I fully anticipated being moved by “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in my first visit to Oracle Park since September 29, 2019 and my first baseball game anywhere since March 8, 2020. I didn’t know I’d be fighting tears from the minute I saw the “Welcome Home” sign on the scoreboard all the way through listening to Tony Bennett sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” after the Giants’ Opening Day win.
It’s been a long, hard year for everyone. I know I’ve been luckier than many or most. I kept my job and so did MrLefty, our family stayed healthy, we could work from home and not have to put ourselves at risk, and our kids are grown and long gone, so we didn’t have to worry about home/Zoom-schooling squirrelly or morose children. But a year’s worth of isolation, of anxiety, of sadness over holidays and celebrations with family missed–all of us may take awhile to decompress from that.
We had some baseball for a couple of months last year, and I was so grateful for the diversion. But there were times when the Giants would play at Oracle Park in late August or September, heading into the loveliest weather of the year in San Francisco, when the grass would glisten and the water in McCovey Cove would sparkle, and I’d feel an almost physical pain at wanting to be there so badly. And no, it didn’t help much that my cutout got to take in every single game!
So this is a long-winded way of saying how thankful I was and am to have attended the first two home games of the 2021 season at Oracle Park. I would have been ecstatic to be there no matter how the games went, but the two thrilling victories were the cherry on top of the Ghirardelli sundae that I didn’t indulge in (still minding calories, and it was a little too chilly for ice cream to sound good, anyway). Rather than a straight recap, I’ll give you a few highlights and observations (with photos) of our visit.
The Park with COVID restrictions
It’s still as stunning as ever, especially from where we sat (312 on Friday and 211 on Saturday). Since the park opened, I think I’ve sat just about everywhere, but the first base side in either 200 or 300 is my favorite vantage point because you get such a great view of the bay and of McCovey Cove.
I noted in comments on the previous thread that I’d been surprised on Friday by the relative laxness of the safety protocols and the chaotic mess that concessions ordering was. I’m happy to report that things went more smoothly on Saturday. Staff were definitely monitoring mask-wearing, and they seemed to at least be trying to manage the crowds on the escalators. We ate before going to the park on Saturday but did order drinks, and the orders were fulfilled promptly. I’d still recommend eating before going because the food offerings are so limited and not very good.
Fans were distanced and seats were blocked off. It was definitely odd to see a Candlestick-sized crowd at Oracle Park for the first time ever.
Opening Day Festivities
The Giants do ceremonies and celebrations as well as anyone, and the 2021 home opener was no exception. When the Giants were introduced, the biggest ovations were for Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Gausman (and, ummm, a few boos for Matt Wisler–that made me feel kind of bad for him). When the coaches and staff were introduced, there was warm applause for Alyssa Nakken, Ron Wotus, and Mike Murphy. There was the usual “in memoriam” moment of silence for Giants family members who had passed in the previous year, and they even slipped in Tommy Lasorda (who got a few boos, but I think Tommy would have approved of that!). They revealed a “Resilient SF” flag in right field (the K Zone has apparently been suspended due to COVID), and acknowledged ongoing racial tension (recent AAPI violence and a performance of the Black National Anthem by members of the Glide Memorial Church choir). The National Anthem was sung by a health care professional, and…that’s all I’ll say about that. (On Saturday, they had the first chair trumpet from the San Francisco Symphony play the anthem, and it was outstanding.)
And then it was time for the ceremonial first pitch. I’d heard there was a special surprise for this, and during the video for “Resilient SF,” narrated by Mike Krukow, I guessed that it might be Bryan Stow, since he was featured several times. It’s been ten years since Stow was savagely beaten almost to death in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, and there he was, throwing the first pitch to Alyssa Nakken. There was not a dry eye in the house, nor, I bet, in your houses, either.
Heroes of the Two Victories
I feel like I should be sending him a thank-you card because he drove in the go-ahead runs in both games with a bases-loaded double in the seventh inning on Friday and a dramatic three-run homer, off a lefty, in the sixth inning on Saturday with the Giants trailing 3-1. As he stepped in for that AB, I heard a little voice over behind home plate in the field section yell “Go, Daddy!” and I mentioned to MrLefty that I thought I’d heard that the Crawford family was in the house. Sure enough, Mrs. BCraw posted video of the kids from that section reacting to the homer, and even if you have previously thought that the CrawKids were overexposed, this is pretty stinkin’ cute, even down to little two-year-old Bryson looking clueless and a little cranky.
