Brandon Crawford

Crawford finally lives out dream, takes MLB mound for Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For 13 years, Brandon Crawford has been waiting for this moment. 

A part-time pitcher in high school and at UCLA, Crawford has made no secret of his dream to one day take the mound in a Major League Baseball game. Every spring, a few days into camp, Crawford steps up onto the rubber before the start of team defensive drills and throws a couple of strikes, often imitating teammates with exaggerated deliveries like Johnny Cueto or Tyler Rogers. Often, he'll look around afterward, as if to check how many decision-makers noticed the sink on his fastball or spin on his curveball. 

Crawford repeatedly has asked two different managers -- Bruce Bochy and Gabe Kapler -- when he'll be needed on the mound. For over a decade, he would argue with throwing partner Brandon Belt about who would be more effective on the mound, and in recent years he has insisted to Logan Webb that pitching doesn't seem all that difficult.

But when the moment came, when Kapler finally turned to Crawford in the top of the eighth inning on Sunday at Oracle Park and asked if he wanted to close out a blowout of the Chicago Cubs, the 36-year-old was torn. 

"I've only played shortstop my whole career, so that was something I kind of thought about," Crawford said. "But I doubt many guys have played only shortstop for 1,600 games and pitched one game. I'm on a list by myself there, I think."

The outing proved worth the wait for Crawford, who put the first two runners on but then got three quick outs to clinch a 13-3 win. He showed the kind of break on his curveball that you would expect from someone who has been practicing the pitch for years while warming up for games -- "a lot of flat-ground [sessions]," he said -- and maxed out at 89.7 mph, which will forever be rounded up to 90 in the Crawford household. 

He also earned bragging rights, and not just over Belt, who soon will be receiving a highlight package from his long-time friend. Crawford's brother-in-law is New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. 

"I have a better ERA ..."Crawford pointed out. 

Crawford walked off at 0.00, which felt appropriate given how long the Giants waited for the perfect moment. When Crawford signed a $75 million contract after his third full season, he knew the Giants wouldn't take any risks with his arm over the next six years. Another extension was signed in 2021, and until last month, the Giants essentially have operated without a safety net at shortstop for most of 13 seasons. There was no chance until recently that they would even consider granting Crawford's wish, no matter how many times he whispered to Bochy and Kapler that he was ready if needed. 

Casey Schmitt's arrival has changed the math when it comes to playing time at short, and Crawford's two-year contract expires this November, with uncertainty about what the future holds.

Crawford jumped on the mound this spring but hasn't talked about pitching lately. There was little doubt, though, that this was finally the right stretch of his career to check that box. With the Giants holding a 10-run lead, Kapler turned to Crawford, knowing that Tyler Rogers could come out of the bullpen if the staff started to feel uncomfortable in any way.

"It just felt like the right time to have a little fun," Kapler said. "He's been looking for that opportunity for a long time."

Crawford ran down to the batting cage but only got a half-dozen warmup throws in because the bottom of the eighth lasted just 10 pitches. His long-awaited walk to the mound came with a hiccup, too. Crawford was stopped by home plate umpire Nestor Ceja and asked to remove a bright orange sleeve he wears on his right arm, a request the Giants found particularly silly given that they were sending a position player out to pitch in a 10-run game.

The crowd of 36,842 erupted when it became clear what was happening, but Crawford started his outing with six straight pitches out of the zone. One of the most stoic players in franchise history found that the adrenaline was getting to him.

"I was excited, but there was also an anxious feeling," said Crawford, who compared the nerves to a playoff appearance. 

After a single put two on, Crawford settled in by throwing an 86-mph sinker down and away that Cristopher Morel swung over the top of. 

"That felt pretty good," he said, smiling. "Yeah, that felt pretty good."

Morel bounced a two-strike curveball to third for the first out, and Ian Happ got jammed on the 90-mph fastball, hitting a lazy fly ball to left field. With the crowd roaring, Trey Mancini popped a slider up to first baseman Wilmer Flores, capping a win that included two homers from Joc Pederson and two from Thairo Estrada. 

Crawford hasn't celebrated many of his 143 big league homers or the highlight-reel plays that have won him four Gold Glove Awards, but he flashed a wide smile as he joined the handshake line as a pitcher for the first time.

"I always give pitchers a hard time about it not being so hard, so I think I proved today that it's not," he cracked a few minutes later. "They probably don't love that I have a zero ERA."

The reviews from the other side made it clear that the smack talk won't be completely one-sided on the flight to St. Louis. 

"Eh, it was decent. Not getting ahead of guys, not in the zone much," Webb said, smiling. "He's always trying to say he can go 1-2-3 and today I think he realized it's a little harder than it looks. But no, it was awesome to see. He always talks about doing it. I told him he can never talk about it again, though."

Crawford didn't ice his arm after the game, opting instead for a workout. When he returned to his locker, he found that his cleats, a baseball and the lineup card had been authenticated. They're headed for his guest house in Scottsdale to join the rest of a large memorabilia collection. 

About 20 yards down the hallway, his manager breathed a sigh of relief. Part of Kapler's reluctance to this point has been because he knew the day would play out exactly this way when it finally came. The Giants have used plenty of position players on the mound in recent years but always ask them to take it easy and lob the ball into the catcher until they record three outs, no matter how much damage is done. 

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When Kapler approached Crawford, he was reminded that the shortstop only knows one way. 

"I told Kap when he asked me. I was like, 'Well, you know I'm going to actually pitch. I'm not going to lob it,'" Crawford said. "That's not fun. The fun part is actually pitching."

A day after he reached 1,600 games as a position player, Crawford finally got to experience it, and while he had to wait longer than he hoped when he broke into the big leagues in 2011, the timing ended up being perfect. The Giants visit Belt and the Blue Jays in a couple of weeks, and Crawford will arrive with a shiny 0.00 ERA. 

Asked if he'll retire from pitching and keep it that way, the most decorated shortstop in franchise history smiled.

"We'll see," he said. "I've been told my pitches actually looked pretty good on their charts. We'll see."

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