Brandon Belt hit his fourth homer in three games, but it was a hustle play by Brandon Crawford that arguably was as important to the Giants' 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in the series finale at American Family Field on Sunday.
Leading off the eighth inning in a 4-4 game, Crawford looped a hit into shallow left field, and most players would have settled for a single. But the veteran shortstop took a gamble, betting that former NL MVP Christian Yelich couldn't throw him out at second base.
Yelich made a solid throw across his body and the play at second base was close, but the gamble paid off for Crawford and the Giants. Tommy La Stella, pinch-hitting for Donovan Solano, singled to center off Brewers reliever Brad Boxberger, allowing Crawford to score the eventual winning run.
"I knew where I hit it, there was a chance I'd be able to get two," Crawford told reporters on a video conference call after the win. "Out of the box, yeah, that was my mindset. Going until he stops me. If I would have turned and looked and he would have gotten to it quicker than I thought, I would have threw the brakes on and gone back to first. But he had to go a long way, make a throw on the run, so I figured it was worth a chance there."
Giants manager Gabe Kapler was asked by The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser about Crawford's play, and he approved of the hustle.
"I loved the play. I love the instincts ...," Kapler said. "Both Craw and Tommy, in that situation, they understand the value of a baserunner on second vs. a baserunner on first. And in Tommy's case, how valuable it is that he can score the run with a base hit, but also he can move him over. He could draw a walk. Both players are super smart and understand game strategy so well. There's not a lot of coaching that happens there. It's an instinct play for Craw and just an excellent at-bat by Tommy."
After La Stella gave the Giants the lead, reliever Zack Littell got the final six outs to preserve the win.
The Giants just finished a brutal two-week stretch with series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, pesky Arizona Diamondbacks and Brewers, going 9-4 in those games. Now they get a much-needed day off before opening a homestand on Tuesday against the D-backs.
Crawford admitted the games in Milwaukee almost felt like a playoff atmosphere, and there's a good chance the Giants and Brewers see each other in October.
Kapler explained why everything the Giants have gone through recently made Sunday's win that much sweeter.
"It was one of the more challenging series of the year," Kapler said. "I think in many ways, especially in this last game, where we running on fumes, bullpen definitely was on fumes, but one of the reasons Brandon Belt doesn't stay in that game is because we needed to try to get him a day off. While it was super enticing and he mentioned to me that he could probably stay in the game, it was very difficult to keep him off his feet and not go play what could have been several more innings.
"And we're doing that because Tommy's just coming back and Brandon is just coming back, and we need these guys strong and healthy through the end and into the playoffs. So for me, we're just thinking about the big picture and we understand our pitchers have thrown a lot of innings and our bullpen really has been grinding. So we kind of have all those things in mind as we entered the last game of this series. And for that reason, it's pretty gratifying to take two of three."
The Giants, at 71-41, aren't going anywhere. They aren't a perfect team by any stretch, but they are battled-tested and have gone toe-to-toe with the Dodgers, Astros and Brewers, who each have more talented rosters.
With veterans like Crawford, La Stella and Belt leading the way, the Giants should be a tough out in the postseason.