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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brandon Crawford has arrived

The Kid had his debut moment a couple weeks ago with that splashy grand slam home run that picked up the despondent Giants when they seemed to be at rock bottom after losing Buster Posey.

But Brandon Crawford hadn't really arrived until Wednesday.

The rookie shortstop may have seized the starting role with his stellar performance in the Giants' 3-1 win in the rubber match of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. He's quieted the speculation over whether the Giants should pursue Jose Reyes. And he's probably sealed Miguel Tejada's fate.

All Crawford's skills were on full display on defense Wednesday -- or at least those that we're aware of. And his bat continues to defy expectation: he's answered skeptics, including me, who worried he could not hit at the major league level. He looks comfortable -- not at all overwhelmed like you might expect a kid with a .270 career minor league average, a kid who never played above the AA level (where he hit .250).

Crawford has shown a steadiness that belies his lack of experience, and on Wednesday, he ratcheted up his performance with absolute fearlessness and the kind of athleticism that we haven't seen in San Francisco since Omar Vizquel.

The 24-year old kid from Mountain View has got the look of a street ballplayer, a tough kid with style.

Crawford put on a show. On one play when the score was still tied 0-0 in the sixth, he ranged far to his right, pivoted from the 5 1/2 hole and with a quick sidearm release, gunned down a speedy Roger Bernadina.

In the seventh, with the potential game-tying run at second base, Crawford ranged far to his left to make a spectacular diving play. He fielded the ground ball after sprawling to the ground, popping up and making a strong throw to retire Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, with the runner, Michael Morse, only able to advance to third.

Morse later scored with two outs when Matt Cain -- in undoubtedly his strongest start of the year -- made perhaps his only mistake, a curve that hung out over the plate for Rick Ankiel to hammer to right field for an RBI double (evoking memories of Ankiel's game-winning home run for the Braves in the playoffs, and the hope that he isn't dealt to a team with playoff hopes later on).

None of the Giants' other shortstop options would have made either play, combining quickness, range and arm strength.

It all was enough to distinguish himself in a tight game, in which one mistake, one errant throw or ill-timed dive, could have resulted in more stress on Cain and quite possibly a different outcome.

And then Crawford did what none of the Giants big RBI men could do Wednesday (and in so many instances all year): come up with a big hit with a much needed potential run on base.

He'd already had a couple strong at bats: an infield single on a bouncing ball in the 3 1/2 hole, and a scorching line drive caught by an onrushing center fielder Bernadina, who had to reach up to catch it as it almost soared over his head.

When he came to bat in the bottom of the seventh, the Nationals had just tied the game, 1-1, and Cody Ross stood on at first base with two outs. Crawford worked the count full against left-hander Sean Burnett. Burnett, who was the closer for the Nationals earlier in the season, has not had a great season: he's 1-3 with a 5.96 ERA.

But against left-handed hitters, Burnett has been tough. He'd allowed only seven hits in 35 at bats, a .200 batting average. One of those was Aubrey Huff's bloop two-run single that was part of the Giants' 5-4 comeback, walk-off win on Monday.

On Burnett's 3-2 pitch to Crawford, a curve, there was no bloop or luck or nicely placed component to his hit. The Kid stayed back and put on a beautiful swing, powering a drive through the gap in right center for an RBI triple, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

It was the kind of hit that stamps a reputation: the left-handed hitter stood in nicely against a lefty, and he delivered in a big moment. As he stood on third, a calm confidence showed on his face. He had a swagger while standing still, if that's possible.

He scored when Eli Whiteside came up with his second big hit of the day, an RBI single to center, padding the lead to 3-1. Whiteside had doubled in the sixth, scoring on Cain's RBI double to break a scoreless tie.

Whiteside and Crawford were two players provided an opportunity when Posey went down. Whiteside is a stopgap measure behind the plate, and his big day came just at a time when talk was growing louder about whether the Giants needed to go outside the organization for a starting catcher.

That may be a process that has already left the station and Whiteside's days as a regular catcher may be limited (for one thing, his throwing arm is a terrible liability: he apparently has not recovered from the injury he suffered in Spring Training, his wild throws to second a huge red flag). For another, he's still hitting .190, even after his two-for-three day.

Crawford's future appears unlimited. After showing some early wildness on his throws, he's settled down on routine plays, which seems to have freed him up -- bolstered his confidence -- to make the spectacular play. The first real glimpse of that athleticism came Tuesday night on his sliding catch on a pop up right on the left field line after a long run, while averting a collision with third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

After the Giants' misjudgment on Tejada and experimentation with Mike Fontenot, there is little doubt that the right guy has arrived.


  1. Thanks for your story telling and catching me up on the latest. I've been busy working while the games are on. It's good hearing the kid is doing well.

    I wrote a comment earlier, here, comparing the present Giants to the Dodgers of the 60's and 70's. We had better hitting then, but they beat us with their pitching. What say you of that comparison?

  2. Hey, Paul. Busy day yesterday, so I didn't have a chance to respond. I'd say it's as good an analogy as you get, though there is no Sandy Koufax on this team; the Giants could claim to have the best staff, and they have to make two runs stand up, if they get two at all, so there's your comparison. Bumgarner's performance definitely felt like that. And he is absolutely brilliant. I guess as close to a Koufax impersonator as you can get on the staff. It's so hard to compare eras. You look at the numbers of pitchers in the 60s, all those complete games and shutouts, 300-plus inning years, big strikeout years, ERAs in the 1s and 2s. They may be calling this year the year of the pitcher, but that's only in comparison to the outsized Steroid offense years. I imagine if the mound was raised at the same level as it was in the 60s, you might get similar numbers, though the pitchers still wouldn't go the distance.