SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants, with their backs against the wall and in danger of falling further out of the playoff race, have needed a spark -- any spark -- throughout the entire month of August.
San Francisco has lost seven consecutive series and avoided a sweep in Sunday's 8-5 win over the Atlanta Braves. The Giants' struggling offense woke up, as it usually does after an extended cold stretch, but something about the win just felt different. The energy at Oracle Park was palpable and the Giants looked like a team injected with new life, dominating at the plate, on the mound and in the field.
That's because before the game, second baseman Thairo Estrada held a private team meeting in the Giants' clubhouse where he addressed the entire team with a powerful message that not only resonated with his teammates, but had an immediate impact in the game that followed.
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Estrada, through interpreter and assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, stood at his locker and spoke to his teammates, who understandably were frustrated by the team's struggles, about the shift in mindset they needed to adopt throughout the remaining 32 regular-season games. Estrada wanted his message to be heard loud and clear, and specifically asked Guerrero to translate every single word he said exactly, with no paraphrasing, in order to properly convey his message.
"The game motivated me, what we did before," Estrada said after Sunday's game. "I just told the team to go pitch-by-pitch, take the extra base, to do the things we were doing before.
"Everybody knows that we have had a very difficult and challenging month of August, so I just told the team that we are able to go ahead and do positive things. It was just a positive message that I wanted to give the team. We have a month left, and I think there's still a chance for us to get in and not forget what we did at the beginning and try to forget the month of August."
His message was very well received and hit home for a lot of frustrated Giants players who have been searching for answers for the better part of a month.
San Francisco Giants
"Obviously, it's been a bit of a month for us, but that can't lessen the way any of us approach the game individually," starting pitcher Tristan Beck said of Estrada's meeting. "One of the things that really hit home for me was he brought up how you give away one at-bat, maybe one at-bat doesn't go the way you thought it would, you can still impact the game a million ways, running the bases, playing defense."
"It was awesome to see, it was awesome," catcher Patrick Bailey said. "I think we needed it. I think he stepped up."
The team meeting not only was the first time Estrada had addressed a room full of teammates, but it was also the first time any Giants player had addressed the group privately this season.
"This year it was the first time," Estrada said. "I think it was something that was necessary. I think everybody felt it was necessary to have the meeting. I want everybody to play hard, respect the game, play every inning, every pitch really hard."
On the surface, Estrada might appear to be someone who is rather soft-spoken and reserved, but he has become a vocal leader in the Giants’ clubhouse. Ironically, another vocal leader on the team, whom Giants manager Gabe Kapler praises often, is veteran infielder Wilmer Flores, who also comes across as one of the quieter players on the team.
Despite how Estrada's personality might be perceived, he had zero issues addressing his teammates face-to-face and knows that he, like so many others in the clubhouse, commands respect because of the way he plays the game.
"I'm not shy at all, I don't have a problem with calling a team meeting," Estrada explained. "My face may tell you guys that I'm upset, but I'm never upset, I'm a very positive person. But I respect everybody and they respect me, so it was easy to address the team."
"Everybody knows that I play the game really hard, it doesn't matter what the score of the game is. I think that I respect everybody in this clubhouse and I think they respect me as well. It's not easy to call up a team meeting, especially with my teammates that have a lot of experience, but I just thought that it was a good time to go share a positive message that probably will help us the rest of the way."
His self-evaluation is 100 percent accurate, and he wasted no time backing up his words with his play on the field. In Sunday's win, Estrada was just 1-for-5 at the plate with an RBI but drew two walks, scored two huge runs, laid down a nifty bunt for an infield single and made a very impressive diving play at second base to rob Braves first baseman Matt Olson of a hit in the top of the eighth inning.
"That's a guy I look up to on this team," Beck said of Estrada. "When he speaks, it carries a lot of weight and I loved the message, and he went out there and delivered. I think that's a different game if Thairo is not out there playing his heart out at second."
Estrada's fingerprints were all over the Giants' win, and his pregame message was on full display not only with his performance but with his teammates' performances as well.
"Today was a good example of what we're able to do," Estrada said. "We played very aggressive, we took the extra base and the outcome was a win for the team."
"The guy that we needed to come through today in a way that Thairo did, did," Kapler said of Estrada's speech and performance on the field.
With their win Sunday, the Giants (67-63) sit 1.5 games behind the NL West-rival Arizona Diamondbacks (69-62) for the third and final wild-card spot.
The Giants looked like the furthest thing from a playoff team in August but completely flipped the script Sunday. Estrada still is confident the team is capable of securing a playoff spot as long as they execute the fundamentals and carry that same competitive mindset that was on display Sunday.
"We have to win, obviously, to make the playoffs," Estrada said. "But you guys know we have capable players here that can run, that can hit. We can compete, as long as we compete and try to do the fundamental things in every game, I think we have an opportunity to make it to the playoffs."
After a nine-game gauntlet that consisted of six games against MLB's best team, the Atlanta Braves, and three against the surging Philadelphia Phillies, the Giants will continue to be tested in the coming days. San Francisco will play 10 games against the playoff-hopeful Cincinnati Reds, star-studded San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs, who currently are in possession of the second NL wild-card spot.
It will not get any easier, and the Giants should take Estrada's message to heart now more than ever.