Estrada's walk-off shows there's still fight left in Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Despite the addition of an extra Wild Card team in each league to the MLB playoff format this year, the Giants face long odds to return to the postseason.
Even with the numbers not in their favor, the reigning National League West champions haven't thrown in the towel on the 2022 season.
The Giants blew a 5-0 lead and watched their former top draft pick Bryan Reynolds give the Pirates a 6-5 advantage with a three-run homer in the seventh inning. After San Francisco tied it, Pittsburgh retook the lead in the top of the ninth inning.
After all that, the Giants didn't roll over and take what would have been a gut-punch loss to the rebuilding Pirates.
Evan Longoria, who made the throwing error in the top of the ninth that allowed the Pirates to take the brief lead, led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner J.D. Davis. After Mike Yastrzemski grounded into a fielder's choice, Thairo Estrada crushed a first-pitch sinker from Pittsburgh reliever Wil Crowe into the left-center bleachers, sending the 36,471 fans in attendance into a frenzy.
"It's nice to see Estrada come up in a big spot and hit a home run like that," Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters after the win. "I think in particular, he's been so dependable for us. It's rare that he kind of gets to be the star of the game, although he's deserving often, but he just blends right in but is a winning player."
Over the last three seasons with the New York Yankees and Giants, Estrada had a total of 233 at-bats. He hadn't been an everyday player. But with so much uncertainty for the Giants at second base entering this season, he was thrust into the starting job and now has 340 at-bats this season.
The workload hasn't overwhelmed the 26-year-old, who is slashing .268/.317/.421 with 11 homers and 47 RBI.
And when the pressure builds as the game gets tighter, Estrada gets better. Per Baseball Reference, when batting from the seventh through ninth innings this season, Estrada has 36 hits in 106 at-bats (.340 average), including going 1-for-2 on Sunday, with a total of four homers and 14 RBI.
When the Giants need a clutch hit, Estrada likely isn't the first or second player who comes to mind. But he has been as rock solid as they come for Kapler.
"In that situation, it's interesting," Kapler said. "You don't expect a home run but you probably should now. He does hit homers, he does hit homers in big spots, not that that's the expectation, but it shouldn't surprise us anymore. He's come up in big spots and put the ball in the seats. So it was kind of cool to see that happen for him today and I do think it was a signal that there's a lot of fight left in that room."
Estrada's teammates couldn't have been happier for him on a sunny Sunday in San Francisco.
"It was amazing," Wilmer Flores said to Therese Viñal, Carmen Kiew and Cole Kuiper on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Summer Sunday" after the game. "Not only for our team, but I'm so glad for him. He's a great guy, does everything right and he deserves it."
The Giants will have to show a lot more fight if they want to capture one of the three NL Wild Card spots. After Sunday's action, they are six games out of the final spot, with the Milwaukee Brewers also ahead of them on the outside looking in.
"I see [the fight] regardless of [the] result," Kapler told reporters. "Everybody exclusively is going to see the product on the field and it's totally reasonable to kind of make assumptions based on what we're seeing on the field. But what we see and what we hear in our conversations everyday is guys who are very invested every single day when they come to the clubhouse, in their work, what happens with their teammates, in what we do during the game and what we do after the game. And constant adjustments are being made and that's usually the sign of a team that's fighting hard."
The Giants have a chance this week to build off Estrada's walk-off and the sweep of the Pirates with the Arizona Diamondbacks coming to town for a four-game series beginning Monday. That division clash will be followed by a three-game series at the Colorado Rockies and a two-game series against the Tigers in Detroit.
Now just 9-14 since the All-Star break, this is the time for the Giants to fight their way back into the wild-card race. A poor showing over the next 10 days could spell doom for Kapler and Co.