Brandon Crawford arrived at the Giants’ Oracle Park with the warmth of the morning sun on his shoulders. It was a beautiful day for San Francisco’s home opener as they hosted the Colorado Rockies to begin a three game series. Crawford, in his 11th season with the Giants, must have entered the clubhouse with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty.
Eleven seasons with one organisation is a seriously impressive feat for the modern athlete but 2021 could prove to be Crawford’s final year with his beloved Giants. A mainstay at shortstop for the last decade, Crawford is now in the final year of the six-year, $75 million contract extension he signed back in 2015. No one is sure if Crawford will be retained after this season, to extend his stay in the Bay.
Standing on the third baseline with cap in hand, gazing at the pregame ceremonies, you could forgive Crawford for having a lot on his mind. After all, this might be his final home opener in San Francisco, on the team he grew up supporting as a boy. It was his dream to play for his hometown Giants and Crawford achieved that, and plenty more. More than most, in fact.
Two World Series rings, in 2012 and 2014, a hugely important contributor to that Giants’ dynasty. Two All-Star Game selections, in 2015 and 2018. Three consecutive Gold Gloves, a fitting reward for the defensive excellence he offers every day at the game’s most demanding position. A Silver Slugger award in 2015 to announce himself as one of the premier shortstops in the game.
Crawford is already the leader in shortstop appearances since the Giants moved west to San Francisco in 1958. He is just a couple of months shy of surpassing the all-time franchise tally of 1,326 games at the position, held by Hall of Famer Travis Jackson. If Crawford’s resplendent resume of individual awards and championships weren’t already enough, this achievement will cement Crawford’s undisputed place in Giants’ history, all 138 years of it.
If Crawford was thinking about any of this, he let none of it show as he prepared to face the Rockies. His focused expression and customary fixed stare did not betray him. Crawford took his place in the infield, prepared his feet, and readied himself in support of Giants’ starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.
Throughout his career Crawford has been known best for his glovework, and understandably so given what an elite defender he’s been for many years. That’s not to say he can’t deal out damage with the bat; Crawford has been responsible for some of the most noteworthy hits in Giants’ history.
With that said, when Crawford stepped into the box in the bottom of the seventh inning of this game, the score still tied 0-0 with the bases loaded and one out, it was far from a sure thing he’d deliver the runs the Giants had patiently waited for all day. Crawford’s early season batting average was sitting at .100, so fans understandably prepared themselves for possible disappointment.
Hope remained, however. Crawford came through in the clutch, in decisive style.
Rockies’ reliever Tyler Kinley, owner of a particularly fine moustache, tried to catch Crawford out with a slider low and inside but the veteran Giant read it all the way. Crawford connected with his sweet left-handed swing and deposited the ball deep into triples alley, the large gap in right centre field. Crawford’s double plated two runners and finally gave San Francisco the lead. His teammates were elated, pounding the dugout railing in celebration. The fans, back at Oracle Park for the first time in over 18 months, received a cherished memory. Despite being restricted and limited in number, they cheered for Crawford like the place was sold out. The Giants would use this platform to secure a 3-1 victory.
It was 11:38pm for viewers in the UK when the crack echoed off Crawford’s bat. There I was, reclining on my sofa, following closely from another continent away. I was on my feet for a long while after Crawford’s clutch hit, doing my best to silently celebrate this moment, lest I wake the sleeping wife and neighbours.
I may have been thousands of miles and multiple time zones away from the Giants, but I was relishing this, adding yet another Crawford highlight to my memory.
And you know what? He provided again the next night. Crawford can be good like that.
This time the Giants entered the bottom of the sixth inning trailing the Rockies 3-1. Crawford stepped to the plate with two runners on base, one out, and worked a full count. Rockies reliever Ben Bowden (no moustache sadly) tried to attack Crawford low in the zone with a 92 mph fastball but our hero was having none of it. Crawford connected perfectly, pulling the ball over the right-field wall, narrowly missing a famous splash hit into McCovey Cove. Fans on the walkway converged on the loose ball, desperate to recover this precious treasure that had hurtled their way at 107 mph just seconds before. Crawford touched all the bases on his way home, single handedly turning a deficit into a 4-3 lead the Giants would not relinquish.
This time it was 11:15pm in the UK. I was less successful controlling my celebrations on this occasion, jumping off the sofa as Crawford’s home run cleared the wall. I inadvertently crashed into the ceiling light, definitely disturbing our household. My athleticism was on full display as I leapt from a horizontal sofa position into a vertical jubilant fist pump that would impress even the most pessimistic of baseball scouts.
Crawford didn’t need to remind anyone how much of a fan favourite he is in San Francisco, but within the space of 24 hours he did exactly that. Two back-to-back game winning hits will live long in the memories of Giants fans. With his gorgeous young family in the stands watching every at-bat, every dive in the dirt, Crawford put on a show for us all.
Perhaps this will be Crawford’s final season donning the orange and black. I won’t be the only fan to be incredibly sad if that proves to be true. Despite 11 years of success and glory, I’d love to see one or two more.
That will all be dealt with after the season. Until then, there are still many games to be played, a lot of baseball left to enjoy. As fans of the game we must enjoy players like Crawford, our favourite players, whilst we still get to see them on a daily basis, representing our favourite teams.
After two nights of excitement and bumping into ceilings, I wasn’t sure if Crawford could possibly contribute any more in the final game of the series. Naturally, he had something left in his locker, crushing another double as the Giants completed their sweep of the Rockies.
Like I said, Crawford is good like that.
Ash Day is covering the San Francisco Giants as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
While you’re here … check out the latest podcast with John in conversation with the effervescent Nelson Figueroa.