If the Giants are playing for anything as the season winds down, it’s to finish above .500 for the second time in the Farhan Zaidi era and see what some of their rookies can do.
They took a step in the right direction on both fronts on Friday night in front of a national audience.
Against the vaunted Dodgers, who have already clinched the National League West, the Giants earned a rare road victory; San Francisco had lost 26 of its last 31 road contests entering the night.
To do so, Sean Manaea put together his best outing of the season, tossing seven scoreless innings with 85 pitches. To support his gem, Mike Yastrzemski and Thairo Estrada each homered and All-Star closer Camilo Doval recorded his 38th save of the season in a 5-1 victory.
Perhaps most noteworthy, the Giants (77-77) got tremendous production out of their rookies — just like they did in the series opener. Marco Luciano recorded his first career steal while also cranking the top two hardest-hit balls of the night. And in the ninth, he scored on Tyler Fitzgerald’s first MLB home run — a lofted shot down the left-field line in the ninth.
In the first inning, Freddie Freeman notched his 200th hit of the season, breaking his career high for a single season.
This year’s Giants hits leader? Thairo Estrada, with 128. The last Giants to reach 200 knocks in a season was Rich Aurilia in 2001 and Bobby Bonds in 1970 before that.
Joc Pederson, who’s been swinging a hot bat recently, smacked San Francisco’s first hit — a double to lead off the third inning. Two batters later, he scored on a 372-foot home run from Mike Yastrzemski.
Yastrzemski, who made an uncharacteristic mental mistake in Thursday’s loss, is one of the many frustrated players within the Giants’ clubhouse who have seen their playoff odds plummet from 59.2% at the start of September to 1.2% now.
“There’s so many guys in here that work so hard and to be continuously snakebit by little, stupid mistakes that are avoidable,” Yastrzemski told reporters Thursday in Los Angeles, via The Athletic. “We just need to hold each other to a higher standard and be accountable.”
Yastrzemski gave the Giants a 2-0 lead, and Manaea held it there. In his third consecutive start, and ninth of the season, the southpaw shut down the Dodgers for seven innings. His fastball touched 96.6 mph with fantastic command — his didn’t issue any walks all game.
Manaea needed only 72 pitches to get through the first six innings. To sit down Miguel Rojas, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in the sixth, he threw three fastballs and a changeup.
At that point, Manaea and the Giants held a 3-0 lead, thanks to Estrada’s 13th homer of the season.
After his seventh shutout inning, Manaea clapped his hands as he walked to the Giants’ dugout. It was the first time he pitched into the seventh inning this season. He gave up three hits in his second quality start of 2023.
Manaea’s decision on his $12.5 million opt-out clause seems to be pretty simple. He considers himself a starting pitcher, and a club will surely pay him to execute that role — particularly in a thin free agent class. Not only could another club outbid that $12.5 million figure, their word on a guaranteed rotation spot would probably carry more weight.
Manaea’s excellent start brought his season ERA to 4.51, which is unremarkable yet inflated due to a tough beginning of the season. In his past 27 games entering Friday, he posted a 3.78 ERA and 3.22 FIP.
The Giants nearly choked away the lead Manaea helped create, but Camilo Doval got the third — fourth, really — out of the eighth inning to strand the bases loaded. LA scored a run after Patrick Bailey couldn’t corral a third strike that would’ve ended the inning.
But they averted the crisis, thanks to Doval and the rookies. Luciano cracked a single up the middle at 111.8 mph for the hardest-hit ball of the game from either team. Then Fitzgerald put the Giants on top 5-1 by squeaking one inside the foul pole.
For a team mostly playing for pride and future hope, it was as sweet a cherry on top as possible.