The San Francisco Giants required a two-run walk-off homer from Thairo Estrada in the bottom of the ninth inning to complete a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 on Sunday at Oracle Park.
After achieving dominance with a 5-0 lead, the Giants blew it when former first-round pick Bryan Reynolds gave the Pirates a 6-5 lead in the seventh inning with a three-run homer. Pittsburgh retook the lead in the top of the ninth inning after San Francisco tied it.
The Pirates then took a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth inning on Rodolfo Castro's third-base single with runners on first and second. Evan Longoria made an error by throwing over the head of Wilmer Flores in the top of the ninth, giving the Pirates a brief lead. He was replaced by pinch runner J.D. Davis after that.
But a few minutes later, Estrada crushed a first-pitch sinker from Pittsburgh reliever Wil Crowe into the left-center bleachers after Mike Yastrzemski grounded into a fielder's choice, Estrada made everyone associated with the Giants (57-57) ignore the inning's first half.
"It's nice to see Estrada come up in a big spot and hit a home run like that," San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler said following the victory.
"I think in particular, he's been so dependable for us. It's rare that he kind of gets to be the star of the game, although he's deserving often, but he just blends right in but is a winning player." Kapler added.
Estrada had 233 at-bats in three seasons with the New York Yankees and San Francisco. The 26-year-old hadn't been a regular player. With so much uncertainty at second base for the Giants entering this season, he was thrust into the starting lineup and now has 340 at-bats. The workload has not overwhelmed Estrada’s slasher. 268/.317/.421, 11 home runs, 47 RBI.
According to Baseball Reference, Estrada improves his score as the game becomes more competitive. Estrada has 36 hits in 106 at-bats (.340 average) this season when batting from the seventh through ninth innings, including going 1-for-2 on Sunday, with four homers and 14 RBI.
"In that situation, it's interesting," Kapler said. "You don't expect a home run but you probably should now. He does hit homers, he does hit homers in big spots, not that that's the expectation, but it shouldn't surprise us anymore.”
“He's come up in big spots and put the ball in the seats. So it was kind of cool to see that happen for him today and I do think it was a signal that there's a lot of fight left in that room."
The Giants are still six games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the third Wild Card spot in the National League. The Giants will have a chance to catch up in the coming weeks, with their next nine games against the Arizona Diamondbacks visiting town for a four-game series beginning, followed by a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and a two-game series against the Detroit Tigers, all of whom are under .500.
“It’s been an up-and-down year, obviously,” left-hander pitcher Alex Wood said. “I think days like today, when you get a walk-off homer like that, you’ve got to be in the moment and let that ignite you a little bit.”
“It was really nice to get a good sweep here at home and hopefully get something going here. I think it’ll be a big next two weeks for us.”
The Giants must fight their way back into the wild-card race now that they are 9-14 since the All-Star break. If Kapler and his team do not perform well in the next 10 days, they may lose their chance.
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