By Morris Phillips
Equal parts effective advertising, beginner’s luck and the result of a rare, poorly executed pitch from David Price, a guy who dealt for most of the evening, Mac Williamson’s first major league home run was both memorable and surprising.
It also was the difference in the Giants’ 2-1 win over the Red Sox, a critical win for a first place club that for the first time in a while hasn’t seen the desired results in the last week. For Williamson, the result trumped the importance of the act.
“To have it be a meaningful home run and help the team win—especially at this point in the season—is really special,” Williamson said.
The clash of the fabulously wealthy Price, making his 226th big league start, and Williamson, a guy who’s done almost nothing of note at the major league level, got off to a predictable start. The veteran struck out the rookie swinging in the third, then looking in the fifth. Price would go on to say it was his best outing of his 13 for Boston, allowing just three hits while throwing his first complete game of the year.
But despite the vast difference between the two in experience, scouting and preparation had both Williamson and Price on somewhat equal footing. Price knew he had to bust Williamson in, not let him extend his arms, and the rookie knew the veteran would offer few mistakes, and he needed to be ready if one was thrown. Afterwards, Williamson said he expected the cutter inside, the same one that Price had struck him out on twice, and Price was looking to execute the game plan for a third time.
“0-0. I want to get ahead,” Price said. “If it’s a little bit more in, it’s probably a little bit of a better pitch in that situation. (Williamson) put a good swing on it. That was a big hit for them.”
Williamson’s undercut of a swing gave the ball a majestic arch. But it barely cleared the fence, and left fielder Chris Young was in good position, yet overmatched. Perfectly placed, Williamson’s homer went directly over the first of the three Chevron cartoon cars, an advertisement that gives the fence an additional couple of feet of height in just that one location.
“It went over the wall where the wall kind of juts up, where you can’t get any kind of clearance up there. I don’t think I was even close to it,” Young said.
Williamson’s previous 49 major-league at-bats featured one double this season, and a triple last season. After striking out in his first two at-bats of the evening, the 25-year old rookie was hitting .184.
Williamson significantly upped his game in the absence of the injured Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, who missed a third straight game with a thumb injury. It was the first time in 23 seasons that a Giant hit his first career homer to give the team a lead in the eighth inning or later.
After his heroics, Williamson didn’t sail into the sunset. Instead, he flubbed Hanley Ramirez’ fly ball to the gap leading off the ninth, allowing it to glance off his poorly-angled glove, putting closer Santiago Casilla and starter Madison Bumgarner—seeking his seventh straight win–in jeopardy.
But manager Bruce Bochy took it from there, allowing Casilla to face one more batter, Jackie Bradley Jr. who he struck out looking. Then Casilla gave way to lefty specialist Javier Lopez, who walked the dangerous David Ortiz, but recovered to strike out Travis Shaw–another left-handed hitter–with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Bochy then tabbed Hunter Strickland, who induced a game-ending ground ball off the bat of Marco Hernandez on his first pitch.
With the win, the Giants increased their lead in the NL West to four games over the Dodgers, who were shutout at home by the Rockies. The Dodgers visit AT&T Park for a three-game series over the weekend in a matchup of the top two teams in the division.
Bumgarner pitched as effectively as Price in a matchup of power lefties, but departed after six innings after throwing 101 pitches. The Giants have now won each of their ace’s last nine starts dating back to April 25. In that span, Bum has improved his record to an All-Star worthy 8-2.
On Friday, the Giants open their big series with an even more compelling pitching matchup than Wednesday’s when Clayton Kershaw faces Johnny Cueto at 7:15pm.