Giants

McCutchen wins epic battle, sets off party at AT&T Park

McCutchen wins epic battle, sets off party at AT&T Park

SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew McCutchen dropped his bat, took two strong steps, pumped both fists, and screamed. When you know, you know, and an entire fan base now knows exactly what the city of Pittsburgh felt for all those years. 

McCutchen showed every bit of his talent in a thrilling and long 7-5 win at AT&T Park, piling up five hits before dropping the hammer on the Dodgers in the bottom of the 14th. The sixth and final hit was a walk-off homer to left on the 12th pitch of an epic battle with Wilmer Font. It turned a deficit into an instant classic of a win. Afterward, he was asked how he celebrated his Welcome to San Francisco moment. 

“It was pretty much a party in here,” he said, smiling. 

There were many worthy of being celebrated on this night. After some early wobbles, the bullpen hung tough until McCutchen’s heroics. Pierce Johnson, Reyes Moronta and Roberto Gomez, all rookies, handled the final five frames. Kelby Tomlinson singled to lead off the bottom of the 14th and boldly took third on Yasiel Puig. Tony Watson kept things close in regulation. 

Mostly, though, this was about McCutchen. He was the big offseason acquisition, the player the front office imported after a 98-loss season to try and inject some life back into a suffering franchise. It had been a rough start for McCutchen. He entered the seventh game of the season with a .083 batting average. By the time he crossed the plate after five hours and 16 minutes of baseball, it was .280.

“I’ve gotten six hits in a couple of games … like six in a row,” he joked. “But never in one game.”

McCutchen said nothing really felt different on this day. He got pitches to hit and he took advantage, starting with his first at-bat, when he smoked a double into the left field corner. By the time it was over, however, he was in the record books. According to ESPN Stats & Info, McCutchen is the second player in MLB history with six hits and a walk-off homer in the same game. 

The final touches were put on that feat in dramatic fashion. McCutchen walked to the plate with the Giants down by a run, but the tying run was on third and the go-ahead run was on first. Font was the last reliever left in the Dodgers bullpen, and it quickly became clear what his plan was. 

“The first pitch he started me off with a curveball that I didn't want. It was up and then he went fastball up, and from there I knew those were the two pitches that he throws,” McCutchen said. “I was just trying to fight them off, fight them off, fight them off, until I got comfortable with whatever he threw up there.”

Font kept pumping curveballs and elevated heaters. McCutchen fouled seven of them off. The final one came in at 94.6 mph. McCutchen rocketed it out to left at 100 mph. 

“He didn’t elevate it too much and I was able to elevate it,” he said. 

With the swing, McCutchen lifted a clubhouse that has seen so many of these games go the other way the past two years. He emphatically threw his high socks into one of the sport’s best rivalries, and offered a reminder to the rest of the National League West that this is a different Giants team. It’s the type that’s used to playing and winning games like this.

“It was one of those Giants-Dodgers games that will be talked about,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s how good a game it was. It had everything.” 

A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

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.

Well, maybe. 

“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.”

Will Smith nearing return to big leagues: 'It's nice to be back under the lights again'

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AP

Will Smith nearing return to big leagues: 'It's nice to be back under the lights again'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith is generally in a good mood, but the smile was a bit bigger as reporters surrounded his locker on Monday afternoon. 

Smith has spent the last couple of weeks in the minor leagues but the long recovery from Tommy John surgery is nearly over. He will pitch in back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday, clearing the final hurdle in his rehab schedule. He will then pitch on Sunday. After that ...

"May 1. May 1, yeah," he said. "May 1."

That's the target date the Giants identified long ago and Smith is on track to be activated that day after missing all of last season and the first month of this one. In five rehab appearances, he has struck out nine over 4 2/3 innings. The reports on his velocity are good and he said his arm feels great.

"As long as these next outings go well we'll be back up here," he said. "It feels good. It feels really good. It's nice to be back under the lights again."

It's easy to forget now, but the Giants paid a steep price in prospects to acquire Smith at the 2016 deadline, hoping he would become a key part of the bullpen. He closed that season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances before contributing to the troubles in Game 4 of the NLDS. 

If Smith is back to form, the Giants would have one of the better left-handed combinations in the game. Tony Watson has been the best pitcher in the bullpen, and Bochy said he'll appreciate having the flexibility to use Smith or Watson in different roles. It's possible that Smith's presence could allow Watson to enter in the seventh to face a tough lefty like Cody Bellinger or Bryce Harper. 

Having both also will allow Bochy to have a reliable lefty for the eighth every night of the week. There have been times this season where he has been worried about overusing Watson. 

--- Elsewhere in the bullpen, Mark Melancon will play catch on Thursday. Melancon has not thrown since being shut down at the end of spring training and he had an injection in his pronator nearly two weeks ago to try and eliminate persistent irritation. 

--- Brandon Belt said he did not watch the full 12-minute version of his epic at-bat Sunday. 

"I have too much stuff to do," he said. 

He did, however, watch the sped-up replay.