Giants fans have an appropriate take on the popular British saying “Keep Calm & Carry On” these days, a nod to three players populating the lineup owning the first name Brandon.
Referring to first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Brandon Hicks, Bay Area fanatics put an appropriate twist on the saying - “Keep Calm and Brand-on!”
That’s what the Giants did Sunday in completing a three-game Interleague series sweep of the Indians, with Hicks capping the weekend winning theme with a three-run home run that gave the host a 4-1 walk-off victory.
With the Giants facing a two-on, two-out situation in the ninth against Indians reliever Cody Allen, manager Terry Francona had the right-hander intentionally walk the left-handed hitting Crawford to get into a more advantageous match-up with the right-handed hitting Hicks.
Despite entering the afternoon batting just .222, Hicks drove Allen’s second pitch into the left field bleachers to send the Giants 258th record-setting sellout crowd home giddy.
“I wasn’t trying to elevate a fastball there,’’ admitted Allen, who is 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 13 appearances. “I was just trying to throw a good fastball down and away because I was already in a bad count (0-1) and he was probably hunting a fastball there. And he got one over the plate and put the barrel to it.”
After Yan Gomes’ leadoff home run in the eighth knotted the game 1-1, Allen was called upon in the bottom of the inning with one out and Angel Pagan on second after a double. Working quickly and confidently like usual, Allen promptly retired Hunter Pence and Belt (the Giants best-hitting Brandon, who entered the game with a .274 average).
Thus, there was no reason for Francona to do anything other than bring his steady set-up man back out for the ninth inning. Even when Buster Posey led off the inning with a sharp single up the middle and Ehire Adrianza came on to pinch run for Posey, there was little concern Allen wouldn’t be capable to quell the rally.
For the third-consecutive day, pinch hitter Gregor Blanco was called upon and once again executed perfectly. Not via a hit like he'd done in his previous two at-bats against the Tribe, but with a textbook sacrifice bunt that moved Adrianza into scoring position at second base.
But Allen got dangerous slugger Pablo Sandoval to chase a high fastball and strike out for the second out before Crawford was intenially walked to get to Hicks. After the game, Francona defended Allen.
“He threw a fastball up (at the) top of the zone,” Francona said. “It’ds kinda hard to fault him. He’s throwing 96-97 (mph) in the zone. That’s tough to get to.”
Despite both of Sunday’s right-handed starters pitching well - combining to allow just one run and racking up 14 strikeouts - neither figured into the decision. The Giants Ryan Vogelsong rebounded from his last outing (a disaster of a start in which he didn’t even make it out of the second inning) by holding the Tribe to two hits and scoreless over seven innings while striking out six.
“This one’s on the hitters,” said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who went 0-2 with two walks Sunday. “I thought Danny pitched outstanding.”
That would be Danny Salazar, who held the Giants to a run on five hits and a walk, striking out eight over seven innings. San Francisco’s lone run came in the fourth inning when with two outs, Sandoval and Crawford doubled back-to-back.
“I was trying to be the guy that was here last year,” said Salazar, who had followed his sensational rookie season of last year with three duds to start this season. “I wasn’t thinking about my delivery or anything.”
However, Salazar happily gave an assist to teammate Michael Bourn. The speedy centerfielder tracked down Hick’s first hard-hit shot to the left center field alley, bailing out his pitcher and getting the Indians out of the inning without any further damage to keep the game close.
Not only Sunday, but throughout the weekend, it wasn’t pitching that plagued the Tribe, but instead a noticeable lack of offense. The Indians hit just .162 (17-for-105) with 21 strikeouts to nine walks, going a mere 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position.
The most egregious offenders came at the heart of the lineup in four-through-six hitters Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera, respectively, who were a combined 0-for-29.
“We have good hitters, we just have to start making better adjustments during the game and make it harder for (opposing pitchers) to get us out,” Francona said. “For whatever reason, whether it’s pressing or probably different for each hitter, we have to make it a little harder…I thought we had some pitches to hit (against Vogelsong) that we didn’t and then when we didn’t hit ‘em, he made some good pitches.”