September 07, 2011
With his team's back planted firmly against the wall in the National League West, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy was looking for someone, anyone, to step up and help create enough wiggle room for them to continue their championship defense over the final three weeks.
That was evidenced in his lineup card on Tuesday night that featured three September call-ups — starting pitcher Eric Surkamp(notes), a 24-year-old left-hander; 26-year-old first baseman Brett Pill(notes); and 31-year-old center fielder Justin Christian(notes) — a trio with 25 games of major league experience.
In case you're scoring at home, 24 of those games belong to Christian, who briefly appeared with the New York Yankees back in 2008.
Out with the old — at least for one night — in with the new(er). And wouldn't you know, Bochy's gut call was rewarded. All three true rookies answered the bell, and all three contributed to San Francisco's 6-4 win over the San Diego Padres, which coupled with the Arizona Diamondbacks' bullpen blowing a 8-3 decision to the Colorado Rockies, moved the Giants back within six games of the division lead.
It was Pill who really set the tone for San Francisco in the second inning. In fact, he set a pretty impressive tone for his own major league career as well, cracking a no doubt two-run homer on the second pitch of his first major league at-bat. At Petco Park no less. Pill's ball actually hit high upon the warehouse building down the left-field line and bounced back onto the field where Padres outfielder Kyle Blanks(notes) picked up the ball and instinctively tossed it into the stands.
Fortunately for Pill, the left-field area was littered with Giants fans, and his milestone ball was soon retrieved after Padres officials negotiated with the cooperative fan.
With the home run, Pill became the third player to leave the yard in his first major league at bat this season. Brandon Guyer(notes) did so back on May 6 for the Tampa Bay Rays. Then just over the weekend Washington Nationals pitcher Tom Milone homered on the very first pitch he saw, sending the fans and his teammates into a frenzy.
Pill is the first Giant to go yard in his first at bat since Will Clark in 1986. Clark's victim was none other than Nolan Ryan.
On the hill, Surkamp was making only his second career start. The first came on Aug 27. when he took a no decision in a 2-1 triumph over the Houston Astros. He was sent back to the minors following that start, but was recalled right away when the rosters expanded.
Surkamp's line on that night was much more impressive than this one, as he struggled with his command early, was knocked around a bit in hitter's counts, but rallied to qualify for his first big league win by going five innings and allowing three runs.
He can thank Christian for the win. His lead-off double in the fifth would lead to Carlos Beltran(notes) doubling him home with the go-ahead run that San Diego never recovered from. Surkamp should then thank Pill for providing the cushion to soften the early misfires.
As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, there's also a little irony here. A mere six months ago it was Pill ripping a double off Surkamp as the two battled for attention during a Giants intrasquad game in Scottsdale, Ariz. Now here we are in September, and those two combined to give San Francisco one of their biggest wins of the season.
When asked to comment on his lineup decisions and the performances of his rookies, Bochy simply credited the players for stepping up.
"It's nice to see those guys come out and do what they can to help the ballclub,"
When asked how the game might influence his decision for Wednesday's lineup, Bochy indicated that planned starts for Aubrey Huff(notes) and Brandon Belt(notes) could be in jeopardy based on Pill's games.
"I'll sit on that tonight," Bochy said. "I have a right to change my mind."
Manager speak is not one of my stronger languages, but I'm reading that to mean Bochy was hoping somebody would force him to change his mind, and I'll put my money on Pill's big league debut doing just that. I'll be surprised if his name isn't on that card again on Wednesday.