SAN FRANCISCO - Take a spin through Major League Baseball's social media channels and you'll find plenty of Javier Baez, the talented Cubs second baseman who has quite a bit of showmanship in a game that still often discourages it. Baez's tags at second base and swim-move slides are made for the Instagram era, and in a big spot Monday night, it appeared Baez was trying to bait Alen Hanson into a supporting role in his latest highlight.
Hanson took off from first on an errant pickoff throw in the fifth inning, with the Giants trailing by a run, and easily cruised into third. Baez took his time getting to the ball as it kicked into the visiting bullpen, and he took his time getting it back in. Several Giants, in the aftermath of a 2-1 walk-off win, said they had no doubt that Baez was trying to get Hanson to run into an out at the plate. He got burned by a player with a similar skillset.
Hanson turned on the jets, beating the throw and Willson Contreras' tag with an acrobatic slide that tied the game. On one of their best nights of the year, the Giants would go on to win it on Pablo Sandoval's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 11th. All the good work the team did in the late innings was made possible by a mad dash from the newest breakout infielder.
"You can't take that play for granted with Alen Hanson on base," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's got balls, too. You've got to have balls to pull that off."
Fortitude helps. So, too, does speed. Hanson is the kind of player the Giants haven't had in years, and his natural skillset was matched by decision-making pushed by third base coach Ron Wotus all season. Wotus waved Hanson hard around third. It was at that moment that everyone froze for a split-second, and then Hanson, already well on his way around the bag, took off.
"He has tremendous speed and his speed is a game-changer," Wotus said. "He can do things other guys can't do."
The dash set the stage for the more traditional. Andrew Suarez, who has a 2.00 ERA over his past six starts, allowed just one run while keeping up with Kyle Hendricks, who was at his best. Tony Watson had an easy seventh. Mark Melancon showed his best fastball and cutter of the season in the eighth. Will Smith stranded the go-ahead run in the ninth to get the game to extras.
"Outstanding, weren't they?" manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants could not get their seventh walk-off in the 10th despite a one-out triple from Hunter Pence. But an inning later, Andrew McCutchen, Belt and Brandon Crawford - who sparkled defensively - loaded the bases. Sandoval lined a single into left to win one of the more complete games of the year.
The final knock came just in time. Bochy was already doing the math, knowing something most of the rest in attendance did not. Derek Holland is likely starting on Tuesday to give Johnny Cueto an extra day of rest, so the bullpen was short. Despite that, the manager was happy to be doing calculations in extra innings. With the way Hendricks threw, this was a game that could have been over in two and a half hours. Hanson had other ideas, extending the night with a play you almost never see. He said he had never scored from first on a pickoff play before, but he had no hesitation as he rounded third.
"I said, ‘I can score from third as long as he doesn't make a perfect throw,'" Hanson said. "He did (but) I was able to slide in and score."