At 36 years old, Brandon Crawford is ‘doing young guy things’ like SF Giants need him to

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Brandon Crawford has reached third base more times than any other player at Oracle Park after rounding second base on a base hit.

Crawford, on the other hand, had never done it as a 36-year-old until Wednesday night. Crawford’s last triple came more than a year ago, when he was battling age and the nagging injuries that come with it. So it was pretty bizarre when he texted Brandon Belt, the man with the most experience on the local base paths, the night before.

Crawford hit a 420-foot home run Tuesday night after an 11-day rest. Belt, too, went yard in Toronto.

“We both had homers on the same day, and Belt responded with, ‘Now we just need the Brandon cycle,'” Crawford said after San Francisco’s 4-2 victory on Wednesday. “I joked, ‘Who’s getting the triple?” It’s ironic that it happened the next day.”

Crawford moved from second to third base safely in the fifth inning Wednesday night, using a swim move to avoid Arizona’s Jace Peterson’s glove. It gave him an excuse to send another text: Crawford’s 28th career triple at Oracle Park broke a tie with Belt for the most all-time.

“That’s an old guy doing young man things, right?” Logan Webb, a 26-year-old starter, later regretted his choice of words.

“Oh, he’s gonna give me (grief) for that.”

The Giants did nothing to lighten the load — or the burden — on Crawford over the final two months of the season by opting for internal reinforcements at the trade deadline. With no help on the way and their rookies reeling, it’s critical that their 13th-year shortstop is healthy and effective for the stretch run.

“We’ve seen that when Brandon is at his healthiest and freshest, he’s a really good shortstop and comes up with big, clutch hits for us,” said manager Gabe Kapler. “We’ve seen that a lot over the last couple of years.” The trick is obviously to keep that and not overdo it.”

Since being activated from the injured list on Saturday, there have been more positive signs than the triple.

Crawford has five hits in 16 at-bats (.313 average) in four games, with nearly as many extra-base hits (2) as he had in his previous 19 games (3). He made one productive out (a sac fly with a man on third) and another that was his third-hardest-hit ball of the year, hitting 107 mph off the bat.

Crawford dusted off the afterburners on his way to third on Wednesday — “I told him he was fast as — I might’ve said a bad word,” Webb admitted — and flashed his vintage form in the field.

Corbin Carroll hit a changeup from Webb up the middle at 103.1 mph in the first inning, the D-backs’ third-hardest hit ball of the night. It’s a hit more often than not against a normal-depth infield. Crawford dove to his left as he lined up on the cut of the infield grass with a runner on third.

“I’m lucky to say that I get to have him back there every time I throw,” Webb said. “Every time he comes out there, you know exactly what you’re going to get. To be honest, I believe he places far too much pressure on himself to be perfect at all times. I believe we’re all working hard here. Just having him back out there is exciting.”

Crawford’s renaissance is not a coincidence.

For the second time this season, he was placed on the injured list three games after the All-Star break due to inflammation in his left knee.

Crawford described his time off as “huge” in managing not only his knee but also the rest of him. He’s also had issues with his forearm, calf, hamstring, and midsection this season.

“I’ve been feeling a lot better since coming back,” Crawford said. “It also serves as a mini-reset for my entire body.” So I’m feeling a little better overall. There have been a few times this season when I felt really good. Unfortunately, one of them occurred just before I embarked on the IL in April. “All I want to do is keep going.”

Crawford’s triple traveled an estimated 389 feet in the air; according to Statcast, it would have been a home run in 22 other ballparks.

“He was a little pissed it wasn’t a home run,” Webb said. “I told him, ‘Well, you looked good getting a triple.'” Isn’t that a little cooler? “Nice slide.”

Crawford smiled when asked to describe his headfirst slide into third.

“Super athletic,” he described himself.

Among Kapler’s most difficult challenges in the final two months: finding the right balance between keeping his veteran shortstop feeling super athletic and doing young guy things. The Giants are hoping that this is where the actual young guys — Casey Schmitt and Marco Luciano, in particular — come in. “At times, we’ll have to ride Brandon and lean on him,” Kapler said. “However, we also need to give him a break and give some other guys a chance to play.”

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