SAN FRANCISCO -- For all that he has been through, Steven Duggar has never stopped doubting that he's supposed to be here.
Duggar was going to be the center fielder of the future at Oracle Park, but brutal injury luck slowed that progress. When a new regime came in, Duggar watched as some of his closest friends in the organization, prospects who came up through the minors at the same time, ended up elsewhere. The Giants started churning through new outfielders, eventually hitting on enough of them that Duggar started this season back in Triple-A.
Duggar played his way back up and looked like a new man, hitting so much and playing such dependable defense in center field that he briefly did become that everyday center fielder. And then the game knocked him down again, with a lengthy slump landing him back in the minors, no signs of that changing as the Giants continued to constantly make roster moves.
But he never stopped preparing to be here, and on Sunday, the Giants called him back up for their biggest game of the year. Austin Slater got hurt and Duggar ended up back in center field, coming up huge in a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park.
"I was just really excited to be back," he said after the win. "Obviously the last few weeks down in Sac, I was just waiting, preparing the same as if I were here. I was extremely fortunate to get an opportunity tonight to help the team win in a pretty big game. 'Sunday Night Baseball' in this incredible rivalry, and tonight the good guys came out on top."
They did in large part because of Duggar. With the game tied in the second inning, he yanked an elevated cutter from Walker Buehler into the right field corner. Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Crawford scored easily, and as Duggar watched Mookie Betts give chase, he turned on the jets. He cruised into third as Oracle Park shook. Duggar turned to the dugout, screaming at his teammates to keep it going. They never looked back.
Duggar's triple brought in two of the six runs the Giants scored off Buehler, a big-game pitcher and Cy Young candidate who had one of the worst starts of his career. Duggar would score himself on a Curt Casali single, giving manager Gabe Kapler a three-run lead and a little bit more freedom to use his bullpen as he wanted.
"I thought he set the tone there with that swing and then I also thought he set the tone with the baserunning," Kapler said. "Triples are pretty exciting and we don't hit many of them. I don't think it's any secret that we're not the fastest team in the land, but Duggar can really run. I think that was a 'fire up the dugout' type moment, both for the swing and the big hit and also for the triple."
The triple was part of a barrage of extra-base hits against Buehler, who had allowed just three earned runs in five previous starts against the Giants this season. Brandon Belt kicked it off with a solo homer and LaMonte Wade Jr. and Brandon Crawford capped things with back-to-back doubles to ignite a rally in the third. That was Buehler's final frame in his first start of fewer than five innings this season.
Kapler said the approach was not any different. Against the best pitchers, the Giants try to be aggressive early in counts. With two strikes, they look for something they can drive.
"It's really the same approach we take against all good pitchers, and Buehler is excellent," Kapler said. "We were prepared and I thought our at-bats were of good quality. We got enough big hits in today's game to win."
The Giants had failed to do that over the previous two games, even as they eked out a win Friday. They were 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position coming into the finale, but Duggar's triple opened the floodgates.
Duggar was an unlikely hero. When Alex Dickerson got hurt earlier this week, the Giants called up Mauricio Dubon, not Duggar. Kapler was open about it Saturday, saying Duggar was not getting off his best swings in Triple-A, but that the team still believed in him. A few hours later, Austin Slater suffered a concussion when he crashed into the center field wall.
That brought Duggar -- who was so good early in the season that he still ranks ninth on the team in WAR -- back into the fold.
"It was rewarding, to say the least," he said. "I've been mentally preparing to come back from the second that I got optioned. I was really just trying to turn the page and keep it moving. To get the text from (Kapler) that I'm in there, I was just ready to roll."
That text set off a chain reaction that led to a very 2021 Giants moment. In their biggest game of the year, the biggest hit came from a player who was taking his first big league at-bat in a month. That's how this team has done it all year, and it has them a game up in the NL West again.
"It's just no flinch up and down the lineup," Duggar said. "We just go about our preparation. Every guy pulls their weight. It's just a lot of fun, man. It's a lot of fun to come to the field and strap it on and go play."