For the first time in his career, Brandon Crawford hit a pair of home runs in the same game, the second one with a man aboard (!) and the San Francisco Giants went on to beat the Atlanta Braves Sunday afternoon, 4-1, in an epic sweep of the National League East’s first place team. In his strongest outing of the season, Madison Bumgarner pitched six innings, giving up three hits, walking one and striking out nine batters. Madison had already racked up eight K’s before walking his only batter in the sixth, in an ominous sign for future opponents, that Bumgarner has indeed made an adjustment in his delivery.
It was the Giants’ first sweep ever at Turner Field and the first for the Giants in Atlanta since June 27-29, 1988. Considering that the Giants have historically struggled in Atlanta, having only won two series since 1997, and never having swept for 26 years, the three-game blanketing is remarkable. The sweep is especially telling because it comes as San Francisco embarks on one of the most challenging of road trips in years.
The loss was the sixth straight for Atlanta, which scored a total of three runs in the three games, after having been swept by the Miami Marlins. Alex Wood started for the Braves and went five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts. The runs were the first he had given up in four starts. He was removed for pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky in the bottom of the fifth. David Hale pitched the sixth and into the seventh, when he was relieved by Luis Avilan, with the bases loaded and one out. Avilan threw one pitch to Brandon Belt, who hit it hard on the ground but right at Ramiro Pena the shortstop, who gathered it in, stepped on second and fired on to first to get Belt.
It was Jordan Walden who gave up Crawford’s second home run, the first surrendered by Walden this season. Earlier though, the Giants finally found a different way to score other than the solo home run. In fact, Hunter Pence scored the first run of the game in the first inning from third base, when Buster Posey hit an infield grounder to Freddie Freeman at first. But catcher’s interference was called, and Pence was ordered back to third.
When Bruce Bochy came out to discuss the matter, he exercised his right to go with the original call and the run was put back on the scoreboard, with Posey out at first. It was the first run of the series for the Giants that had crossed the plate via any method other than the solo home run, and let’s face it, Bochy wasn’t about to let go of it.
Brandon Crawford’s first home run was noteworthy because it came off of the left-handed Alex Wood, another example of Crawford’s continuing mastery of southpaws this season. His second big fly was significant because it was the first non-solo home run of the seven hit by the Giants in Atlanta. This marked the eleventh consecutive game in which the Giants have hit a home run, the longest such streak since 2001, when the team hit home runs in twelve straight games.
Atlanta scored their only run of the game in the third when Ramiro Pena singled and advanced to third when Bumgarner threw Wood’s sacrifice bunt down the first base line. If not for Pence backing up the play, Pena would have scored right then and there. As it was, he had to wait for Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly, one batter later, to tie up the score at one apiece. Nonetheless, the run was unearned because of the throwing error on Bumgarner.
The error notwithstanding, defense has been a key to the run of recent success. Crawford has been solid gold at short, and even Michael Morse, who caught up to Dan Uggla’s blast in the fifth, making it look easy as he caught the ball against the yellow home run line, is getting into the act. He might have been trying to compensate for having struck out for the third time in the top of the inning, on the heels of Pence and Posey’s singles, but it’s all good. It was a play that I’m not sure he makes earlier in the year.
The current road trip marks the first time since 1997, that San Francisco embarks on a journey, in which they oppose three playoff teams from the previous season. For them to sweep in Atlanta, after doing the same to the Tribe, lends momentum to the charge into Pittsburgh.
Though San Francisco is flexing its muscles, and reveling in the non-division triumph over the Braves, they must gather forces and contend with the ever-dangerous Pirates. One series at a time. That’s what it takes. One series at a time.