The Giants didn’t tie the game in the seventh inning on Wednesday, but they did show an important trait, one that’s helped them sweep two consecutive road series.
Even with Mitch Haniger and J.D. Davis down — and with a short bench because Davis hadn’t been put on the IL — manager Gabe Kapler had options. He was able to mix and match, sending Joc Pederson and Michael Conforto up as the potential tying runs against hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Hicks. Pederson struck out and Conforto grounded out, but two innings later, their spots approached again, and Mike Yastrzemski took advantage.
Hitting in front of the pair, Yastrzemski blasted a two-out, two-strike, two-run homer to stun the reeling Cardinals in the top of the ninth and lead the Giants to an 8-5 win and their first sweep in St. Louis in 25 years.
On the NBC Sports Bay Area postgame show after the game, he said his mindset was simple.
“Honestly, once I got to two strikes it was a complete approach at ‘Get Joc to the plate,’ ” Yastrzemski said. “I think that kind of mentality just frees you up. When you get a good pitch to hit your body just takes over and knows what to do. It was more of a reactionary thing than anything.”
The Cardinals would have been better off had Yastrzemski drawn a walk, as Pederson followed with a strikeout. But his presence brought comfort to Yastrzemski and showed off newfound depth, which has come about in part because of how quickly top prospects have developed this season.
Under Kapler and his staff, the Giants have always been far scarier when given late-game options, and often they even set their starting lineup with the intent of using someone like Pederson or Austin Slater in a specific spot late in the game. Luis Matos’ arrival allowed them to go with a mini-line change on a day when a lefty was on the other side.
Matos started in his MLB debut and hit second, a spot behind Slater, who was the one replaced late in the game by Pederson. Conforto got six innings to rest before taking over for Matos. Without Davis, who has a Grade 1 ankle sprain and will be down for at least a few more days, the Giants went with Casey Schmitt and David Villar, who had a key defensive play in his return.
Depth doesn’t guarantee production. Pederson and Conforto were hitless off the bench, and the rookies — Schmitt and Matos — combined to go 1-for-6. But it does allow the manager to manage the way he wants to rather than forcing left-on-left matchups on a day like Wednesday. Pederson and Conforto were looming in the ninth, and Yastrzemski felt that helped him settle down with the game on the line.
The Giants got two comeback wins last week in Denver in large part because they were able to maneuver late. Even without Haniger — who will have surgery on Thursday — Kapler should still be able to do that if Matos hits the ground running. Similarly, Schmitt and Patrick Bailey have allowed the Giants to chase platoon advantages at other spots.
Someone still has to get that big swing, and on Wednesday it was Yastrzemski, who picked up his sixth game-tying or go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later. He kept the momentum going for a team that all of a sudden seems fearless on the road and will need to carry that into Los Angeles this weekend.
“We’ve got a couple of things going on,” Yastrzemski said. “We’ve got a lot of young life that’s come up and played really well and stepped right in and filled some positions on some injuries. Obviously there’s a ton of value in that.
“And then we had a couple of conversations with the team where we were just kind of getting lull in the middle of games, whether we were up big or down big, we just kind of let the games slip away from us. We talked about staying in the game no matter what happens and keep fighting until the last out.”