Who knew Matt Williams would help out the Giants in a playoff hunt so many years after he'd left his original team?
It was Williams, the Arizona Diamondbacks' third base coach, who put up the brakes to hold Upton at third in the first inning that gave the Giants their first break in Friday night's game, a reprieve from what could have been a disastrous start for Giants starter Matt Cain.
With runners on first and second in the first inning, Miguel Montero ripped a shot into the right field corner, driving home Aaron Hill, with Justin Upton on his heels rounding third. But Williams saw that right fielder Carlos Beltran had come up cleanly and quickly with the ball that rebounded off the wall.
What Williams didn't see was that Beltran had conceded the run, and thrown the ball into second.
Upton never scored, stranded on third when Cain blew a 93 MPH fastball right by Diamondback phenom Paul Goldschmidt for a strikeout, and after a walk to load the bases, got an inning-ending, rally-killing pop fly from Gerrardo Parra.
Cain had averted disaster, minimized the damage, and kept the Giants from falling too far behind early. A two-run deficit early could have been demoralizing, a signal that there was indeed something to this Diamondback juggernaut, the team that had stormed to a six-game lead over the world champions and into AT&T with a nine-game winnings streak.
Then there was Tim Flannery, the Giants' third base coach known for racing his base runners all the way to home plate as he's yelling at them to get in there.
Flannery's decision in the third inning to send Cody Ross home on Jeff Keppinger's two-out double high off the left field wall was the go-for-broke answer to Williams' caution, a perfectly aggressive -- some might call it reckless -- play to signal the Giants were not going down without a fight.
It was a crazy call, really. Ross had barely reached third base when left fielder Parra had already started throwing home. If Parra hits his cutoff man, Ross would have been out at home by 15 feet -- with Beltran, who'd tripled off the right field wall in the first inning, stuck on deck. But the throw was widely off the mark, Ross scored, and Flannery was vindicated.
Moments later, Beltran signaled his true arrival as a Giant with his monster home run to left field -- the first meaningful clutch hit since he'd arrived in San Francisco a month ago. It gave the Giants a 3-1 lead -- a lead they'd never relinquish en route to a 6-2 win-- but more significantly, it announced to the Diamondbacks the Giants were to be contended with.
The story has not yet been told -- there is a full month for that. But, the markings are there: a revitalized roster headlined by veteran Pat Burrell's return, but also by the infusion of youth with the September call-ups announced -- all undergirded by Giants' management's bold decision to cast off the expensive, underperforming and malignant Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada.
There can be little doubt that the Giants responded to the newly charged atmosphere -- both in the clubhouse, and in the playoff-intense vibrations of the fans.
Maybe the tension surrounding their awful August had evaporated with the changing of the calendar. But it was interesting that the big performances in the most important game of the year came from two players with a bit of symmetry to their stories.
Ross was last year's waiver wire pickup-turned post-season hero who'd fallen short of expectations in his return season. Beltran, this year's trade deadline pickup who was supposed to take the Giants back to the world series but had been largely an absent presence.
On this night, the night the Giants needed them the most, Ross and Beltran combined for six hits (of the Giants' total of eight hits) in seven at bats: a double, a triple, two home runs and two singles, three runs scored and five RBI.
Ross had survived the August 31 purge. But it was far from clear what role Bochy would have for him once rosters expanded. But there he was, in the leadoff spot and in center field against left hander Joe Saunders.
He'd hit a sharp grounder his first at bat, then drew what appeared to be an innocuous two-out walk in the third. These are the kinds of at bats the Giants parlayed into rallies so often last year but had gotten away from this year: the notion of keeping an inning alive just to see what the next guy could do. Ross' walk led to a three-run rally, and likely did not go unnoticed in the Giants' dugout.
Ross hit a booming double off the center field wall in the fifth inning that led to the Giants' fourth run when Beltran drove in a run with a single to left. And Ross' home run, a line drive that top-spinned just over the wall in left, was reminiscent of his power display in the playoffs.
Beltran's swing was pure art form all night, from both sides of the plate. He nearly hit one out the other way in his first at bat, a blast off the right field wall for a triple in the first. He was stranded on third that inning, so decided to drive himself home the next time with his two-run shot in the third.
It was a majestic blast, precisely what Giants fans had envisioned when he was brought in as the putative savior. As he rounded the bases with his athletic, Barry Bonds-like stride, he carried with him the aching hope that the Giants could creep back into this race.
With five games still separating the Giants and Diamondbacks, San Francisco is going to need much more from Beltran and Ross. And the new kids. And it wouldn't hurt if Matt Williams did another favor or two for his old boys, too.