Thairo Estrada pre-game speech snaps SF Giants out of funk

SF Giants bats light up to prevent sweep at hands of Atlanta Braves

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco Giants are at a crossroads in their season. A continued slide could cost the team a playoff spot. A wake-up call can resurrect them in the midst of an increasingly competitive Wild Card run.

The Giants had lost seven straight series and 14 of their previous 19 games entering Sunday’s game, but no alarm sounded. There was no obvious leader. So, in order to avoid a sweep, Thairo Estrada called a team meeting before the Giants’ final game against the Braves, to remind the team that they are better than this.

So Estrada stood at his locker with assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero by his side, translating his concerns from Spanish to English. He asked Guerrero not to leave a single word out of the translation — every word was important.

“I told the team to take the extra base pitch by pitch.” Do what we were doing before to move forward,” Estrada said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “Because everyone knows we’ve had a difficult and challenging month, I told the team to focus on the positive.” It was a message of hope. We still have a month and a chance to get in and not forget what we did at the beginning.”

Estrada’s speech explained the noticeable difference between the sleepy losses on Friday and Saturday and Sunday’s more complete 8-5 victory over the National League’s best team at Oracle Park. Not only were the Giants hitting for power, advancing runners, laying down bunts, and even coming up with timely hits, but they also challenged a Braves team that had been openly taunting them on the basepaths this series with some vigor on defense.

Estrada was at the heart of the game’s most exciting play: a relay 3-1-4-2 rally-killing double-play on Ronald Acua’s dribbler, which saw J.D. Davis toss the ball to a helping reliever Scott Alexander, who lobbed it to a sprinting Estrada hurdling in from second base. Estrada made a heads-up throw to catcher Patrick Bailey at home to get Orlando Arcia, who was attempting to score but was called safe on a Giants challenge. It limited a Braves rally that had cut the Giants’ early two-run lead to three runs.

“A lot of negative thoughts were going through my head the entire game,” Bailey said.

The extra effort made it easier for the Giants to respond to the Braves’ constant attempts to maintain the lead. The following inning, Luis Matos doubled and advanced to third on Austin Slater’s slicing hit to right field. Wilmer Flores walked to load the bases against Collin McHugh in relief, and Davis walked to tie the game. Bailey delivered the game-winning hit, a 2-2 sweeper that sailed past first baseman Matt Olson and into right field, allowing the Giants to take a 6-3 lead.

“It was pretty cathartic because we hadn’t gotten that one in a long time,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That significantly changes the score for us.”

Of course, the Braves responded with an Olson double and a Marcell Ozuna home run to cut the Giants’ lead to one run. However, the Giants did not tire and created some cushion in the sixth.Wade Meckler, a pinch hitter, drew a walk and advanced to second on Schmitt’s sacrifice bunt. Then Joc Pederson was intentionally walked, allowing Slater to get his second hit and RBI up the middle, scoring Meckler. Estrada’s bunt up the first base line caught the Braves off guard, allowing Pederson to score from third with no play at first.

It was the kind of inning Estrada hoped his team would be able to replicate from now on.

“Today was an excellent example of what we’re capable of,” he said. “We played aggressively.” We grabbed the extra base. The outcome was a team victory.”

Camilo Doval had a better ninth inning thanks to those extra runs. He struck out two batters and got a game-ending lineout to earn his 34th save of the season, his first in over three weeks. The closer had blown a save opportunity in each of his previous four outings, including back-to-back nights in Philadelphia earlier this week, and hadn’t saved a game since Aug. 3.

“Everybody knows I play the game really hard,” Estrada explained. “It doesn’t matter what the score is. I respect everyone in this clubhouse, and I believe they respect me as well. It’s not easy to call a team meeting, especially with so many experienced teammates on my team. But I thought it was a good time to share a positive message that might help us the rest of the way.”

On Sunday, a Giants team that has struggled to capitalize on scoring chances went 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Casey Schmitt hit his first home run in 204 at-bats in the second inning, a whopping 425 feet. Tristan Beck established himself as a potential starter by pitching four perfect innings against baseball’s best lineup before a troublesome fifth inning.

The Giants are now 1.5 games behind the Diamondbacks for the third National League Wild Card spot, and they are tied with the Cincinnati Reds, who visit San Francisco for a three-game series beginning Monday. The most important aspect of Sunday’s game in regaining a Wild Card spot came in the game’s final inning, when Doval pitched a perfect ninth inning.

“We have to win if we want to make the playoffs,” Estrada said. “We have capable players who can run and hit, and as long as we compete and do the fundamentals in every game, I believe we have a good chance of making the playoffs.”


Manager Gabe Kapler said outfielders Mike Yastrzemski (hamstring) and Mitch Haniger (right arm fracture) could return from the IL as soon as Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. Before Sunday’s game, Yastrzemski took live batting practice and ran the bases, and Mitch Haniger is scheduled to play in his fifth rehab assignment game on Sunday night.

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