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With a new vibe, Slater leads Giants in win over Padres

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Buster Posey and Austin Slater

SAN FRANCISCO -- In less than a week, the Giants will reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold required by MLB to loosen restrictions at the ballpark and during road trips. 

That will mean the Giants can go out for dinners when they visit Pittsburgh and spend more time together at the team hotel. They can see family members and friends, and in the dugout, they can ditch the masks they have worn for parts of two seasons. 

It also means that two key members of the lineup might be able to show up to PNC Park looking like they're preparing to shoot a "Super Troopers" sequel. 

Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski are proudly participating in "Mustache May," a tradition they started in the minor leagues in 2019 when teammate Zach Green left a caterpillar above his upper lip and promptly caught fire at the plate. The early returns are promising. 

Slater hit the go-ahead homer Friday in a 5-4 win over the San Diego Padres that added to the early cushion in a surprising NL West race and Yastrzemski came off the bench -- and the Injured List -- to run down a Manny Machado drive in the eighth that helped protect a one-run lead.

The Giants improved to 4-3 against the favored Padres this season, and they had fun while doing it. Slater smiled after the game as he explained the origins of a 'stache that would fit right in at a truck stop. He credited Green, now in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers, and said as soon as he shaved into his own stache he took off at the plate.

 

Slater has struggled in recent weeks and entered with a .205 average and .616 OPS, but he looked like his best self Friday. 

"I needed to switch something up," he said in a video conference Friday. "I was going through a little skid there and sometimes it's funny things like that. We'll see if it keeps going, but it's off to a good start."

The homer followed a brief meltdown that allowed the Padres to get back into a game they trailed by four runs. The Giants jumped ahead on Buster Posey's opposite-field blast and a two-run single by Evan Longoria, but Oracle Park tightened up in the late innings.

This is a bullpen that has struggled, but Camilo Doval was effectively wild in the seventh, Rogers did what he always does and Jake McGee struck out three of four batters he faced in the ninth. That pushed the Giants 1 1/2 games ahead of the Padres and 2 1/2 ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven't looked up that far at their rivals since July of 2016. 

Manager Gabe Kapler has stuck to the "it's early" script, and rightfully so. It's only Mustache May and there's a long way to go, but Kapler likes what he has seen in the matchups between the Giants and the Padres. 

"We want to win every single game and compete no matter what the other uniform says, but that's a good baseball team across the way," he said. "It's a well-managed and well-coached baseball team. They make good decisions in-game and they make it difficult on you. I think there's some gratification that comes from playing them tough, but ultimately the goal is not to play anyone tough, it's to win a lot of baseball games."

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The Giants will win a lot more if the lineup gets going, and Slater and Yastrzemski need to be part of that. Kapler runs both of them out there at the top of his lineups often, and he'll be happy to ride any May hot streak if this lasts. He said he would give Slater's mustache a 65-grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Yastrzemski might be elite, though. 

"If Yaz would just shave the little thing below his lip, I think that would pop him in the 80 range," Kapler said. 

Even Slater had to admit that Yastrzemski, who has much darker hair, has the edge right now. 

"Yaz's is more pronounced," Slater said. "He's got a little flavor saver down there, too. I didn't know that was part of it or I might not have shaved mine off. Yeah, he might have me beat right now."

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