Patrick Bailey, the best thing to happen to the Giants this season, hits a walk-off homer


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SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants were down to their final out in the 10th inning Sunday afternoon. Patrick Bailey whittled down the odds even further.

“I haven’t hit breaking balls great right-handed,” the Giants’ rookie catcher said. “So I was just gonna sit on the fastball.”

Against a slider? Bailey figured his only chance against Texas Rangers closer Will Smith was to take it and hope it wouldn’t be in the strike zone. Bailey knew from the scouting reports that opponents were batting .089 against Smith’s slider. He also knew that Smith threw the pitch in the strike zone just 41 percent of the time. Two more beautifully executed backdoor sliders, or even a couple of hang jobs down the middle, and the Giants would have been left to ponder an excruciating loss amid a daunting stretch in a season that was giving off vibes of slipping away.

Smith did not throw a slider with a 1-1 count. He did not throw a curveball, either. He challenged Bailey with an inside fastball. And Bailey providentially pulled the Giants out of the wreckage with one swing. He hit a low line drive that stayed fair as it slipped over the left-field wall for a two-run home run, sending the Giants’ waterfront ballpark into euphoria and flipping what would have been a heartbreaking result into a moment of helmet-tossing jubilation. The Giants’ 3-2 victory snapped a four-game losing streak and prevented Bruce Bochy’s crew from pulling off a series sweep.

Bailey, 24, became the youngest Giant to hit a walk-off homer since a 22-year-old Pablo Sandoval ended a game against the Washington Nationals in 2009.

“I was watching and hoping,” said Bailey of his first big-league walk-off homer, while noting the quirky raised portion of the left-field wall where an advertisement juts out. “I hoped it was hooking enough to stay away from that. When it went over, it was the coolest feeling.”

Patrick Bailey watches his first major-league walk-off homer clear the left-field wall. (Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

There’s no guarantee that the spine tingles from Sunday’s sudden victory will carry over into Monday’s home series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. But the 10th inning served as one more moment of permanence for Bailey, whose emergence as a poised presence behind the plate and a life learner in the batter’s box is the healthiest development to happen to the franchise this season. Even though Bailey didn’t debut until May 19, he leads all Giants position players in fWAR. He’s emerged as a catcher who could be a perennial Gold Glove finalist, even if the timing of his debut might make it tough to outrank Atlanta’s Sean Murphy this season.

It’s a promising sign that the Giants have relied on their farm system and not the waiver wire to address injuries and roster deficiencies this season. But Bailey and right-hander Ryan Walker might be the only rookies who have established themselves as near certainties to play meaningful roles in the big leagues next season.

Infielder Casey Schmitt’s chase rate sent him back to Triple-A Sacramento. David Villar wasn’t able to hang onto his incumbent status at third base. Keaton Winn’s elbow flared up. Right-hander Tristan Beck has had a wobble here and there lately. Rule 5 draftee Blake Sabol is an obvious keeper who’d also arrive with a full complement of minor-league options next season. Shortstop Marco Luciano impressed in a three-game cameo but a hamstring injury — he’s shut down for at least two more weeks, the Giants announced on Sunday — stalled the experiment to expand his utility to include second base. And there’s a good chance that outfielder Luis Matos, whose bat has been too light to hold down an everyday job, will head back to Sacramento when the Giants activate Mike Yastrzemski from the injured list as soon as Monday.

Matos and Luciano are both 21 years old. Nobody expected them to take the league by storm this season. Their future value to the organization won’t be defined by anything that happens this year. For now, anyway, Matos has shown that there’s a lot of physical and mental development still to happen. He hasn’t made enough hard contact to be a lineup asset and his impressive-on-first-blush defensive skills have shown deficiencies to address.

Of all the rookies who have debuted, it’s safe to say that Bailey is the best thing that has happened to the Giants this season. And he’s impressing a certain Giants fan who stays up late to watch games on the East Coast.

“The biggest thing that stands out to me is he has a quiet calm, a quiet confidence,” said Buster Posey, asked about Bailey in a phone interview last week. “It’s oozing off him onto the screen, even watching him on TV. It’s hard to measure how important that is, not just for the pitching staff but for the rest of the guys that are watching every pitch.

“You can see all the tools he has — obviously he has a tremendous arm, his pop time is as good as anybody’s — but for me, the biggest thing is the fact that as soon as he walks on the field, you feel good about winning that game. And that’s a strong attribute to have.”

It’s an attribute that defined Posey’s career with the Giants and likely will send him to Cooperstown in a few years. So this is the highest praise from the highest source.

Posey first became acquainted with Bailey when they were together in major-league spring training in 2021. When Posey, now part of the ownership group, spent a few days in Scottsdale this past spring, the Giants gathered all their minor-league players for a convocation at the Papago Park complex. Posey was the featured speaker. He encouraged the minor leaguers by describing the opportunity in front of them. He told them how passionate Giants fans were and how receptive the city was to young, homegrown players. He told them what a tremendous feeling it was to form a winning nucleus with other players who came up in the system alongside him.

When Posey opened the floor to questions, Bailey raised his hand. He asked what a young catcher should do to gain the trust of a veteran pitching staff.

