By Michelle Dingley
With the Giants’ 2011 season now long over, we can look back on the year that was. We didn’t win it all like in 2010, but there was plenty to remember. Here are some of the best, worst, and weirdest moments of 2011.
#21 – April 1: Brandon Belt lives up to his name
The rookie belts one out of the park in his second big-league game.
His first big fly was no cheapie – Belt deposited Chad Billingsley’s 2-0 pitch over the center field wall, 395 feet from home plate. The three-run shot put the Giants ahead of their foes, the Dodgers (though they would eventually lose the game thanks to shoddy defense), but this homer had meaning beyond this one game. It was a peek at Belt’s power, proof of why he made the roster after just one year of minor league ball. It would surely be the first of many long balls, but he’ll never forget his first.
#20 – June 25: Hey, a “W” is a “W.”
The Giants score the game’s only run via balk.
Yet again, Matt Cain was excellent, throwing seven-plus shutout innings, striking out 6 while walking one and beaning one. Yet again, the Giants offense did almost nothing to back him up. Cain got help from an unlikely source: the opponent. In the seventh inning, a combination of two errors by Indians second baseman Cord Phelps, a walk, and a balk by relief pitcher Tony Sipp plated the only run of the game. We will take it. So will Cain, who earned the win.
#19 – April 18: Nate talks softly and swings a big stick
Nate the Great smashes a very impressive homer in Coors Field.
Nate Schierholtz proved we don’t need Barry Bonds nor special “vitamin” injections to knock one way, way out of the park. Nate’s towering blast landed in the upper deck, measuring in at an estimated 467 feet. The last Giant to hit one there was Bonds himself. In a stroke of luck, Nate’s brother was sitting not far from the landing zone and bought the ball from a fan.
#18 – July 17: Giants squeeze out a win
Stewart’s suicide squeeze in the 11th scores the winning run in San Diego.
After we lost via squeeze on May 28 in Milwaukee, I tried to remember the last time we performed a squeeze play of our own. I drew a blank. About six weeks later, I got to see the Giants perform the play perfectly. With one out in the top of the 11th, Emmanuel Burriss singled, then stole second. (As a team, the running game is not a big part of our approach, but in this game, we stole six bases, tying a single-game San Francisco record.) Burriss advanced to third on catcher Kyle Phillips’ throwing error. Chris Stewart laid down a beautiful bunt, scoring Burriss on a suicide squeeze for what would be the winning run.
Stewart’s bat might have won the game, but his defense saved the game. With a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 11th, Wilson walked the first two batters. The next batter, Phillips, attempted a sac bunt. The ball dribbled close to the plate, Stewart got to it quickly, and he rifled it to Sandoval for the force at third. The Panda threw a strike of his own to get Phillips and his catcher’s legs out at first, completing a wonderful 2-5-4 double play (Burriss covered first). Willie was not at his best, and he proceeded to walk the next batter before Gonzalez grounded out to Burriss to end the game.
#17 – September 1: “The Baby Giraffe” meets the baby giraffe
Brandon the giraffe gets a visit from his namesake, Brandon Belt.
Kruk and Kuip’s glib remark about Belt looking like a baby giraffe while going after a fly ball had a life of its own. A fan base that loves animals grabbed on and didn’t let go, showing up to the park with homemade giraffe hats. Soon after, a baby giraffe was born in Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, and he was named after the rookie. The meeting of the Brandons (who were nearly the same size – 6’2” for the giraffe, 6’5” for the ballplayer) was captured in some of the cutest photos of the year. Sure, Buster’s first season led to a Rookie of the Year award, but Belt gets an animal named after him. Not too shabby.
#16 – May 4: “Grab some pine, Met!”
Timmy sets the Giants’ record for games with 10+ strikeouts.
Thanks to one clever Giants fan who made the trip to New York, I will always remember this record. Playing off Krukow’s famous “Grab some pine, meat!”, a fan’s sign almost predicted the fabulous show Lincecum put on against the Mets. The two-time Cy Young winner struck out 12 over seven scoreless innings. He ended his performance with five straight Ks, striking out the side in the seventh. This was Timmy’s 29th game with double-digit strikeouts, passing Christy Mathewson for the Giants’ all-time record.
#15 – August 27: Fans cheer on Surkamp in his big-league debut
Giants fans embrace the new members of the Orange and Black.
I am proud of Giants fans. We know how to treat our guys, even if they are brand new and haven’t proven themselves yet. We love them just because they are our Giants. When Jeff Keppinger joined the team on July 20, he arrived partway through the game, making his first appearance as a Giant as a pinch hitter. Though he was not a huge acquisition, the crowd gave the former Astro a hearty ovation. [For more on the Keppinger trade, click here.]
Such an ovation was expected for Carlos Beltran. When he made his San Francisco debut as a Giant on August 1, he got a standing ovation as well. We put all our eggs in his basket, offensively speaking, so the warm reception (and the eventual booing) made perfect sense. [To read more about the Beltran trade, click here.]
