SAN DIEGO -- When the top of the ninth inning rolled around Tuesday night at Petco Park, the Giants had Brandon Belt and Buster Posey due up, with Kris Bryant and Brandon Crawford getting their gear on in the dugout, just in case. But the man they wanted up at the plate most might have been the one who wasn't even on the team when the Giants and San Diego Padres played a huge series to finish off the 2020 season.
LaMonte Wade Jr. has become Gabe Kapler's most reliable bat in late innings, and he once again came through Tuesday. Wade's 12th hit in the ninth inning this season gave the Giants a 6-5 lead that would hold up through a wild bottom of the ninth.
Wade has those 12 hits in just 19 at-bats, and he's also 3-for-5 in extra innings. That all adds up to extremely rare production late in games. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Wade is on track to have the second-best batting average after the eighth inning over the last 40 seasons.
That's really just the tip of the iceberg for Wade, who has an .856 OPS overall in his first full big league season. On a team that doesn't always do a great job of bringing in runners on second or third, Wade has a .365 average with runners in scoring position, with 30 RBI in 63 at-bats. He's 11-for-26 with two outs and runners in scoring position, and he's batting .420 with a 1.114 OPS in plate appearances that are considered high leverage.
The RBI on Tuesday was Wade's 11th in the ninth inning, which is tied for sixth in the majors. All of the other players who have at least 11 ninth-inning RBI have more than 34 plate appearances, though. Wade is at just 20. On a team that has made plenty of comebacks this season, Wade is the only Giant with more than five RBI in the ninth inning, and the only regular with an OPS over 1.000.
How does he do it? On Tuesday, Wade once again said he just feels "comfortable in that situation."
"I don't really think about it too much," he said. "I'm really just trying to take it one at-bat at a time. I would much rather have these at-bats early in the game and throughout the game, but I guess it's not a bad thing that they come late. I think it just shows the fight in this team and shows that everybody really has the trust in (hitting coaches Justin Viele and Donnie Ecker) and what they tell us to go out there and perform and do it.
"I really don't think any situation is too big for us as a unit. It's a lot of fun when we can put it together and go out there and play good defense and run off a good plan at the plate."
That plan has often included driving the ball, but on Tuesday the Giants just needed a base hit off Mark Melancon, who is tough on lefties. Manager Gabe Kapler credited Wade for staying within himself, and once again that led to a go-ahead hit for Wade and the Giants. There's a reason they call him Late Night LaMonte, although with the way he's swinging in the late innings, really any nickname works.
"Man he's kind of turned into Mr. Ninth Inning, hasn't he?" closer Tyler Rogers said.