Mike Yastrzemski

Yaz's heroics gives Giants fans good reason to ride with team

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SAN FRANCISCO -- As Blake Sabol walked up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday night, hitting coach Justin Viele got Mike Yastrzemski's attention and told him to pass along a message. Viele wanted the rookie to remember to relax and have a good at-bat. Yastrzemski had other ideas.

"Instead of saying that, I told him to have fun," he said late Monday night. "This is a cool moment, you know?"

Sabol stepped up and drew a walk. Yastrzemski followed with a single, and with that, the Giants were once again off and running.

Three batters later, they had tied the game. An inning after that, Yastrzemski blasted a three-run homer through the dark night and into the cove, giving the Giants a 7-4 victory over the San Diego Padres that was their eighth straight.

The comebacks have become the norm this month, as the Giants have surged back into the NL West race, but Monday's was a bit more important. Giants officials were curious what kind of crowd would show up on Monday, and they were cautiously optimistic.

You can't possibly ask for much more momentum than the players built on the last trip when they won all six games and swept the rival Dodgers. In the middle of it, Luis Matos gave the roster another fun rookie to build around. And as the Giants finally returned home, they did so on a federal holiday, one that had most of the Bay Area free to attend a baseball game.

The crowd of 35,376 was the biggest on a weeknight this season and the sixth-largest of the year, period. It was the largest Monday night crowd at Oracle Park since before the pandemic.

Yastrzemski is one of the few Giants who were around back then. He didn't play here when 81 sellouts were a yearly guarantee, but he saw some raucous crowds in his rookie season of 2019, and he smiled Monday as he recalled Buster Posey telling him a story two years later. After Posey hit a homer in the 2021 NLDS that had Oracle Park shaking, he told Yastrzemski it was the loudest he had ever heard the ballpark.

The Giants are a long way from consistently getting back to that point, in large part because the city itself isn't what it once was, but they certainly are doing all they can to draw the fan base back to Third and King. When you have 35,000 standing in the ninth inning, you want to give them a reason to come back.

Nothing does that more than a walk-off. But will this build momentum?

"I hope so because they make it a lot more fun," Yastrzemski said. "I understand that it's tough to show up when things aren't going well, but those are the times that we need fans the most to make the games feel important, to have a little bit of extra meaning for us. And then when they do that they can say that they were there through every bump and every nook and every cranny. They can show the true fandom and then when the great things happen they can celebrate them even harder.

"It was a really fun crowd tonight and I appreciate every single one of the fans that did come out, and hope to see more of them."

Yastrzemski became a fan favorite in 2019, but he added to his legacy in orange and black in the late innings Monday. A solo homer got the Giants within a couple of runs, and his dash home -- and electric slide -- tied it in the ninth. In the 10th, he hit his fourth career walk-off. It was hit so hard that he was able to literally walk out of the batter's box.

"That was probably the first time that I've enjoyed (a walk-off). I always worry about the ball getting caught," he said. "It was nice to be able to get to enjoy that for a bit."

His teammates felt the same way, particularly the young ones. Keaton Winn, who saved the Giants with five strong relief innings, said he had been looking forward to the nightclub vibe the Giants have in the home clubhouse after wins. Winn joined just about everyone else at Club Dub in having a hand in the win.

"It's the little things, over a long period of time, that win baseball games," manager Gabe Kapler said as the party raged a few yards down the hall.

RELATED: Why Kapler loved Giants rookie Matos' bat flips after walks

The Giants got a huge walk and a key bunt from Sabol. Patrick Bailey's throw in the first saved a run, which proved crucial. Casey Schmitt even got involved in an unpredictable way, drawing his second walk of the year in the bottom of the ninth. The coaching staff had a huge hand, too, with some deft maneuvers in the eighth and ninth ultimately forcing Bob Melvin to go away from an effective left-hander on a night when the Padres were without their top three relievers because of heavy recent workloads.

Yastrzemksi stunned Josh Hader with a walk-off last year. This time around, it was Ray Kerr who paid, allowing Yastrzemski to follow his own advice.

"It felt like I was saying it to myself, too," he said. "Just have fun."

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