The best part of the Giants' 3-1 win over the Colorado Rockies in their 2021 home opener Friday at Oracle Park wasn't Johnny Cueto's dominant outing.
It wasn't his triple-shimmy to strikeout C.J. Cron. It wasn't Brandon Crawford's two-run double to get the Giants on the board in the bottom of the seventh inning, or even Buster Posey's two hits in his first home game since Sept. 29, 2019. It was hearing three words from Giants fans through my TV watching the home opener from my own home.
Chants of "He's a bum!" were heard loud and clear from fans in the center field bleachers with Garrett Hampson standing in the battlefield that is the center field grass. It was a reminder of normalcy, a sense of buying an overpriced beer at a Giants home game. We could all use that right now, even Hampson, as we inch closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Friday at the yard was an emotional one that ended with Jake McGee closing the door after Cueto allowed just four hits and one earned run in 8 2/3 innings pitched. Pregame festivities included loud ovations from over 7,000 Giants fans welcoming back Posey, along with getting to cheer for coach Alyssa Nakken and manager Gabe Kapler for the first time.
Tears also were shed ahead of the game as the Giants remembered lost legends on the jumbotron, including NBC Sports Bay Area's Tom Pellack.
Cheers and tears then were tied together when Giants fan Bryan Stow, who was viciously attacked in the Dodger Stadium parking lot 10 years ago, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Nakken.
Kapler was both cheered before and during the game, and even was booed his first time in front of Giants fans for replacing Cueto with one out to go. He joked it wasn't his first time being booed and it won't be his last. All in all, though, there's more than one thing he'll remember when looking back at this special day.
"I think obviously I'll remember Johnny's performance," Kapler said after the win. "The athleticism, how well he fielded his position, how composed he was, how resilient he was through the game. I'll remember Craw's big hit. I'll remember Dick's big pinch-hit at-bat, I thought that was excellent.
"I'll remember Alyssa catching the first pitch of the game in a pretty emotion moment. Just having fans in the stands and what that felt like. Looking up for the first time and recognizing that there weren't cardboard cutouts out there was pretty inspiring as well.
"There's a lot to take away from our home opener. There's plenty to hold onto and remember."
There's no doubt Cueto stole the show as far as on-field performances go. The 35-year-old made Web Gems with his glove and made the Rockies look foolish at times with his uptick in velocity and nasty offspeed pitches.
Cueto is a performer, as seen with his shimmies and showing his emotion after a huge strikeout to end the top of the seventh inning. His manager certainly believes Cueto fed off the fuel from having fans back in the ballpark, too.
"He really thrives with energy behind him," Kapler said. "He likes to interact during the game with his coaches, he likes to interact with players and he certainly is a performer. He likes to interact with the fans as well, so I think he was boosted by the fans.
"I don't even think there's a question about that."
Cueto quickly agreed with Kapler.
"Yes. The crowd, I like to perform in front of the crowd," Cueto said through his interpreter Erwin Higueros. "As athletes, we like to perform in front of the crowd."
Cueto threw six pitches above 93 mph on Friday. That's far more than usual for the veteran who mixes speeds and pitching motions to get hitters off balance. He might have the fans to thank for that, but if this is the version of Cueto the Giants will get all season long, this is a much more dangerous team.
On a perfect sunny day in San Francisco, Giants baseball was back. With the game on the line the first time Giants fans could enter Oracle Park in more than a year, one could have easily closed their eyes and imagined a packed park of orange and black with fans high-fiving when McGee got Jake Hilliard to strikeout swinging on three straight fastballs.
"Yeah, especially there at the end," Kapler said when asked if it felt like a full house at times. "It kind of felt like a pretty lively atmosphere and it felt like the ballpark was relatively full."
We're not there yet. Through tears and cheers, we just got one step closer.