SAN FRANCISCO – Brandon Belt didn’t deserve the heat he took back in February, when he was asked about the Dodgers on the Q&A stage at FanFest and gave a crowd-pleasing answer:
“All I can say is, you can’t buy chemistry.”
It was a breezy fan event, for one. And Belt wasn’t saying the Dodgers had no chemistry. Just that they couldn’t buy a jumbo tub of it at Costco.
The Dodgers have a runaway shopping cart full of the stuff now, though. And with three home runs from Juan Uribe (yes, do not adjust your Internet) powering them Monday night, they officially eliminated the defending World Series champions from the NL West.
“They kind of did the exact opposite of what we did,” said Belt, after knocking in the tying run in the eighth and the winning run in the 10th inning of a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants walk off again]
“They just took off. They’ve obviously got a great team. They did what they were supposed to do, I guess. Next year we’ve just got to do a better job of staying in the race.”
The race got away from them quick. Hard to believe, but the Giants were in first place and the Dodgers were in the cellar, 7 ½ games out, on May 13.
Since then, the Dodgers are 69-37 while the Giants are 42-64. In four months, the Dodgers gained a staggering 27 games on their archrivals.
The Giants haven’t played well, for certain. At times, every aspect of their game broke down. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to acknowledge it: even if they had played better, there might have been no way to keep pace with baseball’s hottest team.
“We’re disappointed with where we are, but you look at what the Dodgers have done and it’s pretty amazing,” Bochy said. “You tip your cap. They’ve played just great baseball and there’s nobody to stop them. That’s how good they’ve been.
“It just goes to show you every year is different and those guys clicked, and there’s nothing really you can do about that. It’s a credit to them with the way they righted the ship and started playing so well.”
There’s still time for the Giants to right themselves, too – even if it’s far too late to save their crown. They put together the kind of game they played so often last season, matching solid defense and difficult plays with efficient starting pitching from Tim Lincecum and the clutch hits when they needed them.
Belt hasn’t looked at the standings in awhile, but said “We still do worry about ourselves and how we can end the season. We’re not just professionals. We’re competitors in here, too.
“I don’t think anybody wants to finish last. Shoot, let’s finish second. You know, have some goals here.”
The Giants are a half-game behind the Rockies to escape the cellar. They’d need to gain eight games in the loss column (with 18 remaining) to try to climb past the Diamondbacks for second place.
It isn’t all about the standings, though. They hope to generate other momentum they can carry over into next season. A productive first baseman, for starters.
Belt is in the midst of the best sustained run of his career, and even the manner of his two hits inspired confidence. Bochy noted that Belt had some rough at-bats in his first three trips against right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who quietly has been among the NL’s best starting pitchers this season.
Belt didn’t let that affect him, though. And he did two things that Bochy hoped to see: He was aggressive and ready for the first pitch when he doubled on a curveball from Matt Belisle to score Angel Pagan with the tying run in the eighth inning.
And Belt stayed tough with a good two-strike approach against Adam Ottavino to single over the left fielder’s head in the 10th, bringing Pagan home for the club’s second walk-off victory in as many days.
The Giants, officially eliminated a few minutes earlier with the Dodgers’ victory in Los Angeles, stormed the field and pounded Belt.
“That’s what you want to see from a young player: improving and adjusting,” Bochy said of Belt. “He’s in a better position to cover both sides of the plate.”
Belt is batting .354 with five homers, 10 doubles, three triples and 16 RBIs in 35 games since Aug. 1, when he began incorporating the changes recommended by Giants coaches – adjusting his grip and moving back in the box.
Can the adjustments he’s made carry over into next year? Belt doesn’t just think so. He said he knows so.
“I’m definitely more comfortable now,” said Belt, whose walk-off hit was the second of his career. “Mentally, I’ve gotten the experience to know I can face big league pitching. And now the physical part has caught up with that.
“It’s easy to maintain and I really think this is something I can hold onto. And even more than that, I know that I can make adjustments like this during a season.”
As for being eliminated? The Giants have had plenty of time to adjust to that idea even before it happened. Before too long, they’ll be mathematically knocked out of the wild card race, too. And it’d take a 14-4 finish to avoid a losing season.
At least walk-off wins take out some of the sting.
“This was going to happen and we knew it,” Bochy said. “It’s important we go out and play our best ball and give our best effort and end on a positive note.”
Stunning but true: The Giants still have the best record within the NL West. They’re 36-28 within the division; the Dodgers are just 29-28, including a 6-6 record against their archrivals with seven more to play.
Just look at how they played against the NL Central, though. The Giants are 11-23 and the Dodgers are 21-11. The Giants are 5-12 in interleague play, too, while the Dodgers are 12-8.