Estrada adds game-winning HR to breakout season

September 20th, 2022

DENVER -- Thairo Estrada arrived at Spring Training looking to compete for a utility role with the Giants. He’s now poised to end the 2022 campaign as the club’s most valuable position player.

Estrada added yet another highlight to his breakout season by crushing a three-run home run with two outs in the top of the 10th inning to propel the Giants to a wild 10-7 comeback win over the Rockies in Monday night’s series opener at Coors Field.

The Giants trailed, 6-2, after four innings, but they climbed out of the hole with a three-run fifth and then scored twice in the ninth to tie the game at 7. Rookie David Villar, who committed two of the Giants’ four errors by botching a play at third base in the third, atoned for his defensive miscues by delivering a two-out, game-tying RBI double to right field to send San Francisco to extra innings for the second consecutive night.

Rockies pitching prospect Gavin Hollowell, who was called up from Double-A Hartford on Monday, took the mound in the top of the 10th in his Major League debut and struck out the first two batters he faced, but he issued a walk to LaMonte Wade Jr. to put a pair of runners on for Estrada.

Estrada got ahead, 3-0, and then thought he drew a walk when he took a sinker at the bottom of the zone, but the pitch was called a strike by home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Two pitches later, the 26-year-old infielder blasted another sinker out to left field to put the Giants ahead for good.

It was the 14th home run of the year for Estrada, who finished 3-for-6 with three RBIs and three runs scored to lift his batting average to .305 over 17 games this month.

“Thairo just seems to be getting better and better,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His plate discipline is improving. In the biggest moments, he seems to really lock in and focus. He’s one of our better all-around players. He showed up in a big way today.”

Estrada has swung a particularly hot bat against the Rockies, hitting .400 (18-for-45) with four doubles, one triple and 10 RBIs over 12 games vs. the division rivals this season. He said he wasn’t trying to do too much against Hollowell, especially since he had never faced him before.

“The plan is just to relax,” Estrada said in Spanish. “Not to think too big so I won’t chase anything outside of my own strike zone.”

Acquired from the Yankees in exchange for cash considerations in April 2021, Estrada emerged as a valuable role player for the Giants last year, though he struggled to earn consistent playing time in the Majors due to the club’s depth.

Still, the Giants recognized Estrada’s talent and repeatedly said they wanted to give him a chance to take on a bigger role in 2022. The native of Bejuma, Venezuela, has taken advantage of the opportunity, developing into a staple on the Giants’ infield and establishing himself as an everyday player in the big leagues.

He’s already set career highs in doubles (21), home runs (14), RBIs (58), walks (30) and steals (19) and leads all Giants position players with 2.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Mike Yastrzemski, who added a solo shot in the fourth inning. “I’m a huge fan of Thairo. He plays hard every single day. You can always count on him. He has great at-bats. He’s been probably the most clutch player that we’ve had all year. It’s been really fun to watch him kind of flourish and really show us who he is as a player.”

Estrada said it was particularly rewarding for him to be able to come through for his teammates in this spot, as the Giants were coming off a four-hour, 11-minute marathon against the Dodgers on Sunday night and didn’t arrive at their hotel in Denver until 2:15 a.m. on Monday.

“I feel very happy,” Estrada said. “At the same time, it shows the type of team that we are. All of us put a little bit into this win. I just happened to hit the game-winning home run.”

Kapler said it was a “minor miracle” that the Giants were able to pull out the win despite committing four errors at Coors Field, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without Estrada’s latest heroics.

“I think Thairo has started to really feel the confidence that his teammates and the coaching staff and all of us collectively have in him,” Kapler said. “He’s gone from a nice complementary player on our team to being a guy who we’re kind of leaning on heavily to help us win baseball games. One of the more important pieces on our roster and in many ways indispensable.”