When the Giants gave Wilmer Flores a modest two-year deal last February, it made perfect sense. Flores was a versatile defender and had repeatedly come up big against the Giants in the late innings while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team figured to get better just by not having to face him on the other side, but a funny thing happened once Flores slipped into orange and black.
The veteran has turned into an everyday player for Gabe Kapler, in part because he's playing some of the best baseball of his career and in part because injuries have necessitated it. But he hasn't lost any of that late-innings magic.
Flores stunned 52,026 Dodgers fans in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday, hitting a no-doubter off closer Kenley Jansen to swing the game and lead the Giants to a 4-2 win. The victory guaranteed the Giants will fly home on Thursday night in first place by pushing their lead in the NL West to two games. Given how good Jansen has been this year, it seemed to come out of thin air, but that's not at all how the clubhouse felt.
"This group roots pretty hard for Wilmer Flores, who has been as clutch as any hitter that we've had over the course of the last two seasons," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This was kind of his M.O. in New York. He's always been known to be clutch and come up in big spots and kind of thrive in the biggest moments, and I think his teammates know that. The coaching staff knows that. We're really excited when he comes up to the plate in a big spot."
Flores walked up with the tying run on first thanks to Buster Posey's leadoff single, and the knowledge that, while he has always had a good plan against Jansen, he hasn't made good on it. Flores was hitless in eight previous at-bats against Jansen, who had allowed just one prior homer this year, but he jumped on a 92 mph cutter that stayed up in the zone. The homer, the 100th of his career, sailed toward the bleachers as Flores turned toward the visiting dugout and calmly started his jog around the bases.
"I was looking exactly where he threw it," Flores said. "Something up, something hard and up. It seems like every time I face him he throws one or two up there and I was just ready for it."
The blast was the 11th of the year for Flores, who has been a lifesaver since Evan Longoria went on the IL with a shoulder injury that will ultimately cost him two months. The Giants have been pleasantly surprised by Flores' defense, and the bat has come to life. Kapler credited Flores' pregame work for allowing him to come through in a moment like this one.
"Nobody prepares better, and it is as consistent as you can possibly imagine," he said. "Every single day, the same work, the same intense work. It's not just going through the motions and taking ground balls, but he's out there and working on things. Whether it's swinging in the cage or out on the field, that's also consistent.
"That consistency of preparation always leads to confidence. He gets in those big moments, he knows he's prepared for them, and then he steps up big because of that confidence. And then, obviously, he's pretty talented, too."
The Giants tacked on another run and chased Jansen, who departed to boos. Kapler, as he said he would Tuesday night, called on Tyler Rogers in a tight spot. The right-hander had a 1-2-3 ninth, washing away the misery from the night before. With the final out, the Giants became the first team in MLB to reach 60 wins, a measure of their skill and preparation, but also their resilience.
They have been walked off eight times this season but have come back to win the next game after six of those losses. A night after one of their worst losses of the year, they celebrated one of their best.
"As a team, we were able to flush it and come out today and keep trying," Flores said. "The series wasn't over."