Kelby Tomlinson didn’t know at first. The Giants’ rookie second baseman had just hit his first major-league home run, a grand slam in the eighth inning Thursday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs. When the inning ended and Tomlinson jogged to his defensive position, the center-field scoreboard at AT&T Park showed a close-up of Tomlinson while most of a crowd of 41,847 stood and applauded.
But Tomlinson didn’t notice his close-up – until Marlon Byrd jogged by on his way to right field and told the rookie to look at the scoreboard. Tomlinson turned, smiled a little wider than he already was, and briefly touched the bill of his cap in acknowledgment.
“He was trying not to smile, he was trying to hold it in,” Byrd said. “I didn’t want him holding it in.”
An injury-plagued Giants’ lineup broke out the bats, with home runs from both Tomlinson and Byrd providing more than enough support for ace Madison Bumgarner, who capped a dominant month of August with six strong innings. The Giants beat the Cubs 9-1 to gain a game on Chicago in the wild-card race, stay 21/2 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers and take a bit of momentum into their weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals, owners of baseball’s best record.
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Bumgarner allowed just two hits – both in the second inning, with Starlin Castro’s RBI double giving the Cubs their only run – while striking out 12 batters. In five August starts, the Giants’ left-hander went 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA. He allowed 23 hits, walked four and struck out 53.
“Bum was Bum today,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
With the Giants leading 5-1 after the sixth, Bochy took the opportunity give Bumgarner, who had already thrown 98 pitches, an earlier-than-normal exit. Juan Perez, playing due to Gregor Blanco’s strained hip, doubled in the Giants’ first run in the second inning. In the third, Matt Duffy, playing on a sprained right ankle, drove in Nori Aoki with a single off Cubs starter Dan Haren. Duffy then scored on a three-run homer by Byrd, acquired because of an oblique injury to Hunter Pence.
“If anything it tells you these guys, they’re pushing,” Bochy said. “We’re going through a lot right now. During the course of a season you’re going to have to overcome injuries, or some kind of adversity. You need somebody to come up and give you a shot in the arm.”
In the eighth, Tomlinson provided a full dose. Fooled on a first-pitch curveball from Cubs reliever James Russell, Tomlinson fell behind 1-2 and fouled off two fastballs. Russell came back with another curve, and this time Tomlinson reached out and lofted it into the left-field seats with Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Byrd on base.
“That was a heck of an at-bat,” Byrd said. “That was actually a pretty good pitch, and to have a good (bat) path on it and keep it fair was just awesome.”
Since being called up from the Triple-A River Cats to help replace injured second baseman Joe Panik, Tomlinson is hitting .346 in 20 games. Similar to Panik (who took over second base last year at age 23) and Duffy (who became the everyday third baseman this season at 24), the 25-year-old Tomlinson has managed not to appear overwhelmed by his first major-league experience.
“That’s so important, to have depth,” Bochy said. “These guys we’re calling up, what I’m pleased with is their poise, their sense of comfort here, their sense of belonging. They’re not in awe of anything.”
Well, almost anything. As Tomlinson stood at second before the ninth inning, with his image on the scoreboard and cheering in his ears, he took a moment to soak it in.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he said. “Usually during the game I’m pretty locked in and don’t smile too much. But I don’t think I could get the smile off of my face during that.”