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Yaz found his ideal bat path at perfect time for Giants

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Mike Yastrzemski, Brandon Belt

The ballpark was empty and quiet at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, except for a small group huddled around home plate. 

Mike Yastrzemski had come out for early batting practice with hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind, looking for answers. He would take his swings and then look at a screen set up alongside the cage, and then repeat the process, over and over again, looking for the swing that took him from career minor leaguer to star over the past two years. 

Yastrzemski found it at the perfect time. 

With the Giants trailing by three and two outs in the eighth, Yastrzemski crushed a Humberto Castellanos changeup into McCovey Cove for his first career grand slam. The Giants had been down by seven in the second inning and trailed big the rest of the night, but Yastrzemski turned the tables with one swing, handing the Giants a 9-8 win that was one of their best of the Gabe Kapler era, and the Diamondbacks their 21st consecutive loss on the road. 

The comeback would seem improbable, except that's not how things work in the home dugout at Oracle Park right now. Yastrzemski said Ecker came up to him after the first inning and told him the Giants would come back and win. Kapler said that vibe was in the air all night long, no matter what the scoreboard said. 

 

"I don't feel like we ever thought we were out of that game and we could see multiple paths to getting back into it and winning it even after the rough first few innings and how everything started," Kapler said. "It's just a lot of pride from the players in themselves for just grinding through that game and giving Yaz a chance to get that big hit."

Yastrzemski entered the night with a .789 OPS and six homers, numbers that are just fine, but not up to the high standard he has set for himself since joining the Giants. His timing was off at the start of the year after he got drilled on the hand at the end of spring training, and he has been further set back by an oblique strain and a sprained thumb. 

Yastrzemski has spent most of the last two months searching for the right bat path, and he felt he found it in that afternoon session. 

"Donnie and Dustin were out there with me and Justin (Viele) has been working with me all the time, too, and they're just so good at figuring out the things that keep us good and get us back on track when we're not going the way we want to," Yastrzemski said. "We were just working on my path all day and really trying to keep everything moving towards the middle of the field. That was kind of the exact swing that we worked on -- I got a pitch that was middle-in and didn't try and do too much with it, didn't try and yank it. I just tried to stay through it and I just put a good swing on it."

A lot of work was involved in finding that exact swing, and a lot of work went into making this comeback possible. The Giants kept chipping away and Kapler kept firing pinch-hitters at the Diamondbacks, hoping for the big hit that would get the Giants back in the game. His fifth and final option, Curt Casali, came through in the eighth. 

The inning started with Brandon Belt's third hit and Donovan Solano reached when third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera couldn't handle his chopper to third. After a couple of outs, Casali -- who has struggled at the plate all year but had three hits Monday -- drew a walk to extend the inning to Yastrzemski. As Kapler watched his right fielder walk to the plate, he started to get a good feeling. 

"You could tell when he walked up there that his timing was right and that he was locked in and focused," he said. "He was just kind of on-time with every stride and that first ball that he smoked down the right field line felt like Yaz at his best. It felt like something good was going to happen there."

Yastrzemski nearly pulled a double down the line but it hooked foul. Four pitches later, his drive stayed true. He said the grand slam was his first since the Cape Cod League when he was playing at Vanderbilt. This one clinched a thrilling comeback, one that had Oracle Park shaking more than it has in a couple of years and filled the dugout with smiles and laughter.

 
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Even Kapler, usually stoic, couldn't hide the emotion as he greeted his victorious players on the dugout steps. 

"Any come-from-behind win feels similar but I think this one had an elevated sense of joy and excitement because we had a grand slam that put us ahead and I think all of us root so hard for Yaz," Kapler said. "He prepares so well. He's had a tough season in some ways, dealt with some injuries and sacrificed his body for the club. So that's probably why it was so gratifying for all of us."

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