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Thairo Estrada pre-game speech snaps SF Giants out of funk


SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants are at a critical point in the season. A continued skid could bury chances at a playoff berth. A wake up call can revive them amid an increasingly competitive Wild Card run.

No alarm seemed to be sounding as the Giants lost seven straight series and 14 of their last 19 games heading into Sunday’s game. No obvious leader seemed to be emerging. So Thairo Estrada called a team meeting before the Giants’ final game against the Braves, hoping to prevent a sweep, to remind the team that they’re better than this — spoken in Spanish through an interpreter.

“I told the team to go pitch-by-pitch, take the extra base. Do the things we were doing before to execute moving forward,” Estrada said. “Everybody knows we’ve had a difficult and challenging month, so I told the team to do positive things. It was a positive message. We have a month left and we still have a chance for us to get in an not forget what we did at the beginning.”

Estrada’s speech explained the noticeable difference between Saturday’s sleepy loss and Sunday’s complete 8-5 win over the National League’s best team on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park. Not only were the Giants executing on offense in every way they could — hitting for power, advancing runners, laying down bunts and even coming up with timely hits — they challenged a Braves team that’s been openly taunting them on the basepaths this series with their gloves.

Estrada was at the center of the game’s most electric play: A relay 3-1-4-2 rally-killing double-play on Ronald Acuña’s dribbler that saw J.D. Davis’ relay the ball to reliever Scott Alexander, who lobbed it to a sprinting Estrada from second base. Estrada made a heads-up throw to catcher Patrick Bailey at home to get Orlando Arcia attempting to score — initially called safe, but overturned on a Giants challenge. It chopped a Braves rally down to just three runs that had cut the Giants’ early two-run lead.

“A lot of not good thoughts were running through my head during the whole play,” Bailey said.

The extra efforts made it easier for the Giants to answer all of the Braves’ incessant attempts to keep the lead. The next inning, Luis Matos legged out a double on a bloop to left field and moved to third on Austin Slater’s slicing hit to right field. Against Collin McHugh in relief, Wilmer Flores loaded the bases on a walk and Davis walked to tie the game. Bailey came up with the big hit, hitting a 2-2 sweeper hard enough past first baseman Matt Olson and into right field to clear the bases and give the Giants a 6-3 lead.

“Pretty cathartic because we just haven’t gotten that one in a while,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That changes the score in a big way for us.”

The Braves answered, of course, with an Olson double and Marcell Ozuna home run to cut the Giants’ lead to one run. But the Giants didn’t tire and manufactured some cushion in the sixth. Pinch hitters Wade Meckler drew a walk and advanced to second on Schmitt’s sacrifice bunt. Then Joc Pederson was intentionally walked to set up Slater’s second hit and RBI up the middle that scored Meckler. Estrada’s bunt up the first base line caught the Braves’ defense off guard to score Pederson from third with no play at first.

It was the kind of inning Estrada hoped in his pre-game pep talk his team could execute from here on out.

Camilo Doval struck out two and got a game-ending lineout to pick up his 34th save of the season, his first save in more than three weeks. The closer had blown a save opportunity in each of his last four appearances on the mound, including on back-to-back nights in Philadelphia earlier this week, and hadn’t saved a game since Aug. 3.

“Everybody knows I play the game really hard,” Estrada said. “It doesn’t matter the score. I respect everybody in this clubhouse and I think that they respect me. It’s not easy to call up a team meeting, especially with a lot of my teammates that have a lot of experience. But I thought it was a good time to go ahead and share a positive message that could probably help us the rest of the way.”

The win puts the Giants 1.5 games back of the Diamondbacks for the third National League Wild Card spot and tied with the Cincinnati Reds, who come to San Francisco for a three-game series starting on Monday. Perhaps the most important thing from Sunday’s game to help the Giants regain a Wild Card spot came in the game’s final inning, when Doval pitched a perfect ninth inning.

“We have to win to make the playoffs,” Estrada said. “We have capable players that can run and hit as long as we compete and do the fundamental things in every game I think we have a big opportunity to make the playoffs.”

Notes

Outfielders Mike Yastrzemski (hamstring) and Mitch Haniger (right arm fracture) could return from the IL as soon as Monday’s opener against the Cincinnati Reds, manager Gabe Kapler said. Yastrzemski took live BP and ran the bases before Sunday’s game and Mitch Haniger is scheduled to play in his fifth rehab assignment game Sunday night.

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