With the Giants' tying run on first and two outs in the ninth inning Friday, a fascinating thing happened at Oracle Park. As Brandon Crawford stepped into the batter's box against Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Kevin Ginkel, Pablo Sandoval walked out into the on-deck circle and started swinging a bat.
That ordinarily wouldn't be a big deal. But Sandoval was set to hit for Chadwick Tromp, who had come in to replace Steven Duggar, who had pinch-run for Joey Bart. It looked like a deke, but after the game, manager Gabe Kapler said he would have let Sandoval hit for Tromp, his only remaining catcher, if Crawford had reached base.
The Giants were down by a run and needed to tie it. If that ended up with Sandoval catching in the top of the 10th, they would go with it.
"You have to get to a winning situation, and the only way to do that sometimes is to use a weapon and know that he's capable of going behind the plate if you absolutely need him to," Kapler said at the time. "It wouldn't be our best defense, but we know that he's available in an emergency and he can win the game with his swing. That's one thing that we know about Pablo, and we really wanted to give him the opportunity to do that."
The move would have led to an interesting 10th inning for fans and Sandoval, but for Kapler, this was par for the course with the way he has managed in recent days. There has certainly appeared to be an increased sense or urgency, with a realization that the Giants are right in the race and have to manage every game like a playoff game now that they're in September. There were other subtle signs.
With the Giants trailing Friday, Kapler used Sam Selman, possibly his hottest reliever right now, for two innings. On the bench, the staff talked about using occasional closer Tyler Rogers in the top of the ninth to try and guarantee that lineup would come up in the bottom of the inning still trailing by just a run.
A day later, Kapler yanked Trevor Cahill in the third inning, bringing lefty Caleb Baragar in to face David Peralta with two outs and two runners in scoring position. Baragar got the out, and the bullpen mixed and matched from there.
"I think we're going to be looking to win tonight's game and figuring out tomorrow, tomorrow," Kapler said Saturday. "It's not that we don't have to be cognizant of the upcoming games, and it's not that we don't have to be cognizant of how we're going to be performing a week or 10 days from now, but certainly every game is really big at this point. We'll start to treat that with that level of urgency and I think you're just seeing us manage the games a little bit more aggressively right now."
Kapler came into the season talking about how every one of 60 games would have a playoff vibe, but the Giants took the long view early on, especially with their starting pitchers. Two things have happened through 41 games to change the plan a bit.
The Giants have gone 20-21, and that's enough for the eighth and final playoff spot in the National League right now. They've gotten this far in large part because of their lineup, and Kapler said that has played into some decisions. He has been aggressive with his bullpen moves in close games because he knows he has a group of hitters that can come back from deficits.
"Down two runs, we felt we were right there," Kapler said Friday. "We went to guys that we thought could keep us in the game. We did that because we really believed in our offense."
The urgency might be seen with roster moves, too. This was supposed to be a year when Jaylin Davis would get some reps, but the Giants have prioritized more experienced right-handed bats like Joey Rickard and Daniel Robertson. There's no chance at this point that they have a spot for someone like Heliot Ramos.
The Giants could even find themselves without a spot for Jeff Samardzija, who is coming to the end of his five-year run with the organization but might not be a better option than any of the current starters or relievers once he's medically cleared.
Kapler has a group he believes in right now, and with 19 games left, he's ready to press down on the gas.
"This is where you start to push players to their limits as it relates to their freshness," he said, "And you begin to ask more of everyone around you."