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Brandon Crawford shows why he's most important Giant in win vs. Yankees

Crawford shows why he's Giants' most important player originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

NEW YORK -- Brandon Crawford is 13 seasons and more than 1,500 games into one of the best careers in Giants history. There are not a lot of moments left to cross off the bucket list, but before Saturday's game against the New York Yankees, he experienced a new one.

Crawford and Gerrit Cole, his brother-in-law, took the lineup cards out for their respective teams and then took a photo with the umpires. The longest-tenured Giant did not exactly come away from the experience with a new appreciation for all of the moments managers have spent chatting with umpires about ground rules before games.

"It's surprisingly easy," he said, smiling. "You don't do a whole lot."

That changed once the first pitch was thrown. As has been the case so often over the years, and particularly when the Giants have been good, Crawford was in the middle of everything.

His two-run homer on a 3-0 pitch in the fourth inning gave the Giants the lead. His RBI single on a 97 mph sinker added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, which would come in handy. When Giancarlo Stanton came up with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Crawford deftly handled a tricky hop and started a double play that clinched a 7-5 win.

Just for good measure, the 36-year-old even stole a base, showing that he is -- at least at the moment -- mostly past the knee issue that ruined his 2022 season and popped up again in the spring.

"If we get Crawford healthy and productive at the plate, it's going to be a really good season for us," manager Gabe Kapler said after digesting it all.

This is a sport where all 26 guys matter just about every week, but for the Giants, it is almost that simplistic at times. It's no coincidence that the 107 wins came with Crawford playing like the league's Most Valuable Player. The same can be said for a 2022 team that was missing that engine.

Alex Cobb, Saturday's starter, backed his manager, saying, "Without Craw, we're not going to get to where we want to be." That's certainly nice to hear this deep into a career, but Crawford gently disagreed, saying he wants to be healthy and productive no matter what.

That lineup card he handed in had his own name seventh, a reminder that times have changed. But the Giants still will go as he goes, in part because they have no choice.

There's no obvious answer at shortstop if Crawford goes down, with team officials split between second baseman Thairo Estrada and third base prospect Casey Schmitt in terms of who is next in line. Either could be a fine choice, but neither would give the team Gold Glove defense at the most important position on the infield.

When healthy, that always has been a given for Crawford. But the Giants have much more upside when his bat is along for the ride and he looked like the 2021 version at the plate while driving in three runs and scoring a pair Saturday.

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The homer was Crawford's first at Yankee Stadium, checking another ballpark off the list. He now has homered in 25 ballparks and against 25 teams, with only the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox left.

That's the sign of a very long career, but also a successful one, and on Saturday, Crawford looked like someone who doesn't intend to slow down. That would be a game-changer for a Giants roster that's reliant on contributions up and down the lineup and needs its best defender on the dirt as much as possible. Kapler and all of his teammates are hopeful that Saturday's all-around performance was a sign of things to come.

"It was a good day," Crawford deadpanned. "My best game of the year so far."

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