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Wade Jr. keeps amazing ninth-inning run going in big win

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SAN DIEGO -- The Giants have 11 more games to try and wrap up what would be a stunning NL West title, but their postseason fate is not the only thing that must be solidified before October arrives. At some point, the Giants and their fan base must decide on just one nickname for LaMonte Wade Jr.

Kevin Gausman said the clubhouse prefers Late Night LaMonte, which was appropriate when he got the game-winning hit on Tuesday night at 10:42 p.m. Technically, it should be Late Game LaMonte since three of his five game-tying or go-ahead hits in the second half have come during day games. Mike Krukow recently offered LaNinth Wade Jr., which is also appropriate, since the outfielder is now 12-for-19 in the ninth inning. 

The man himself -- a young, emerging cleanup hitter who has come up with more big hits than anyone in this race for the NL West crown -- has a different idea. After getting the game-winner in a 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres, Wade once again pointed out that he would like to be more consistent. 

"Hopefully it can be Early Game LaMonte at some point," he said, smiling. "But if it's got to be Late Night, then it's Late Night."

On Tuesday night, the Giants once again needed him to be Late Night LaMonte. Wade came up with two on and one out in the ninth and plopped a single into left to give the Giants a 6-5 lead that would hold up. In his first season as a big league starter, Wade has driven in 11 runs in the ninth inning alone, and he has completed a cycle of big-time hits against NL West opponents.

 

Wade has become, without a doubt, the player the Giants want at the plate when the game can be won, but this one wasn't his usual blast. Former Giant Mark Melancon brought his mix of cutters and looping curveballs, and on a night when exit velocity wasn't always rewarded, the Giants relied on finding the right patch of grass. 

Brandon Belt and Buster Posey reached with singles at 71 and 75 mph, respectively, and Wade's flew out to left at just 64.8 mph. A different approach was needed, but Wade once again came through.

"Melancon is really tough on left-handed hitters and LaMonte wasn't getting off that swing that was super-violent that you knew was going to smoke a ball in the gap," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It was more of a battle style of swing, and for good reason. He's running that cutter in on your hands and the curveball below the zone, but LaMonte was in battle mode and he's been so big in those situations. He got a ball that he was able to fight off and kept us alive and put us in a good position." 

On a night when this truly was a game of inches, the game-winner nearly resulted in Belt being out twice. Fernando Tatis Jr. drifted back on the single and came inches away from snagging it with one of his athletic leaps, and after the ball was retrieved in left, Belt beat the throw home by a split-second. The Giants had options to run for Belt once he reached second, but there was faith he could get home on a base hit.

"You remember that he's a really good baserunner, he's a really heady baserunner, he makes good decisions, he reads balls well," Kapler said. "That, in combination with high-quality at-bats and excellent defense at first, he's just kind of a great all-around baseball player. We always want him on the field. We always want him up at the plate in a big moment."

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The go-ahead run held up in part because of Belt. Manny Machado had homered twice earlier in the game and nearly hit a third out, and with the tying run on second, he crushed a 112 mph rocket to the right side. Belt bobbled it and then fired to second, where Brandon Crawford was waiting for the turn. Tyler Rogers made it to first in time for a slick play that ended the game and clinched a 98th win for the Giants. 

The wild ninth inning also allowed the Giants to stay a game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won a similarly close game at Coors Field. This division race is as close as it gets, and the Giants still have the edge thanks to guys like Late Night LaMonte. 

 

"I've been hearing the nicknames and everything like that," he said. "I guess that's pretty cool. Some of the guys in there laugh about it and say it in the locker room and I think it's pretty cool. Any time that you can help this team win it's just a great feeling. You definitely want to keep that going."

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