TOP OF THE ELEVENTH: D-BACKS 9
7 – 7 GIANTS
It was a back-and-forth extra-innings duel at AT&T Park, the Giants hosting the Diamondbacks in a late, 12th-inning comeback.
And it was an unregistered third team vying for inclusion in the standings, attention from the fanbase, circling above the diamond, squawking, flapping, flocking, scarfing down leftover concessions.
This was invasion of the seagulls, the unscripted sequel to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” projected in 3D in the outfield bleachers, a swarm of moochers almost outnumbering the remaining Giants faithful, stirring up a night-time weather forecast of Cloudy, with a chance of fallen chicken. (Luckily, no food came down this year – see Giants vs. D-Backs, April 2015).
It’s like the baseball version of an El Niño year, a rare, record-setting hail storm, a 17-year plague of locusts that’s been called down to wreak havoc on the center-field camera man’s ability to broadcast a clear picture of the at bats.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 19, 2016
The only thing like it I’ve seen, other than similar bird outbreaks in San Francisco and Chicago, was the “bug game” in Cleveland, which stopped play amid a wrath from the baseball gods, and the attack of the bees this year in spring training at the Cubs park.
But, beneath it all, down on the field, there was baseball. Great baseball. A 7-7 tie going in to extra innings, multiple comebacks from Arizona, a game-tying home run with two strikes, two outs in the 9th.
And so in the 11th inning, birds still loitering like they own the place, and the game not looking to end anytime soon, the Diamondbacks came up to bat.
First up: Phil Gosselin.
Facing Chris Heston, he lines a sharp single to center, dropping just out of the reach of a charging Denard Span.
Heston, who threw a no-hitter last year before a (probably unfair) relegation to the club’s AAA affiliate, is back with the top team for 2016, in a new bullpen-specific role and in tonight as late-inning backup for the Giants.
He throws over twice to first, keeping Gosselin close to the base.
The stadium feels quieter, empty, with the Warriors grabbing most of the Bay Area attention having just played (and won) Game 2 against the Rockets.
Chris Owings bunts, with Brandon Belt throwing to the 2nd-baseman covering on first for the out, Gosselin now on second. Brandon Drury comes up now, looking for the big hit, with the seagulls still battling for attention between the center-field camera and home plate, chattering loudly enough to compete with the TV crew for listeners.
Jean Segura looms in the on-deck circle, who’s been maybe the best National League hitter in the small, early-season sample of baseball’s first month, next to Bryce Harper and, it almost goes without saying, the great Trevor Story.
Drury pops up on a deep fly ball toward the bullpen in foul territory, as Brandon Belt tracks it down after a long run, the bullpen battery-mates stepping aside with Belt sprinting through for the catch. Gosselin eyes the ball half-stuck in Belt’s glove, threatening a quick dash for third, but trots back into 2nd as Belt yanks the ball from the torn webbing and tosses it back into the infield.
Two outs now, bottom of the inning soon looking likely, with the game still tied.
Segura comes up to the plate. Passed ball bouncing off Posey’s mitt, Gosselin in to third.
On a 3-0 count, he smacks a low fastball straight down into the dirt in front of home, bouncing up high, slow over the mound, with a charging Joe Panik who puts down the glove on the bounce—and he’s bobbled it! Ball rolls meekly toward second base, Gosselin scores for the lead, and Segura runs through first base safe, on the type of hit he likely would’ve beaten out even with a clean gloving.
High-fives all around for Gosselin in the dugout.
Now it’s Jake Lamb, D-Backs’ hero of the night after tying up the game in the 9th with a solo home run onto “Levi’s Landing” in right, with two outs and two strikes off Santiago Casilla, deflating the hopes of a crowd that’s almost all but headed home.
2-0 count now, as sporadic “Let’s gooo, Gi-annnts” calls mix with chatty crowd noise, and the even chattier gossip of gulls that keeps growing by the minute.
Lamb connects on the next pitch, driving a deep ball to left-center, right into the heart of Gull Land, the epicenter and capital city of American seagull society, the ball for a moment doing a seamless impression of white bird part of the flock, with Denard Span losing it for a moment in the flurry of wings, then chasing it down as it lands onto the warning track, as Segura’s already rounded third base and is sprinting home for the lead, the ninth run, and the final winning edge in Bird Bowl 2016.
The Diamondbacks almost keep the scoring flood rolling: another passed ball, Lamb advances to third, Goldschmidt walks, a mound visit from the manager, another wild pitch from Heston, Goldy to second, an intentional walk to David Peralta, bases loaded, another mound visit, a pitching change, then a lucky break—Chris Herrmann grounds out to Lopez, the new pitcher, and the Giants get out of the inning down two runs, but a win still possible.
In the bottom of the inning, with time running out, the Giants die-hards still hoping for a comeback, Posey and Belt each hit singles, in a game they already should’ve won (6-2 at one point)–but the D-Backs hold on. 9-7, for the tight win. At long last, the seagull cohort got their all-you-can-eat buffet, after waiting almost two extra hours to feast.
The NL West is looking like a close one. Dodgers? Giants? Even the Rockies? Diamondbacks are in this thing.