The best ovation was August 27. Eric Surkamp was making his major league debut, coming to San Francisco from Double-A Richmond. [For more on Surkamp’s debut, click here.]
Surkamp was a bit nervous, but the crowd was cheering him on. His first pitch in the majors just missed high. His second pitch sailed over the catcher’s head and into the backstop. And that’s when the crowd exploded. The fans were encouraging him, letting the young pitcher know they were behind him. Our fans are smart. They knew who Surkamp was: the best starting pitching prospect in our farm system. They knew what this start meant, with Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez hurt. The Giants needed a fifth starter, and this was the time for Surkamp to prove he could perform at the major league level. The fans were telling him, “You are one of our guys. We support you. We believe in you.” His next pitch was a called strike, and the crowd went wild again. Surkamp’s first inning was a bit rocky (he walked two and gave up a double), but he got out of it unscathed. He wouldn’t factor into the decision (the game ended in the Giants’ favor in extras), but Surkamp did well his first time out. Surkamp will always remember his debut. I will remember it, too.
#14 – July 5: You call that a “free” pass?
Andres Torres works overtime to earn a 16-pitch walk.
Down 5-3 in the 7th against the Padres, the Giants needed baserunners. Andres Torres stepped up to the plate. Much of our success the prior season had to do with getting Torres on base, but we’d had little production from him in 2011. The 2011 Giants also collectively had a hard time working deep counts and getting pitches out of opposing pitchers. All of that was accomplished in this at-bat against Chad Qualls. In an epic battle, including one stretch of 8 consecutive fouls, Torres took a 16-pitch walk. The crowd erupted, giving Torres a standing ovation. Later in the inning, Torres was nailed at the plate, trying to score when the ball squirted away from the Padres catcher. Perhaps Qualls was unhappy with the standing “O,” as he spiked the ball in Torres’ face after applying the tag.
#13 – August 12: Giants’ weak offense breaks home run record
The Giants set a home run record to forget – most consecutive solo jacks.
The story of 2011 for the Giants was twofold: injuries and lack of offensive production. Hurting for runs from any source, the team had few healthy players able to smash a bomb out of the park. And when one did make it over the fence, we rarely had runners on. The Giants set the record for most consecutive solo home runs on August 12, with the Panda’s solo shot in the first inning. They had hit 20 long balls without a runner on base, dating back to Schierholtz’s two-run shot on July 6. Falling to second place on this ignominious list were the 1914 Phillies, who ended their season 74-80 and near the bottom of the NL standings. The Giants’ streak was snapped at 21 with Cody Ross’ two-run blast on August 14. [Want more on the solo home run record? Click here.]
#12 – July 1: Wilson rages against a water cooler
The guy with the shoe-polish beard and the spandex tuxedo makes a spectacle of himself.
The Giants led the Tigers 1-0 with two outs in the eighth and runners on the corners. Brian Wilson entered the game, squaring off against Magglio Ordonez. The Tiger won this round, singling to right to bring home the tying run. The next batter lined out to end the inning, but the damage had been done. Wilson had blown saves in two consecutive games.
In the top of the ninth, the Giants came back hard, and when Wilson again took the mound, we had a 4-1 lead. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Brandon Inge singled to left, scoring one. The score was now 4-2 with one out and the bases still full of Tigers. At that point, Bochy pulled Wilson. Willie was not happy with himself. Once he was back in the dugout, he took his aggression out on a water cooler, throwing it into the dugout bench. He then grabbed a bat and hit the cooler, popping the top off and spilling the contents. He spun the bat around and took a swing at the cement wall. Willie paced up and down the dugout, then punched a cooler with his pitching hand. The closer, known for his unique personality, went berserk for 30 seconds or a minute, but that minute was on camera, so the story took off. It doesn’t look good to lose your temper, and it’s a bad example for the little leaguers. But at least now we know he cares when he screws up.
#11 – September 6: Is it too early to dub him “Pill the Thrill”?
Brett Pill quickly makes a name for himself, homering in his first two games.
Called up on August 31 when Rowand and Tejada were designated for assignment, Brett Pill didn’t play in his first major league game until September 6. It was worth the wait. In his first big league at-bat, he launched a homer deep to the left field corner, ricocheting off the second balcony of Petco Park. He was the first Giant to homer in his first at-bat since Will “The Thrill” Clark in 1986. The Giants went on to win the game, earning Eric Surkamp his first major league win. The following day, Pill recreated his feat, smashing another dinger to left. He is only the second Giant to hit homers in his first two big-league games (the other is John Bowker). Pill had another fabulous game on September 17, when he tripled twice. The first one drove in the go-ahead run in the 6th. With the game tied at 3 in the eighth, his second triple drove in two more to put the Giants ahead, where they would stay for the remainder. Despite the small sample size (.300 in 50 at-bats over 15 games), Pill made a case for himself to be back in 2012.