SAN FRANCISCO -- It’s a question that doesn’t come up in the majors too often: When your teammate wins a game with a walk-off hit, like the Giants’ Kelby Tomlinson did Friday night, do you have to be careful mobbing him in celebration if he wears glasses?
"I think they stay on pretty well," Giants right-hander Mike Leake said of Tomlinson’s eyewear. "He’s seeing the ball well, so they work."
Yet even while seeing how the past two days have played out for Tomlinson, the rookie second baseman said, he still doesn’t fully believe it. Thursday afternoon, Tomlinson hit a grand slam for his first major-league home run. Friday night, he came up again with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tied game, and lined a single back up the middle for his first walk-off hit in the Giants’ 5-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
"It’s been unbelievable," Tomlinson said of the two-day stretch. "You couldn’t script this up."
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For the Giants to lose All-Star Joe Panik to lower back inflammation, call up a 25-year-old minor leaguer to replace him and watch him hit .364 in his first 21 big-league games? The plot would have felt contrived. Yet that’s what Tomlinson has done since his debut on August 3, with his latest contribution helping the Giants gain a game on the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card race and stay 2 ½ games back of the Dodgers in the N.L. West.
Leake, who was traded to the Giants from Cincinnati shortly before Tomlinson got called up, said his initial impression of the rookie was: "Where’d he come from?"
"But it’s awesome to see," Leake said. "Those are things you hope for in baseball, to be honest. To see guys come up and produce immediately is cool, something a lot of guys with they could do. And he should be very happy right now with what he’s doing for us."
The Giants took a 4-0 lead in the third inning Friday on Marlon Byrd’s grand slam but saw the lead whittled away by the sixth. In the ninth, they loaded the bases against left-hander Kevin Siegrist with a single and two walks, setting the stage for Tomlinson. The Cardinals elected to bring in a fifth infielder, giving Tomlinson a long time to wait while Brandon Moss exchanged his outfielder’s glove in the visiting dugout.
"Five-man infield sometimes can put a little added pressure," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But he didn’t change anything, kept to his plan."
Tomlinson said the new configuration didn’t affect his approach, "Because what you’re trying to do there is hit the ball to the outfield … A sac fly or ball to the outfield is (still) going to most likely score him." In a 2-2 count, he got a fastball and lined it back up the middle for the game-winning hit.
His initial reaction was an impressive bat flip. Later in the Giants’ clubhouse, a reporter showed Tomlinson video of the flip on his phone. Tomlinson broke into a sheepish grin.
"I didn’t mean to get into it like that," he said. "Jeez. I usually don’t like to do anything like that … I was excited ’cause it was a tough at-bat. Man, I didn’t know it was going to look like that. That’s embarrassing."
Tomlinson had already helped keep the game tied in the top of the ninth when he leapt to snare Moss’ line drive and whipped a throw to first base, doubling off Stephen Piscotty. His overall play has made a fast impression on the Giants. They are currently without their starting middle infield in Brandon Crawford (oblique) and Joe Panik (back), yet Tomlinson has helped lessen those absences and is carving out a role for himself even after Panik returns.
"When a guy’s playing the way he is, you try to find him all the playing time you can," Bochy said. "He’s earned it. We’ll mix it up. But it’s going to help our bench, I’ll say that, whoever is on there. He’s a guy who can play different positions, pinch-run. He’s going to be out there for a while."
Tomlinson said his first major-league walk-off ranked right up there with his Thursday grand slam, which earned him a standing ovation from the AT&T Park crowd when he went back out for defense. This time, the cheers were obstructed somewhat by the more immediate prospect of the entire Giants dugout sprinting to surround him near first base.
Tomlinson said the greeting was, thankfully, "not too bad at all." His glasses made out just fine.
"I was a little worried about it," he said. "Being a rook, somebody might come in a little hard. But no, everybody was great."
* Byrd is looking like a trade-deadline win for the Giants. In his first week of games with the team, he’s 7-for-28 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. His grand slam Friday was his first hit in 17 career at-bats against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha.
"I guess it’s the old adage, ‘He’s due,’" Bochy said.
Wacha threw Byrd a first-pitch breaking ball that hung up in the zone and Byrd jumped on it. Having faced the Cardinals for years and the likes of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Byrd said, he knows St. Louis pitchers like to throw their curveballs down.
"You get a breaking ball up," he said, "you have to go get that."
The grand slam was the eighth by a Giants hitter this season, and the team announced that set a new franchise record. It was also the first time the Giants have hit grand slams in back-to-back games since 2003, when Pedro Feliz and Rich Aurilia did the honors. Byrd hit his last grand slam also at AT&T Park - with the Mets in 2013 - but said this one held more significance.
"A lot bigger," he said. "Pennant race, Dodgers already won. We needed this win tonight to stay on pace. This was a lot bigger."
* Byrd’s former teammate in Cincinnati, Leake, cruised through the first three innings of his home debut with the Giants, retiring all nine hitters on 27 pitches. He then needed 24 pitches to get through the fourth, when he didn’t get much defensive help. Leake induced two potential double-play balls that weren’t turned, including one that would have ended the inning. The next batter, Piscotty, lined a two-run double.
Leake recovered to pitch into the seventh inning, though he took a no-decision after the Cardinals tied the game in the sixth when Tommy Pham scored from third base on a wild pitch. Bochy said that overall he thought Leake "had good stuff, really had good velocity, good breaking ball. He had it all working."
* The last time Michael Wacha pitched in a game at AT&T Park, the Giants also won in a walk-off. That, of course, was Game 5 of last year’s NLCS, when Travis Ishikawa sent the Giants to the World Series with a three-run homer off of Wacha, who had come in to pitch in relief.
Tomlinson was still working his way through the minors that point. But he said Friday’s game might have been a glimpse of how that felt.
"Both teams were battling and fighting it out," Tomlinson said. "It’s just like what I’d imagine a playoff series is like."
Game two of this series has Ryan Vogelsong (9-9, 4.05) opposing Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn (10-8, 2.94). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.