By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Okay, all knowing metropolitan New York media, what of that connection between Steve Cohen and Tyler Chatwood. What do we know?
There probably isn’t a relationship between the frustrated, billionaire Mets owner and the Giants’ newest bullpen acquisition, but from a journalistic standpoint, it’s worth a look.
On Wednesday afternoon at hazy Oracle Park the Giants–without starter Anthony DeSclafani, who departed after throwing 29 pitches with an ankle issue–held the Mets in a lifeless state for 10 innings. Through 10, the Mets managed five hits, none for extra bases, and one walk. J.D. Davis rescued the Metropolitans with a ninth inning, sacrifice fly to tie the game 1-1 and keep his team from an ignominious result.
Still, Cohen had to be steaming.
One day after he issued his well-intentioned tweet criticizing his team’s offense by saying, “it’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive. The best teams have a more disciplined approach. The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie,” the Mets seemed to be playing in defiance or ignorance of Cohen’s statement.
Then Chatwood appeared, and the tenor and rhythm of the afternoon changed dramatically.
In his initial appearance as a Giant–after he was DFA’d by the Blue Jays–Chatwood nudged the slumbering New York bats. First Michael Conforto delivered a hard-hit double to right field gap that chased home the placed runner, Jeff McNeil, to give the Mets their first lead of the game.
But Chatwood escaped further damage, retiring the next two batters. The Giants answered in the bottom of the inning with Tommy La Stella’s RBI hit, and that brought us to the 12th and more from Chatwood.
First, Jonathan Villar smashed a shot down the left field line that was initially ruled fair for a run-scoring double, but then ruled foul by replay review. Villar struck out two pitches later. But the next batter, Patrick Mazeika battled for seven pitches, and got rewarded with a bloop single. Former Giant Kevin Pillar was next, and he sent a 95 mph sinker into the left field bleachers for a 5-2 Mets lead.
The backstory? Chatwood has always been known for his nasty repertoire of two-seam fastballs (sinkers) and cutters with the cutter arriving at the plate most frequently at seven miles an hour slower than his sinker. But in discussing his recent past with local media upon his signing with the Giants, he said that the popularity of the high fastball in today’s game left him lacking, and trying to do something he doesn’t do well. That led to lack of command, more walks, and inflated ERA that ultimately forced him out of favor with Toronto.
Enter the Giants, who have developed a reputation of resuscitating pitchers by eliminating pitches that they don’t throw well, reference Kevin Gausman and DeSclafani. So in four appearances in Sacramento, Chatwood focused on just throwing his sinkers and cutters and he had success. In 5 2/3 innings versus Triple-A competition, Chatwood didn’t allow a run. That earned him a promotion on Tuesday.
Chatwood’s sinker that had good sink didn’t fool Pillar. The veteran hitter waited on it–if you can on a 95 mph offering–and put a swing on it. The issue? Chatwood had thrown 30 pitches at that juncture, and 19 of them were sinkers at 95 to 97. If good hitters see it enough, they’ll figure it out.
But that’s the dire nature of extra inning baseball and being the last available guy. Manager Gabe Kapler had a philosophical take on the pitch that essentially decided a long, afternoon of baseball.
“Chatwood in that situation did everything we could ask him to do,” Kapler said. “Obviously I think he’d like to have that sinker back he threw to Pillar that ran middle-in or into a spot where Pillar could get it in the air like he did.”
Ironically, Kapler started his managerial career four seasons ago as a guy who was in over his head managing his bullpen. In a well-known sequence, Kapler, then managing the Phillies made a pair of rapid fire pitching changes, and didn’t realize that second arm he summoned hadn’t been up throwing and warming up. The Philly media pounced, and the scene became a national story.
Fast forward to August 2021, and Kapler has the best team in baseball, and a pitching staff that has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Along with the 181 home runs that will shatter the San Francisco record book, the team’s 3.33 ERA is the biggest surprise. The Giants have turned close, low scoring games keyed by that pitching into a wildly winning formula by mixing in the bundle of timely, always impactful home runs. Again, Kapler was philosophical after the game.
“I think we’ve gotten pretty spoiled by this group of relievers,” Kapler said. “They’ve just been so dependable and so durable and we’ve come to expect they’re going to throw up zeroes and give us a chance to win. I don’t feel there are many clubs that can say that.”
The Giants finished their homestand with a 7-2 record and pending Wednesday night’s Pirates-Dodgers game saw their lead in the NL West shrink to 3 1/2 games. An off-day with no planes or hotels leading into a road trip that starts in Oakland couldn’t be better placed.
The Giants maintain their lofty spot as the second-best regular season team in San Francisco history after 121 games with a 78-43 record, surpassed only by the ’93 Giants who famously didn’t qualify for the playoffs despite 103 wins. This Giants team merely needs a slightly better than .500 finish in their 41 remaining games to win 100 games and likely outlast the World Champion Dodgers. A 22-19 finish would do the trick.
The Giants resume play Friday night in Oakland with Alex Wood facing the A’s James Kaprelian.