Brandon Crawford’s kids reacting to him hitting a go-ahead home run is the cutest thing you will watch today 🧡🖤
[📹: jalynnecrawford // IG] pic.twitter.com/z9fneCW3tm
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 11, 2021
What can you say about Cueto’s stellar outing on Friday? It was vintage Johnny, his longest outing since his first year as a Giant, 2016. How long he was going to remain in the game turned into a story-within-a-story. Twice, Tommy La Stella was in the on-deck circle ready to hit for him. Twice, it didn’t happen. In the bottom of the eighth, Jake McGee was warming up in the bullpen, but when the inning ended, out came Johnny for the ninth, to wild cheers from the crowd. I was taken back to a game five years ago, in April 2016, where the script was almost identical, and I was also in the park. It was a chilly Tuesday, the Giants were playing the Padres, and they went to the ninth leading 1-0. We all waited to see if Johnny would come back out to try to finish the game, and we were all so happy when he did (and finished off the complete-game shutout). Though he didn’t quite make it all the way through–and props to Gabe Kapler for letting him try–it was still an amazing performance by a 35-year-old guy we all feared was washed up.
Biiiiig time ovation for Johnny Cueto as he makes his exit one out from a complete game pic.twitter.com/skgX4Gh7KZ
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 9, 2021
McGee has now appeared in six of the Giants’ first eight games. He has not allowed a hit and has four saves and a win. When he came in on Friday, with two outs, the Giants up 3-1, and a runner on first, I had a few seconds of anxiety for him. This was, after all, his first appearance as a Giant in front of the home crowd, and there was pressure to save Cueto’s masterpiece. No problem. He struck out lefty hitter Sam Hilliard, who had come into the game after Charlie Blackmon was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, on three pitches. Hilliard had none chance, and McGee smartly saved some pitches for Saturday, when he threw another 1-2-3 inning and got another save. McGee is sure looking like a great pickup for the Giants so far.
Cueto only left one out of work for the bullpen on Friday, and paired with the Thursday off-day, the bullpen was rested and ready for four innings of coverage on Saturday. They had to nurse a one-run lead for the final three innings, and the combo of Moronta-Rogers-McGee did just that. Caleb Baragar, who pitched the sixth after Logan Webb was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth, earned the win. Baragar walked his first guy (not good), but then Posey erased him on a caught-stealing (more on Posey in a minute), and Baragar got through the rest of the inning without incident. Moronta looked sharp, and Rogers looked…well, he got the job done. After the Opening Day meltdown in Seattle, the bullpen’s been mostly pretty good.
Everyone was so happy to see Buster Posey back, and he put his stamp on both games. In Friday’s game, besides guiding Cueto through a brilliant performance, Posey was 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored. He’s currently hitting .286 with a .946 OPS, and yes, please, we’ll take that. On Saturday, Posey got Webb and Baragar out of two jams by throwing out runners trying to steal. So far he’s thrown out 50% of runners attempting to steal (3 for 6).
I don’t think it can be overstated how important it is for the Giants having Posey back this year.
You couldn't walk up and place the ball in a better spot than Buster Posey did on that throw: pic.twitter.com/i84cQMdNjO
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) April 10, 2021
We also got a foul ball on Saturday, courtesy of Darin Ruf’s AB in the sixth right after Crawford’s homer. Yes, I know my mask is on upside down. I think I’d been drinking some water and put it on really quickly when the Mask Police were patrolling.
I mean, the Giants have played eight games. But they had a good week, going 4-2 since I last posted, and winning two series in a row, including a road series against the formidable Padres. That the Giants are winning games during an easy-ish April schedule isn’t stunning, but how they’re winning them is surprising. We all had them pegged as a team that would have to hit a lot and score runs to prop up a weak pitching staff, especially a suspect rotation, and to outhit their mistakes, since their defense wouldn’t be very good. Well, that all may turn out to be true over the long haul, but that’s not what’s going on this week:
- The Giants’ team batting average is .197 (27th in MLB). Remember when they were the “Fightin’ Mendozas” in April 2019? Well, here we are again. Oddly, though, they’re tied for sixth in MLB with 12 home runs.
- The “terrible” defense is tied for the second fewest errors in baseball (2), and they were committed by two of their surest-handed defenders (Belt and Longoria). My eye test says the defense isn’t setting the world on fire (case in point: the way Yaz and Slater misplayed Owings’ “triple” in the top of the ninth, which arguably cost Cueto a chance at the complete-game shutout). Still, to date the defense hasn’t been the screaming liability that we feared going into the season. And I already mentioned how Posey has helped the defense with his throwing game.
- The pitching has been really, really good. The Giants’ team ERA of 3.04 is fifth in MLB. They’re tied for the major league lead with five saves. Eighth in WHIP (too many walks) and in batting average against. So far Logan Webb has been the only shaky starter, and he hasn’t been that terrible (three runs in five innings yesterday; three runs in six innings in his first start). With Alex Wood on the verge of returning from his rehab assignment, it will be interesting to see what the Giants do with their roster and with Webb in particular.
So–some things to be concerned about, but some surprising strengths. The next team in is the scorching hot Cincinnati Reds, who have been bludgeoning pitching staffs. That will be a good early test of how the pitching is really doing.
Thanks for making it through this long-form version of Out of Left Field. This week was special, and I wanted to document it. Here are a couple of final photos from the end of Saturday’s game. Lefty out.
(all photo credits to DrLefty’s iPhone)