SAN DIEGO – The Giants were determined to cheerlead for each other, no matter how bad it got. They did everything short of distributing pompons during a series of recent meetings.
But they needed something good to happen on the field, and soon. Otherwise they would just be going through the motions. And all choreography gets stale after awhile.
That’s what made Michael Morse’s spastic arm-raising, helmet thumping celebration so endearing. That’s what made Sergio Romo’s body-shaking walk off the mound mean something. And that’s why Brandon Belt rounded the bases with an uncharacteristic scowl on his face.
They were three reactions, all so beautifully unchoreographed as the Giants finally turned that positive energy into a positive result. Morse’s home run off Huston Street tied it, Romo barely got the game to the 10th inning and Belt’s two-run home run – his first big league hit in nearly two months – sent them to a 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park Saturday night.
Santiago Casilla pitched the 10th to record a save, but give shortstop Brandon Crawford an unofficial one for his diving stop of Yasmani Grandal’s hot grounder in the ninth that prevented the Giants from getting walked off.
If not for that play, and the events that followed, Morse’s first home run in exactly a month (90 at-bats) and Street’s first blown save all season would’ve been footnotes in another tumble down the stairs.
Instead, Morse got to savor a replay of his shot leading off the ninth.
“Oh yeah,” he said, asked if he played it back already. “And it was awesome.”
The Giants did not have to paint on a good face after this one.
“We tried it yesterday,” Crawford said. “You probably didn’t notice, but we were getting up in the dugout … It’s a lot easier to do when you’re scoring runs.”
For eight innings, they had just two hits against Odrisamer Despaigne and two relievers. They’d already blown two leads.
“You’d hear all the noise in the dugout and it didn’t match up,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Then Morse connected on an 0-1 slider from Street, who had been 23-for-23 in save chances this season. He reacted like Joe Carter in the SkyDome, minus the extra hop or three. The noise in the Giants dugout went from manufactured to mayhem.
“It looked fun on TV,” said Tim Hudson, who had retreated to the clubhouse after six solid innings. “I almost put my uniform on and went back out there. … It looked like he hit a walkoff to win Game 7 of the World Series. We haven’t had that kind of fun, that youthful exuberance, in awhile.”
Said Crawford: “He was fired up and he had good reason to be. We were all fired up for him.”
As Morse barreled through his teammates in the dugouts, slapping hands with limb-tearing ferocity, Belt stood there and realized something. His left hand was in the air. The one connected to his thumb. The thumb he fractured on May 9, an injury he had only just returned from a day earlier.
“I switched hands,” Belt said.
It was as if Morse’s homer gave everyone a hand up. Hunter Pence led off the 10th by turning a ground ball through the middle into a hustle double, looking to his dugout as he clapped the dust off his pants. Then Belt stepped to the plate. He was hitless in six at-bats with a strikeout and a walk in two games since returning from the thumb fracture. Jay Thayer saddled two strikes on him.
Belt had done a drill in the cage in between at-bats to help his timing. He felt off all game. Bochy was just hoping Belt could find a way to advance Pence.
Belt did that and more, flicking his wrists and sending his 10th home run of the season into the right field seats. He wore a mean look all the way around the bases.
“I’m just happy for everyone,” Belt said.
The cheerleading might begin to feel like a farce if the losing were to persist, but one element of it would continue to be real. This group really does like each other and pull for one another. Morse needed a home run for his own sanity as much as for the club, and his teammates knew it. Belt needed one hit to get started after such a long layoff. And Romo, the erstwhile closer, needed to contribute again.
Morse couldn’t make a play on Chase Headley’s catchable double to start the ninth, and Romo needed both Crawford’s diving stop as well as the good fortune of Cameron Maybin popping up a cement mixer. But Romo did manage to keep the Giants alive to fight another inning.
Otherwise, Morse’s unchoreographed home run celebration would have gone wholly underappreciated.
“Morse saved us. He saved our skin,” said Bochy, who lost Pablo Sandoval in the first inning when he was hit on the elbow by a pitch he swung at and came out of the game. “This really would’ve topped everything. You think you won’t hit rock bottom, and that was a possibility today.”
Said Morse: “It’s so easy to be negative and down. It takes a true warrior to stay positive at all times, and this is a team of 25 warriors. We believe in each other."