SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, for the first time in AT&T Park’s history, the Giants went a full season without a Splash Hit. But one left-handed hitter does recall getting pretty close to putting one in the water last year.
“I had one home run that I do remember last year that went about 8,000 feet, and if I was at home it would have been in the water,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “That almost landed in the bay, even from Denver.”
Belt’s 475-foot blast at Coors Field in May would have prevented a long streak for the Giants had it come at Third and King. His Splash Hit on Sept. 25, 2014 was No. 68, and a Giants hitter hasn’t hit a homer into McCovey Cove since.
Overall, 2015 was not a fruitful season for the kayakers. Just one homer — from Philadelphia’s Cody Asche on July 11 — found the water, and blasts by opponents don’t change the number hanging on the Levi's Landing wall. The previous low for cove shots was three, in 2006 (Barry Bonds had the only one by a Giant) and 2012 (Belt had two).
Bonds, of course, has skewed the numbers. He had 35 Splash Hits, including six in the park's first season. In the years since, left-handed hitters have found that accomplishing the feat is harder than it looks.
“To get a ball into the water, unless you’re Barry Bonds, who was in a different class, you really have to get the ball down the line,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “I don’t know what that feels like just yet. It looks a lot shorter on TV. It plays deeper than 309.”
The wall is 25 feet high and is especially formidable at night, when the elements make the park play bigger.
“It juts out pretty steep once you start going more to straightaway right and to right-center,” shortstop Crawford said. “It ends up being 450, probably 500 feet if you try to hit it in the water there.”
Crawford and Belt have learned that the hard way. Ask the left-handed power bats about the drought and they’ll point to their approach: Like most of the Giants, they focus on going gap to gap. Crawford pulled just one of his team-high 21 homers down the line last season and hit five to left field. Belt pulled two of his 18 homers right down the line and hit seven to left field or left-center.
“I don’t think either of us are really guys that drive the ball right down the line,” Crawford said. “Our power is more to the gaps.”
The team's left-handed hitters had just 22 homers at AT&T Park last year, with Crawford leading the way with eight. His 425-foot homer off Julio Teheran on May 31 was the longest of the year by a Giants lefty at home, but it was hit toward right-center. The ball landed about four rows deep in the arcade section, never threatening the water.
Belt had put one in the water a batter earlier, but it was pulled foul. When Teheran hung a slider later in the at-bat, Belt crushed it to the same section of the arcade Crawford would hit a couple minutes later — “he moved it about two clicks over,” Mike Krukow said on the broadcast — and found seats 390 feet away from the plate.
That sequence showed the flukiness of the Splash Hit. Even when you do pull the ball down the line, there’s little margin for error to keep it fair and find water.
“You’ve got to crush it, and not only do you have to crush it, but you have to be able to miss those pillars out there,” Belt said. “It’s not as easy as you would think it is. If you hit one into the bay, you got all of it, more than likely. Even though it might only travel barely above the guard rail, you got all of it, for sure.”
Ahh, that guard rail. Nick Noonan nearly wiped Splash 68 off the board when he hit his first career homer in late September, but a fan leaning up against the rail reached up and kept it dry.
“So close to a Splash Hit,” Krukow said on air.
“You think it’s easy? You’ve got to hit it over two fences here,” Duane Kuiper added.
“It’s only been easy for one guy,” Krukow said.
Like many of Bonds’ records, the Splash Hit mark is out of reach. Pablo Sandoval ranks second with seven, and Belt (four) and Crawford (two) are the only current Giants who know the feeling. Crawford’s first Splash Hit was a memorable walk-off against Colorado's Rex Brothers; his second came off David Carpenter of the Braves on May 14, 2014, just two days after Tyler Colvin had one. The Giants have just two Splash Hits since, No. 67 by Travis Ishikawa and No. 68 by Belt.
Who gets the next one? The Giants have five guys who hit left-handed in their Opening Day lineup, but Denard Span, Angel Pagan and Panik aren’t power hitters. A brief clubhouse survey turned up Belt and Jarrett Parker as the favorites, but Parker was optioned to Triple-A.
“I’m definitely not going to say Craw,” Panik said, smiling and nodding toward his double play partner's locker. “I would go with Belt. When they try coming inside on him, he’s got that kind of power. Everybody saw what he did in Colorado.”