NEW YORK — Conor Gillaspie has always put baseball No. 1 in his life, and even though he knows better, it can be hard to shake an old habit. He has tried to relax, but he still takes as many swings in the cage as any Giant, and as many grounders from infield coach Ron Wotus. When he came to the park Wednesday, knowing he would be in the lineup for his first playoff game, Gillaspie had a hard time settling in.
“I won’t lie,” he said later. “I was a little timid.”
And then he looked around. Gillaspie saw laughing and smiling and a group that appeared unimpressed by the moment.
“The Busters, the Craws, the Pences — these guys have been in this situation over and over again,” he said. “The important thing for someone who has never played in the postseason is a sense of normalcy. When I looked at everyone, I sensed it was a big game, but it was still a game.”
Gillaspie felt ready for the challenge. But he was not — like most of the Giants — ready for Noah Syndergaard. He struck out twice against the hard-throwing right-hander, and when Syndergaard departed after seven, Gillaspie felt relief. Two innings later, he felt pure euphoria.
With two on and one out, Gillaspie got an elevated two-seamer from Jeurys Familia and he crushed it into the Mets’ bullpen. He pumped both arms as he crossed first and screamed all the way to second. He nearly took Brandon Crawford’s hand off as he crossed the plate.
“That was pretty impressive,” Madison Bumgarner said. “He put me in a good spot there.”
For most of the season, Gillaspie didn’t even think he could be in that spot. Originally drafted by the Giants in 2008, Gillaspie returned this spring as a non-roster invitee but didn’t make the club out of spring training. He started the year in Triple-A and came up in April, turning into Bruce Bochy’s most trusted bench bat.
When Eduardo Nuñez went down to a hamstring strain, Gillaspie stepped in at the plate and in the field. His final week was filled with big hits, and the Giants had no qualms about holding Nuñez — who was not quite ready anyway — back for the NLDS and going with Gillaspie.
“We needed help there, and he’s done more than that,” Bochy said. “He’s just filled in so nicely.”
The Giants don’t know if Nuñez will be back in time for the NLDS, but regardless, Gillaspie will be involved. Left-hander Jon Lester starts Game 1, but it’s three right-handers after that. Gillaspie is in for a busy October, which is a long way from where he was this time last year. His home run came exactly one year after he was granted free agency by the Angels.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I had words to describe that moment,” Gillaspie said. “Absolutely incredible, I guess, is the best that I can do. You know, as a kid and as a player at this level, you look forward to just getting a hit in the postseason just to help your team.
“Wow. I mean, I’m a lucky guy.”