Kazmir came home with a prized silver medal, which he said he now carries around constantly. Even after being outrighted off the 40-man roster, Kazmir chose to remain in the Giants organization and report to Triple-A Sacramento, where he worked to regain his rhythm after pitching sporadically over the previous month.

The veteran lefty struck out 17 and walked none over his last 16 innings with the River Cats before earning another opportunity with the Giants, who added him back onto their roster on Wednesday to fill in for the injured Johnny Cueto.

Before Wednesday’s game, Kapler said one of the reasons the Giants decided to tap Kazmir for the start was because they knew that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the pressure of pitching in a high-stakes game. Kazmir ended up validating that faith, once again showing that his story isn’t over yet.

“There’s always butterflies in any big league ballgame, but especially in September,” Kazmir said. “To be in a pennant race and be able to perform like that, it’s a good feeling.”