As Marlon Byrd came to the plate for his first at-bat at AT&T Park in a Giants uniform Tuesday night, the crowd gave the recently acquired outfielder a loud round of applause. It was largely a welcome-to-San-Francisco moment, but anyone in the stands with a long memory might have been applauding a little louder.
In 2010, Byrd, then with the Chicago Cubs, made a key play in the All-Star Game when in the ninth inning he corralled a John Buck single in right field, whirled and threw out David Ortiz advancing from first to second base. It helped the National League protect a 3-1 lead – and several months later, it ensured home-field advantage for the Giants when they played the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
The Giants, of course, won the first two games of that Series at home and went on to beat the Rangers in five games for their first of three titles in five years. Asked if his All-Star contributions had come up since he joined the Giants in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds last Thursday, Byrd said they had not.
“Not at all,” he said, grinning. “That was so long ago. But to have a little, small, small hand in it is pretty cool.”
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Byrd, with the rest of the baseball world, watched as the Giants also won championships in 2012 and 2014 and said he’s glad to be with a contender for the second half this year, leaving a Reds team that is last place in the N.L. Central. Byrd said the trade caught him off-guard: He hadn’t expected to be moved after the July 31 deadline, and had already taken batting practice before the Reds’ game that evening when he got the call.
Changing scenery, though, is nothing new to Byrd, 37, who is with his ninth major-league team. That experience has eased what might otherwise be a difficult on-the-field transition: playing right field at AT&T Park. The jutting and uneven wall can make it difficult for outfielders to judge their distance from the wall and to play caroms off of it.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy had the option to put Nori Aoki in right field instead and play Byrd – an emergency acquisition after regular right fielder Hunter Pence suffered an oblique strain – in left field. But Bochy said Byrd feels more comfortable playing right field and “didn’t hesitate” to step in there for the Giants.
The thing about Marlon, he’s got no fear. He’s been playing the game a long time.
Bruce Bochy, Giants manager
“He’s played some tough right fields,” Bochy said. “The thing about Marlon, he’s got no fear. He’s been playing the game a long time.”
Byrd was 4 for 17 in his first four games with the Giants entering Wednesday, but he’s at least a healthy body for Bochy to write into the lineup. Already missing Pence, Angel Pagan and Joe Panik to injuries, the Giants removed shortstop Brandon Crawford from Tuesday’s game in the eighth inning because of tightness in his left oblique.
Then, shortly before first pitch Wednesday, they scratched outfielder Gregor Blanco from the lineup because of a left hip strain. That left Juan Perez – who Tuesday served as the Giants’ emergency infielder, playing second base for the first time since 2009 – starting in center field and Bochy with two presumably healthy players on the bench in Justin Maxwell and Andrew Susac.
The good news for the Giants is that Crawford’s injury is believed to not be serious. Crawford, who felt the oblique muscle tighten up following his last swing in a 12-pitch sixth-inning at-bat, said Wednesday afternoon he still felt mild tightness, but the fact that it hadn’t become worse was encouraging.
“They didn’t feel like we needed to do an MRI or anything,” Crawford said. “Hopefully it’s a couple days.”
Crawford suffered a more serious oblique strain in the final game of the season in 2013, and said this injury “feels pretty mild” in comparison. Given their other injury absences, the Giants can ill afford to lose Crawford, who ranks second on the team with 19 homers (behind Byrd) and 75 RBIs (behind Buster Posey). The hope is Crawford will be healthy enough to return to the lineup Friday.
“You have to be careful with the side, so it doesn’t turn into an oblique pull,” Bochy said. “But our hope is it’s just a two-day deal.”