Mac Williamson experienced the full gamut of baseball emotions within a few minutes Wednesday night. One moment, the Giants outfielder was rounding the bases having hit his first major-league home run to break a tied game in the eighth inning. The next, he was scrambling after a fly ball he had dropped in left field, gifting the Boston Red Sox the tying run in scoring position.
With help from a few bullpen teammates, and some nifty maneuvering of relievers by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, Williamson emerged from Wednesday night’s game the hero and his fielding gaffe became a footnote as the Giants held on to beat the Red Sox, 2-1, at AT&T Park.
"Obviously," Williamson said afterward, "this game can humble you really quickly."
Williamson had been humbled in his first two at-bats against Boston starter David Price, striking out in each, before he jumped on the first pitch he saw from Price leading off the bottom of the eighth. Williamson, like Bochy, thought he’d gotten under the ball, but it kept carrying, just enough to clear the cars of the Chevron sign on the left-field wall.
A crowd that to that point had sounded conspicuously pro-Red Sox erupted, and as Williamson, who once hit 25 home runs in a minor-league season, jogged out to left field for the ninth, the scoreboard notified all present of his major-league first. But then the wind that had aided Williamson’s ball came around to foil him. Hanley Ramirez lifted a lazy fly against closer Santiago Casilla that bounced off of Williamson’s glove, allowing Ramirez to coast into second base with no outs.
"All night long the wind was kind of blowing from right field to left field," Williamson said. "A couple (fly balls) really came back, so I was playing that ball to come back to me a little bit. I called off Denard (Span), I thought it was going to be right under it, and it kind of darted the other way. I tried to recover and didn’t make the play."
The error heightened the drama of the inning and sent Bochy into matchup mode. After Casilla struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the first out, Boston sent up David Ortiz to pinch-hit -- to the delight of the Red Sox contingent in the stands -- and Bochy countered with left-handed specialist Javier Lopez, a former teammate of Ortiz’s in Boston.
Ortiz, who has said he’s playing his final season, worked a full count before taking a close fastball away for ball four. But Lopez struck out Travis Shaw, and Hunter Strickland came on to save the game by throwing one pitch, getting Marco Hernandez to hit a soft grounder to Brandon Crawford.
"They saved us tonight," Bochy said of the bullpen. "They did a great job of picking each other up. We got in a tough jam there with the dropped fly ball, but guys kept their poise and made their pitches. That’s a big win after a tough loss (Tuesday) night."
Williamson said he felt "really bad for Casilla, I didn’t come through for him there," and credited the Giants’ final three relievers -- the Giants’ embattled closer included -- with "picking me up big-time."
Giants starter Madison Bumgarner saw his individual six-game winning streak come to an end but allowed just one run in six innings on a night when he "wasn’t too happy the way I felt." Bumgarner needed 101 pitches to get through the sixth but limited a potent Boston lineup to Chris Young’s solo home run in the fourth.
"It’s just one of those days where you wake up and know it’s going to be a rough one, just the way your body feels," the left-hander said. "But to get out of there with the line I had and to keep us in the game like that, you’ve got to feel good about that, pitching against an offense like that."
Bumgarner had started 45 straight games before Wednesday with Buster Posey behind the plate, the longest such streak between battery-mates in the majors. But with Posey sidelined for a third straight game by nerve irritation in his thumb, Trevor Brown became the eighth catcher to receive Bumgarner in a major-league game.
"It wasn’t a whole lot different," Bumgarner said. "Me and Buster have a good relationship and kinda know each other pretty good … But I’ve gotten to know Brownie for a while now and threw to him a lot in spring training. He watches, he knows what’s going on, so it wasn’t a big adjustment."
The Giants gave Bumgarner just one run of support, but that one was notable. Brandon Belt hit a breaking ball from Price into McCovey Cove with one out in the fourth inning, marking the first Splash Hit by a Giants player since Sept. 25, 2014 -- also hit by Belt -- and the 69th since AT&T Park opened.
"We knew it’d been a while," Belt said of the drought. "We were looking to move onto the next number on the list for sure.
"I definitely wanted to be the one (to hit it). I think there’s not a person in here that didn’t want to be the one. I just keep on thinking that it’s going to be one of those things that it’s going to end up being up there for like three days and somebody’s going to hit 70. Hopefully we can enjoy it for a little bit."
After Bumgarner’s exit, Derek Law and Cory Gearrin got the Giants through the eighth to set up Williamson’s go-ahead homer. It has not been a smooth season for Williamson, who has shuttled back and forth from Triple-A Sacramento and entered Wednesday’s game batting .167 with the Giants.
Afterward, Williamson recalled an at-bat in the Giants’ 2-0 loss to the Rockies on May 8, Mothers’ Day, in which he came up with the bases loaded early in the game and failed to drive in a run. The moment had clearly stuck with Williamson, who said he “really needed to put together a better at-bat for the team there.”
"I talked to Bochy a little bit, talked to Buster a little bit, about just relaxing and letting the game come to me," Williamson said. "I know there were some times the first couple times I was trying to do a lot, because I knew the at-bats were going to be limited and I was trying to prove that I belonged, and sometimes that can be counter-productive.
"This time I was trying to let the game come to me. I struck out twice today, but I tried to remain positive and upbeat."
Williamson said Price had used a cut fastball against him effectively in both strikeouts. So he went up in the eighth inning looking for the cutter, "hoping he’d leave it over the plate at some point." Williamson got under the pitch, but he got enough of it to give the Giants a win.
"That was a big one for him," Bumgarner said. "He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself, trying to do good. He’s got some of the best tools in the game. If he puts it together, he’s going to be a really good player."