SAN FRANCISCO – They both took a licking at home plate, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford, accompanied by varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Blanco got the wind knocked out of him, his lungs burned from a 270-foot sprint and he got tagged hard in the vicinity of one of his more sensitive regions. He was thrown out trying to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Crawford? All he did was splash a ball into McCovey Cove, then get his first brush with the human car wash that comes at no additional cost with every walk-off home run.
“It was pretty cool, until I got my head crushed by everybody,” said Crawford, whose leadoff shot in the 10th sent the Giants to a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. “I wasn’t sure how I would go in. I just threw my helmet in there and I think I got somebody in the shin.
“I think they got me back.”
The Giants got it back just in time. They’d already blown a 4-1 lead and were in danger of falling to 2-4 on the homestand with consecutive series losses. Instead, they took two of three from the Rockies and Crawford dismissed a euphoric crowd that is sure to have a little more edge when the Dodgers arrive Tuesday.
“I wanted to hit one of those for a long time,” said Crawford, talking about both the walk-off shot as well as the splash job.
It was the first splash homer by a Giant in extra innings since Barry Bonds in 2003, according to Bill Arnold of Sports Features Group.
Crawford couldn’t remember ending a game with a home run in his baseball life. This shot came off a left-hander, too – the Rockies’ Rex Brothers – and Crawford is now 7 for 14 against them with a homer, three doubles and a triple.
Last year, Crawford had two doubles and a triple in 146 at-bats against lefties while hitting .199 against them. That’s why Giants manager Bruce Bochy, when the season began, pledged to rest Crawford against some if not most southpaws.
“I don’t know if he even knew that, but if he did, good for him,” Bochy said. “That’s what you want. Any (playing time) you might take away from them, you want them to take that as a challenge, like, `Well, I’ll show you.’
“I was kidding him that I’ll give him a break against a right-hander.”
Crawford might have received extra motivation to avoid a de facto platoon, but he credited his success against lefties to the work he began many weeks earlier in the spring. He and hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens worked to strengthen Crawford’s front side and stay closed, especially against lefties. Instead of bail-out swings, he’d trust his hands to be quick enough to get to pitches inside. When Barry Bonds arrived as a spring instructor and offered the same tips, it only reinforced the work Crawford had begun.
“I knew it was something I needed to work on,” he said. “That’s why I worked on it.”
And then, splash. Less platoon, more pontoon.
The Giants nearly had a different kind of victory, but Tim Hudson, after throwing just 67 pitches to get through seven innings, gave up consecutive doubles in the eighth. The Rockies’ Drew Stubbs snuck a tying single off Javier Lopez through the left side.
Hudson didn’t end up getting a decision but once again, he pitched deep enough into the game to allow Bochy to get his pick of bullpen matchups. Hudson also has the longest streak by a Giant without a walk (23 innings) to start a season since 1924, at least.
Santiago Casilla got two huge outs from Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez to escape the eighth, then he navigated the ninth.
Blanco nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth, hitting a two-out drive to right field that took a dead bounce off one of the archways. Third base coach Tim Flannery watched a familiar scene play out.
“I had this weird, well, not a vision but a thought in my head that this could happen,” said Flannery, who sent Angel Pagan to the plate on an inside-the-parker to beat the Rockies on May 25 of last season.
“It was Blanco, for one, and he’s the only guy who could have that happen. Then the ball gets hit and I’m thinking, `All right, this could be it.’ Now I see (Cuddyer) fall down and then go back to get the ball and he doesn’t pick it up on the first try. That’s when I said, `Let’s go.’ It took two perfect throws.”
The Rockies made them.
“I was going for it, for sure,” said Blanco, who was tagged while in midair on a headfirst slide. “I was out of gas as soon as I touched third base, but it was fun. I tried to avoid the tag, but I felt it.”
Unlike Pagan, who injured his hamstring earlier in that game last May, Blanco emerged only with a few abrasions and that same sense of longing to get his first inside-the-parker.
The play probably would have been scored a triple and error, but let him dream, OK?
There was no need for regret. Not after Crawford took his spin through the car wash.
“When I shook his hand, you want to know exactly what I told him?” Flannery said. “Thank you. Because this is a lot easier for me.”