Giants’ spectacular defense helps put them 20 games above .500

Giants now 20 games over .500 thanks to spectacular defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and his team trailing by a pair, Andrew McCutchen scorched a ball 108 mph into the gap in left-center. It was a double — or at least it was until Steven Duggar somehow caught up to the ball and snagged it on one bounce before stopping his momentum quickly enough to fire the ball back to the infield and keep McCutchen from advancing past first.

It seemed impossible at that moment that Duggar could keep a ball hit that hard and on that trajectory from getting to the wall, but on this night it simply was part of one of the best overall defensive efforts of the season, if not the best. 

The stellar defense was particularly noteworthy as the Philadelphia Phillies kicked the ball around, and the disparity helped the Giants grab a 5-3 win, their fifth in five games on this homestand. At 45-25, they have the second-best record in franchise history through 70 games, and in mid-June they’ve moved to 20 games above .500.

This game, like so many of the previous 44 wins, included good pitching and a varied cast of offensive standouts. Johnny Cueto had a quality start and even scored a run. But the difference was the defense, all the impact plays made with gloves and arms. 

“I think we continue to improve on defense,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Last year that was one of our major challenges and this year I think we’ve really shored it up.”

The show started early. The Phillies got a leadoff homer from Odubel Herrera and Bryce Harper hit a 104 mph smash up the middle a couple of batters later. With a lot of shortstops in this league, probably most, that would have put runners on the corners with no outs and potentially led to a huge inning, but Crawford casually grabbed the short hop and started a double play.

“He does make difficult plays look easy,” Kapler said. “He’s got a lot of tricks in his bag and puts his body in good positions and he did on that play as well.”

Crawford’s play was a good one, but not even the best a Giant made on Harper. In the sixth, Harper smashed a liner off the left field wall, just missing a homer. LaMonte Wade Jr. was in the perfect spot and made a perfect throw after scooping it up, gunning Harper down at second. 

“I knew he hit it hard, and when I knew it was getting over my head I tried to put myself in a good position,” Wade said. “He hit it so hard that I knew it was going to come off the wall pretty good, so I just tried to put myself in a good position to make a good throw through Craw. Luckily I was able to get him out and help out on defense.”

As the Giants were making all those plays and others — Brandon Belt cut a rally short by throwing the lead runner out on a sacrifice bunt attempt — the Phillies butchered several plays, jumpstarting a Giants rally. 

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Crawford got them going in the second with a liner to center that turned Herrera around, falling for a fortuitous double. The Phillies added a wild pitch and passed ball in that inning, and Wade’s two-out liner to first glanced off Rhys Hoskins’ glove to keep the rally going. The Giants ended up scoring three runs in the inning, with plenty of help from the Phillies. 

Cueto gave up a game-tying shot to McCutchen but then scored the go-ahead run himself, racing around from first on Wade’s triple. As Kapler sat in the dugout hoping his starter wouldn’t get hurt, Cueto tossed his helmet aside and shot into another gear. 

“I took it off because I felt that if I kept it on that was going to slow me down,” he said, smiling. “I took it off so I could run faster.”

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