SAN FRANCISCO — Six years ago, in a small town in Washington named Everett, Mac Williamson met Chris Stratton.
The power-hitting third-round pick from Wake Forest made his debut for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on July 24. A day later, the hard-throwing first-rounder from Mississippi State made the third start of his minor league career. Both were trying to make good impressions.
“I think he threw pretty well,” Williamson recalled Monday night. “My first at-bat was a ground-ball double play. I stumbled over first and did a couple of barrel rolls trying to beat it out because I didn’t want my first at-bat to be a double play.”
The 2012 draft picks, both of whom are 27, have come a long way since, experiencing plenty of highs but also more than their fair share of lows. Williamson was standing 50 feet away from Stratton when he was hit by a line drive during batting practice and suffered a concussion that ended his first professional season. Stratton was Williamson’s teammate in San Jose two years later when the outfielder was told his rise through the minors would be halted by Tommy John surgery. Both have in recent years become all too familiar with the stretch of highway between San Francisco and Triple-A Sacramento.
Yet there they were Monday, six years after first meeting, once again sharing the stage. Williamson hit a two-run homer against the Nationals that brought back memories of Barry Bonds and left jaws hanging in the dugout. Stratton once again used his four-pitch mix to shut down a quality lineup, throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two runs in a 4-2 win over the Nationals.
Afterward, Stratton stood in front of a banner adorned with Giants logos and talked about his recent run of success. Williamson did the same 15 minutes later.
“What he’s been able to do for this team this season, it’s been fun to be a part of,” Williamson said of Stratton.
Teammates are now starting to say the same of Williamson.
The Giants have taken three of four from playoff-caliber opponents since Williamson was recalled for yet another big league tryout. This one appears to have staying power. Williamson, in his fourth year in the big leagues, has two loud homers and five RBI in his first four starts in place of Hunter Pence, but the numbers that really stand out are the ones that have only just begun to be tracked.
His home run in the sixth inning Monday landed a dozen rows up in right-center, a part of the park that is unforgiving for even the best left-handed power hitters. It went an estimated 464 feet, standing as the longest homer by a Giant at AT&T Park since Statcast began tracking them in 2015. It had an exit velocity of 111.5 mph.
“It said 111. That’s BS,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “That was one of the hardest-hit balls I’ve ever seen. That was harder than 111. For that to go to that spot with the wind and the cold, that's beyond impressive.”
There isn’t a player in the big leagues who is more familiar with the harsh conditions of Triples Alley than Belt. On a cold, windy night, like Monday, you have virtually no chance of hitting a ball out to right-center. Belt has learned that dozens of times over the years, so he took off on a dead sprint from first when Williamson made contact. Williamson did, too. He thought he might have to bust it into third for a triple. When Belt looked up, the ball was sailing into the seats.
“I was just kind of in awe,” he said.
Bruce Bochy wached from a stunned dugout. Later, he took a deep breath when asked about the home run.
“I just haven’t seen many balls hit there, even in BP,” he said. “That was impressive. It shows you how strong he is. It’s an area where few guys can hit the ball.”
Williamson has always had that ability, but it has been unlocked by an offseason spent overhauling his swing. He said the work is not done, and in that respect, he is once again similar to the man selected two rounds before him.
Stratton wasn't happy with his changeup and altered his grip in recent days. When Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen made defensive misplays to put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the sixth, Stratton did not turn to the fastball that seems to rise, or the curveball and slider that are darlings of the spin rate era. He threw Matt Adams three consecutive changeups to get a big strikeout.
“A young pitcher, when you get in a jam, you have a tendency to want to go harder,” Bochy said. “But he’s got confidence in his changeup and he used it.”
Stratton was asked about that confidence level after the game. He laughed, and wondered aloud why some reporters keep asking him how confident this run of success has made him. But a few minutes later, when asked about Williamson following a similar late-career path to a breakout, he lowered his voice and smiled.
“I know it’s weird saying exactly what someone just said about the confidence thing but he just looks so confident at the plate,” Stratton said. “It’s the most comfortable I’ve seen since I’ve played with him. He believes in his approach and his new swing and that’s paid dividends for our team so far.
"He just looks really confident up there and that goes a long way.”