Gabe Kapler seemed to have a bit more pep in his step when he entered the Zoom Room before Friday's doubleheader. The Giants manager is as serious as it gets most times, but he flashed a smile several times as he answered questions about the biggest day of his tenure in orange and black.
There was a moment, though, when that demeanor briefly disappeared. When asked about his bullpen, Kapler got serious, saying he needed to look out for relievers who had been overworked recently, and hinting that he would do that despite having two games to play against the Padres and a narrow lead in the race for the postseason.
It turned out to be a prescient moment.
In the 14th inning of the day, with a chance to just about clinch a spot in the playoffs, Kapler ran out of reliable bullpen arms. He had used Tony Watson to lock up the first win of the doubleheader, and Caleb Baragar and Sam Selman had been used after Jeff Samardzija was pulled in the second game, each going a third straight day. Jarlin Garcia was used. Tyler Rogers was off, having thrown in three straight.
So Kapler turned to Sam Coonrod, a right-hander who mixes brilliance with a stunning lack of command. It was clear right away that Coonrod didn't have it. He sprayed his fastball, getting a brief reprieve only because of a home plate umpire who was hunting strikes that were off the plate arm-side. Kapler called down and had Wandy Peralta start to get loose, but he knew he would let Coonrod face Fernando Tatis Jr. with the game on the line.
It didn't get that far.
Coonrod hung a changeup and Trent Grisham blasted it to right for a three-run shot that epitomized 2020 baseball in multiple ways. The Padres got a 6-5 walk-off win at Oracle Park in a game that was necessary only because of a false positive on a COVID-19 test two weeks ago.
"This sucked. It was a gut-punch loss," Kapler said. "And we will bounce back like we have all season long."
There's little doubt about that last part. The Giants handed a lead to Coonrod only because Wilmer Flores hit a three-run homer off Drew Pomeranz, who had started his season with 19 consecutive scoreless appearances. They are a resilient group, and they are still in the driver's seat.
The Giants enter the final two days at 29-29, a game ahead of the Phillies -- who also blew a lead Friday -- and the Brewers. With wins Saturday and Sunday, the Giants are in. With one win, plus one loss from each of those two teams, they're in.
The first win of the day guaranteed all that. Still, this was, as Kapler said, a shot right to the stomach. With two more outs, the Giants would have gone back to the hotel needing just one win, or one loss from the Phillies and the Brewers, to play next week.
"Today felt like we were playing Game 7 of the World Series, with a lot of energy. Unfortunately, the last game didn't go our way," Flores said. "But we've still got tomorrow. Just come with the same mentality. Work and win. I don't think there's another way to do it."
Flores and the offense will have to lead the charge, because the pitching staff continues to leak oil. Kapler wouldn't say who will start Saturday, although it's Johnny Cueto's turn. He will have to stay away from some of his young lefties, but he should have Rogers back as his late righty instead of Coonrod.
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The hope is that Rogers or someone else gets a chance to do what Coonrod could not. Coonrod didn't have it, although he wasn't able to explain why. He declined to speak to the media after blowing the save.
"His key is getting in the zone and staying in the zone," Kapler said. "It's not his stuff, it never has been and never will be. He's 97 to 100, 101, with a wipeout changeup. His key to being an elite Major League reliever is just throwing a ton of strikes. It's also the thing that's holding him back from being an elite reliever right now, and Sam is well aware that that's the key to his success."