By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Quite simply, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the most essential opponent in the world.
For example, without them, there wouldn’t be a best in baseball San Francisco Giants.
After Wednesday night’s harder-than-it-looked 7-2 victory over the D’Backs, the Giants are 32 games above .500 for the first time since 2003, but they’re 12 games above .500 against Arizona alone.
That’s a big chunk of a 110 plus game win-loss record, but that’s how division races are won, and how teams make postseason runs. Pick a divisional opponent, and over the course of 19 meetings, smash that opponent.
The Giants have done that, and it’s not over yet. They’ll get a chance to improve their 14-2 record against Arizona at the end of September, perfect timing for a first place club to get a little pick me up.
On Wednesday, the D’Backs allowed the Giants four home runs–their speciality–and a comfortable landing spot for Kevin Gausman after the birth of his second child allowed him to miss a start last week. Beyond that, Merrill Kelly, a guy who has twice previously beat the Giants at their own game–controlling “time of possession” as they call it–had a rough night, starting with him throwing 31 pitches in the first inning, insuring that he wouldn’t last as long as seven innings as he had done twice previously this season.
Kelly only made through five innings, as he couldn’t locate his cutter and control the inner half of the plate as he had done famously, having allowed just nine runs in 24 innings over four starts against the Giants earlier this season. Twice, Kelly had pitched into the seventh inning, and that’s a feat that has only been accomplished 10 times in 113 games against the Giants coming in. Most nights, the Giants wear down the opposing starter, but Kelly appeared to have the elixir with his cutter riding in on the inner half. On Wednesday, that pitch deserted him.
“This was the fifth or sixth time I think we’ve faced him this year,” Brandon Crawford said. “I think we did a good job of picking good pitches to hit. We put some good swings on the ball, and we were able to score some runs.”
With that Kelly issue solved, the Giants pounced building a 5-2 lead after five innings. And while the D’Backs didn’t disappear late, or blow a sizeable lead, or extend a once-in-a-baseball-life road losing streak, they did have their signature moment. Ketel Marte, an excellent centerfielder, saw Lamonte Wade Jr.’s two-run blast ride off his glove and over the wall in the fifth to extend the Giants’ lead. A highlight not to miss, from the numerous camera angles, saw Marte not have his finest moment and he nearly threw his glove in disgust. But to be fair, catching home run balls isn’t easy business and this one–after he located it and made his move on it–just got on him too fast. Wade’s ball was going out either way, Marte just added to the drama with his near miss.
Before Wade connected, Buster Posey gave the Giants a 3-1 lead in the third. And after, Crawford connected in the seventh, and pinch-hitter Alex Dickerson in the eighth. The big night for big flies increased the Giants’ season total to 174, the best total in baseball. In all, the Giants piled up 14 hits, six of those for extra bases, including Wilmer Flores’ softy that was well placed enough to set the Giants up to break a 1-1 tie in the second inning.
Gausman had his struggles in winning for the 11th time, and the staff ace needed 89 pitches to labor through five innings. But he limited damage, as he always does, and kicked in a pair of singles to boot, one that gave the Giants that 2-1 lead. Gausman was a life long American Leaguer with just two career hits before this season, but this season he has eight hits, the perfect additive for a hurler needing a pickup.
The Giants’ bullpen was near perfect again, handling the last four innings while allowing just two hits. Dominic Leone is quickly becoming the star of the bunch, making 31 appearances now while keeping his ERA insanely low (1.99).
Logan Webb gets the start on Thursday in a matchup with Colorado’s All-Star starter German Marquez. The Rockies had won five of six, but dropped their last two in a matchup with the first-place Astros.