How Long ended up earning huge save for scuffling Giants bullpen

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PHOENIX -- Sam Long was a bit surprised when his name was the one called out in the bullpen late Wednesday night, and when he got to the mound with two outs and the bases loaded, Long found a manager with a message he didn't quite expect.

As Gabe Kapler handed him the ball, he noted that he was excited for Long, who generally has been a bulk innings guy for the bullpen and had no previous saves in the big leagues. 

"This is a really cool moment for you," Kapler said. 

Long had trouble concentrating on that, though. He just wanted the ball and a chance to try and execute his pitches.

"Take care of business first and then I'll soak it in once I get the job done," he said. "That was unexpected, but really cool."

Long got the job done on three pitches, jumping ahead of Jordan Luplow and then unleashed a big curveball that finally ended the inning, the game and the six-game losing streak. The strikeout left them loaded and gave the Giants a 7-5 win, and as Long went through a handshake line for the first time as a "closer," he saw a different look on teammates' faces. He felt a weight had been lifted for a lot of them.

"I knew what the circumstances were and I knew we were hurting for that win," Long said. 

The save was Long's first since 2017 when he was in Low-A for the Tampa Bay Rays. The desperation for the Giants in that moment was there in part because of what the bullpen had done a night before, when Dominic Leone lost his command and Camilo Doval couldn't save him. On Wednesday, it was Doval who had no command, walking three and bringing a run across before handing the bases-loaded situation to Long. 

The second-year lefty has allowed just two earned runs in the last two months but his usage is sporadic. He mainly is counted on to throw three innings in bullpen games -- the Giants have one coming up Friday -- and also has soaked up a lot of late innings in games the Giants were losing. Until Wednesday, Long had appeared in just five wins this season and three of those were games he started.

That made it all a bit surprising when it was Long who emerged from the bullpen, but right now it’s a group in transition. The Giants started the year with Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee as their setup men but both have struggled. 

Rogers has been supplanted some nights by John Brebbia and Leone, but Brebbia had already pitched Wednesday and Leone was unavailable after his lengthy outing the previous night. McGee’s struggles have pushed him to lower-pressure situations for now, Jose Alvarez had just come off the IL and Jarlin Garcia had already been used. 

It is a group that led the Majors in ERA last season but right now there are not a lot of arms you can fully trust. Even Doval has wobbled in back-to-back appearances and now will need at least one day off after throwing 37 pitches and failing to close it out with a three-run lead. 

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When you take a step back and evaluate it all, Long’s surprise opportunity makes a lot more sense, and he was a good matchup for Luplow, who is 0-for-16 on off-speed pitches this year. 

Long threw extra changeups in the bullpen and then started Luplow off with two of them, getting ahead before finishing off the strikeout. It was unusual spot for him, but he gave the Giants exactly what they needed.

“I’m open to whatever,” said Long, who lowered his ERA to 1.78. ”That’s kind of been my M.O. this year, do what I can to be ready for whatever situation.”

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