In a season of extremes for the San Francisco Giants, from the depths of despair to the heights of glory, none stands out more than the polar extremes produced by Brandon Belt in the 2014 Playoffs, from hitting a game-ending blast in the eighteenth inning, to deliver Game Two of the National League Division Series to San Francisco, to the first bunt single of his career, in Game Five of the World Series.
Hunter Pence led off the second inning of that scoreless ballgame with a single, and because Belt wanted to get runners on first and second with nobody out, and the Kansas City Royals had the notorious defensive shift in place, he chose to ignore conventional baseball wisdom, and instead, laid down a bunt to the left side of the infield. Charging the ball, and making a bare-handed grab and throw, was not enough for Alcides Escobar to get the reasonably fast Belt at first base, and it was game on.
Mike Krukow has been known to suggest that any time a power hitter lays down a bunt, he is doing the opponents a favor, but the argument to that is, it’s all about the situation at the moment, and how badly a team needs a baserunner. The decision to bunt was an impromptu one, based on the defensive alignment, and that makes it all the more satisfying.
The gamble proved successful as Hunter Pence advanced to second on the play.
The Giants needed a run. Belt assesed the scene and did what had to be done to get on base.
A fly ball to deep center field advanced both ninety feet, andBrandon Crawford
’s ground ball to the right side, knocked in Pence, for the first run of an eventual 5-0 win by the Giants, giving them a 3-2 lead in the Series.
Belt, yet another tall, lanky, Southern-raised player, grew up in Texas, playing high school ball at Hudson High School in Lufkin, Texas, and college ball at the University of Texas. He was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft after his junior year, and made his debut on Opening Day, 2011, bouncing back and forth from Triple-A to the big club his first season.
Oct 4, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (9) is greeted in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the eighteenth inning against the Washington Nationals in game two of the 2014 NLDS playoff baseball game at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports
Meshing well with the abundance of other Giants teammates who were brought up in the South, Belt set out early in 2014 to establish himself as one of the elite. Handling the bat with his recently-adjusted grip, aligning his “knocking knuckles,” Belt streaked out the opening gate in 2014 by hitting nine home runs in his first 35 at-bats, before being drilled on the left thumb while batting in a game on May 9th, in the midst of San Francisco’s torrid 43-21 start to the season.
After almost two months on the disabled list, Belt came back on July Fourth, only to be hit in the face by a ball thrown during practice, prior to a game on July 19th. Belt returned to the DL, on and off, until mid-September, when he finally rejoined the club for good. He had about two weeks to sharpen his skills before the start of the playoffs.
His postseason stats would indicate that he put those two weeks to good use. Belt batted .295, with a .397 on-base percentage, and recorded eight RBI’s, while scoring six runs in October. He did not seem fazed by the din of the postseason, and his success strongly suggests that he will continue to develop his power game, especially over the course of a full season.
Both of Belt’s injuries in 2014, were unavoidable, on-the-field occurrences, and do not reflect the norm. Look for him to have a considerably strengthened 2015 season, with his home run total reaching thirty, and his RBI level in the eighties. Belt has always had a stellar glove at first, and his willingness in the past to play left field, simply brands him as another one of the Giants who spends free time in the chemistry lab, mixing and blending, stirring and grinding, working to create another round of miracles for the upcoming season, the biggest one being to change 2015 to an even year.
They haven’t figured out that one yet.