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Casali caps big series with near cycle as Giants sweep

NBC Sports

Curt Casali entered this series against the Arizona Diamondbacks batting .100. By the final moments of the Giants' sweep, "Let's go Curt!" chants cascaded down from the seats at Oracle Park. 

There have been a lot of improbable stories this year for the Giants, but few of the comebacks have been as sudden as Casali's was over the last four days. He became well known early in the year for his shutout streak behind the plate, but as the Giants kept rolling, his average kept dropping. This week, Casali finally started trending upward. He finally joined the ongoing party for the best team in the National League.

The backup catcher, signed in the offseason, had three hits on Monday and drew a walk to set up Mike Yastrzemski's grand slam. In the series finale, Casali was the star, notching three more hits and flirting with the cycle to lead the Giants to a 10-3 victory. When Casali came up for that final at-bat, he took a moment to soak in the cheers. 

"It's definitely something new for me to be a part of a team this good, first of all, and to be in an atmosphere like that with genuine baseball fans that understand what they're watching," Casali said. "I was aware (of the cycle), I knew it. I've never had a triple in the big leagues before, so you know, it was a good day already, but to anybody watching out there, I really appreciate you cheering for me. It meant the world for me, especially considering how difficult of a season it's been for me."

 

The struggles have not been limited to the batter's box. Casali had hamate surgery in December and earlier this month, the Giants placed him on the IL for 10 games with a wrist strain. Throughout, he has battled to find a consistent feel with a bat in his hands. He recently picked up one of Mike Yastrzemski's bats and liked the way the handle was tapered, and he has taken it into games. 

Casali's big day started with a sharp homer to left, his first of the year and the 100th of the season for the Giants. He hit a high fly ball to Triples Alley in the fifth that looked like a sure out, but the Diamondbacks -- losers of 14 straight overall and an MLB-record 23 straight on the road -- butchered the play. Casali watched it drop, saw Brandon Belt well ahead of him on the bases, and took off for third. 

"I figured if the ball dropped there, this might be as good a time as any to give it a go," he said. 

The triple was Casali's first since he was in High-A ball in 2013, and it got the two hardest legs of a cycle out of the way. In the seventh, he added an RBI single. 

The Giants haven't had a cycle since Pablo Sandoval in 2011 and never have had one at Oracle Park, but they improbably had two players with a shot Thursday. Casali's single was followed by an RBI double by Steven Duggar, getting each player to three different kinds of hits. Casali needed a double and Duggar a homer at the time, but it didn't look like they would get a shot given the score. 

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The Giants had just one more inning left at the plate, but they kept taking advantage of an awful Diamondbacks pitching staff, getting four hits in the bottom of the eighth to bring Casali up with two outs, with Duggar on deck. 

"It was just general excitement when Curt walked up to the plate," Gabe Kapler said of the dugout scene. "His teammates really pull hard for him. The coaching staff really pulls hard for Curt, as well."

As Kapler and some of his coaches wondered what Casali would do if he poked a single into the outfield instead of putting one into a gap where he could run, Keury Mella went to 3-1 on Casali, eliciting some boos from the crowd. Casali got his chance with a 3-2 fastball and flew out to Josh Reddick in deep right. Duggar was left on deck. 

"Everybody his last (at-bat) was just hoping that Reddick would fall down or something and he would be able to get on second," said starter Kevin Gausman, who threw eight more dominant innings. 

Gausman called Casali the "ultimate professional" and someone who is fully invested in the success of the pitching staff. Duggar called him one of the most popular players in the clubhouse. There's a reason the dugout was so invested in that final at-bat.

 

"Everybody loves Curt," Duggar said. "I've only played with Curt for a short amount of time but I feel like I've known him forever. It was just a matter of time before he got things rolling."

Maybe it was a boost to his health. Maybe it was the change of bats. Maybe Casali just needed a few breaks to go his way -- like the triple, or the two infield singles on Monday. Whatever it was, he is finally on track, and the Giants couldn't be happier. It has been a team-wide effort at the plate this season, but Casali has mostly been left to watch. This week, and especially on Thursday, he has looked like the player the Giants were so excited to add behind Buster Posey. 

"Casali has had a grind of the year at the plate, to say the least," Kapler said. "The at-bats have gotten much, much better and he's gotten a lot more confident at the plate. I thought that 10-day blow gave him the opportunity to get and feel fully healthy, which is really important for him. He's starting to drive the baseball."

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