Feel familiar? Giants embark on a postseason run with some new characters in the mix

·5 min read

If you ask Google whether a right-handed batter has ever hit a home run into McCovey Cove, which sits just beyond the right field wall of the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark on the bay, the auto-generated answers will tell you no, no one ever has. But Buster Posey has come close.

In the first game of the most anticipated series of the 2021 baseball season and the first playoff game in San Francisco since 2016, Posey came close again. With one on and two out in the first inning, the 34-year-old catcher and holder of institutional knowledge put a pitch in the water. It bounced off a column atop the concourse first, but to anyone who rooted for the teams that made even-year magic seem like an inevitability, it felt like fan service — ripped from a scripted version of a reboot about the charmed season of a sleeping giant.

That put the Giants up 2-0 over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning of the NLDS. A few other names-you-know would homer in the tight two hours and 39 minutes it took to showcase some of what has made the team so special this year. It was more than they would need to win, 4-0, what will be remembered as the Logan Webb Game. A new name etched into the lore that’ll loom a little larger if they can win another 10 more.

Throughout the season, as baseball talkers tried to juxtapose the two teams on pace to win 100+ games in the same division, the dichotomy was often drawn between the no-one-saw-them-coming Giants and the best-team-in-baseball Dodgers. Even as the Giants led the division down to the wire and won the season series, their rivals retained the “best” moniker. But as good as the reigning champions are and have been for years now, it might be time to get a little more creative with their epithet. Because at what point do “winningest” and “best” become inherently synonymous?

Posey’s homer — his first in October since the 2012 World Series — was not so much a throwback fluke as a feature of his best offensive season since 2014. After opting out of the 2020 season, he returned to a team that deployed carefully allotted days off to coax an OPS 40 percent better than league average out of the veteran. That strategy and the success it has wrought has been a critical component of the Giants’ resurgence — veterans defying the aging curve with the help of a progressive coaching staff to become key contributors. Brandon Belt, who hit a career-best 29 home runs this season, is off the NLDS roster after getting hit by a pitch that broke his thumb. But likely down-ballot MVP candidate Brandon Crawford, who said the atmosphere reminded him of the early days of his career when the team was winning championships, had a solo shot in the eighth.

Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford clap hands as the Giants defeat the Dodgers.
Just like old times: Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford homered as the Giants took NLDS Game 1 from the Dodgers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Of course, the team didn’t just rely on nostalgia bait, and the fountain of youth that is rest and receptiveness to new ideas, to carry them across the finish line this season. Benefiting from the Chicago Cubs’ fire sale, they added Kris Bryant at the deadline. The four-time All-Star struggled in September — especially compared to the contributions the Dodgers were getting from their own mid-season acquisitions — but he also homered Friday night.

(The Giants, by the way, hit the most home runs of any National League team this season. It’s not as exciting as stealing home or as charmingly old school as stringing together a couple hits, but it’s an efficient way to win ballgames that has been particularly potent this postseason.)

All of those stars, though, along with the star-studded Dodgers lineup, paled in comparison to the performance of a 24-year-old pitcher making his postseason debut.

While the Dodgers started Cy Young candidate Walker “Big Game” Buehler — after Max Scherzer pitched the wild-card game on Wednesday — the Giants introduced the world to Logan Webb.

Relying on over 70 percent offspeed pitches and pinpoint precision to induce weak contact and avoid any walks, Webb cruised through 7 2/3 scoreless innings on 92 pitches. He struck out 10 and fielded five grounders himself — a one-man show shutting out a Dodgers lineup that scored more runs than any other NL team. It was the best version of what the sinkerballer has shown all season.

Twitter cycled through different combinations of parameters to contextualize a performance that is perhaps best understood simply via outcome.

First of all: “I think a lot more people are going to be paying attention to him now,” as Crawford said in a postgame interview.

And more importantly: It gave the Giants a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five series against the Dodgers.

The Route 1 NLDS was historic before it even started: The best matchup in baseball playoff history by pure combined wins. In some ways this is what the entire baseball year has been building toward: A clash that challenges the current playoff structure, the established hierarchy in the sport, and whether a zero-sum contest can even accurately capture how cool this all can be.

Every game is going to make heroes of those who rise to the occasion. On Friday night, the Giants got to anoint a new ace on a national stage. And that was just the beginning.

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