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Patrick Bailey celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning. (Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

“I hadn’t spent a lot of time around him since that ’21 camp but I noticed a different maturity level,” Posey said. “He was asking bigger-picture questions. He seemed ready to take that leap, and he was. It’s going to be fun to watch him down the stretch.”

Posey will be able to watch Bailey in person more often. Posey and his family are in the process of moving from suburban Atlanta back to the Bay Area. As Posey explained, it took a year away for the family to realize that the Bay Area had become the place that truly felt like home. It’s where both their sets of twins were born. So they loaded up the moving truck last week. It’ll give Posey the opportunity to see more Giants games from the stands. He said he is as eager as anyone to watch the next generation of homegrown players establish themselves.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a little bit of a dry spell (developing players),” Posey said. “But I wanted these guys to know from someone who recently went through it: If they come up and win ballgames, and show what it’s like to play as a team, Giants fans and the city of San Francisco will get behind them quickly. And I think we’ve seen that.”

Posey will get no argument from Logan Webb, who wended his way through the system to become a staff ace and has become as beloved as any player on the roster.

In the ninth inning, the Rangers were the team down to its final out. Webb was a strike away from throwing a five-hit shutout. The crowd cheered when Webb emerged to start the ninth. They booed when manager Gabe Kapler came out to take the baseball after Rangers No.6 hitter J.P. Martinez lined an apparent single over the head of second baseman Thairo Estrada — a hit that became a hustle double when it nearly split rookie center fielder Luis Matos and right fielder Michael Conforto, neither of whom have played up to their defensive reputations.

Kapler was flanked by Spanish interpreter and quality control coach Nick Ortiz. So the intent was clear. The manager didn’t come out to check on Webb, who had thrown 107 pitches. He was coming to transfer the baseball to Camilo Doval.

“He comes out and he gives the ball to the best closer in the game,” Webb said. “I’m not going to complain about that.”

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Logan Webb exits Sunday’s game in the top of the ninth inning. (Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

Kapler said he was hoping for a strikeout or a weak ground ball. The Giants got the latter, which shortstop Brandon Crawford ranged to backhand. But Ezequiel Duran beat the throw and Martinez, who was running with the pitch, scored from second base without a play.

When Doval balked in the automatic runner in the top of the 10th, the Giants were on the precipice of a morale-shattering loss. The batting coaches have been burning sage in the indoor cage in an attempt to change the energy of an offensive group that has been the least productive in the major leagues for what’s become a 25 percent chunk of the season. A loss Sunday and someone might have escalated to live poultry.

If not for Bailey’s home run, the postgame grilling would have commenced as well: the (totally justified) pitching change, the balk, Crawford’s decision to throw to first base instead of home, perhaps further examination of Matos and his reoccurring missteps to get to balls hit in front of him.

All of those plays and decisions mattered. But they were just the ice chunks floating on the surface. The enduring issue remains an offense that isn’t sustaining rallies or getting timely hits or barreling up mistakes.

Conforto hit a home run for the second consecutive day — the first ones he’s hit since July 8 — but the Giants did little else against Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning, who might as well have been throwing Robb Nen’s prime-career slider for as many times as hitters swung through it. Dunning threw his slider 32 times. The Giants swung 19 times. They made contact seven times.

Dunning entered the day with the seventh-lowest strikeout rate (6.3 per nine innings) among 64 qualified major-league starters. He walked off the mound with a career-high 12 strikeouts in seven innings.

The Giants’ ineptitude against the slider is emerging as an especially obvious issue. They entered the day with a .194 average against sliders and sweepers — worse than every major-league team except the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the teams that rank in the top four (Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies) happen to be the opponents they’re facing in this 15-game swath of the schedule that just got underway.

Of course, the Giants haven’t been particularly good against any pitch type in two months. From the time their 10-game winning streak ended on June 22 through Saturday, they ranked dead last in the major leagues in batting average (.209), on-base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.332) while hitting the fewest home runs (35).

Every team goes through lulls in a long season. When those lulls last for a 43-game stretch — more than 25 percent of the schedule — they tend to define your season.

So until the lineup begins to register a heart-quickening pulse, it’s probably wishful thinking to view Sunday’s euphoric victory as a new tone setter.

At least there’s this: For the first time all season, the Giants have a winning record (13-12) in Webb’s starts.

Webb used one of his best changeups of the season to hold down the league’s highest-scoring team. When he took the mound in the ninth, he found himself taking a peek or two at the scoreboard in between pitches. He wasn’t checking his velocity. He was telling time. The Giants hadn’t played a nine-inning game in under two hours in almost 14 years before July 9, when Webb needed an hour and 56 minutes to sent the Giants into the All-Star break with his first career shutout against the Colorado Rockies. On Sunday, he was poised to do it again.

“I was trying to get under two hours,” he said, smiling. “That was really all I cared about. I don’t know if I’d gotten the out if it would’ve been under two hours.”

Informed that Martinez hit his two-out double with the game at an hour and 57 minutes, Webb shook his head.

“It would’ve been?” he said. “Ahhh. Why’d you tell me that?”

The game crossed the two-hour mark. Thanks to Bailey, it still ended with a rush.


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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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