SAN FRANCISCO — Mac Williamson seemingly has a photographic memory when it comes to past at-bats, but that’s not always a positive for a player who has been handed some tough tasks.
Williamson’s first at-bat last year came against Craig Kimbrel and his first start was opposite Sonny Gray. A few days later he faced Clayton Kershaw. This season, Williamson has bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, balancing development with the organization's need for him to come through in big spots in the Majors.
Until Wednesday, Williamson had not lived up to his own expectations. He was batting .167 entering his start against David Price and had not shown any of his trademark power. Worse still, he had not come through in big spots and in pinch-hit appearances, his primary role, and that was eating at him. A 2-0 loss on Mother’s Day was particularly painful, and it’s a day Williamson looks back on with the knowledge that he had too much emotion flooding through his body during a three-strikeout performance, including one with the bases loaded and the pitcher on deck.
Williamson, like every young player, wanted to earn the trust of his teammates and manager. When he was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning of a loss Sunday in St. Louis, he knew he wasn’t anywhere close.
Two days later, the rookie walked into manager Bruce Bochy’s office in the afternoon, not to question that decision from a future Hall-of-Famer, but to ask for faith.
“I felt he may have lost a little bit of confidence in me,” Williamson said. “I just wanted to go to him and say that I want to be that guy who you want to come up in big spots for the team."
Williamson told Bochy that he wasn’t scared and wasn’t going to shy away from big spots.
“Don’t lose confidence in me. I know I haven’t gotten the job done,” he told his manager, “But I’m going to fight for you.”
Williamson wanted Bochy to stick with him, and Bochy, with a banged-up group set to face one of the game’s best left-handers, gave the young outfielder another shot. Eight innings later that pep talk turned into a powerful swing, with Williamson lofting a high solo shot on Price’s first pitch of the eighth to give the Giants a 2-1 win on one of the most dramatic nights of the season.
“He’s facing one of the elite pitchers of the game,” Bochy said. “He got enough of it. He’s so strong, that he got just underneath it but carried it far enough … That’s what you’re hoping for in a game like this, somebody gets hold of one. Mac did."
Price had thrown Williamson a series of cutters earlier in the game, striking him out twice, once swinging and once looking. In a game that was tied on solo homers by Chris Young and Brandon Belt, the Giants nearly took the lead in the seventh when Trevor Brown smoked a Price offering deep to left. That one held up, but Williamson walked to the plate with a purpose as Price went out for the eighth. He figured another cutter was coming and he blasted it, the ball nicking the top of the Chevron car on the left-field wall and then shooting into the seats.
As Williamson jogged out to left for the ninth, the fans in the bleachers stood and started cheering. The fans down the line joined in, and Williamson tipped his cap.
Two minutes later, one of his best nights as a pro nearly turned into one of his worst. Hanley Ramirez hit a deep fly ball to left-center while leading off the ninth and Williamson dropped it, allowing the tying run to reach second.
“Obviously this game can humble you really quickly,” he said. “I thought I was going to be under it and it darted the other way (with the wind). I tried to get under it but I didn’t make the play.”
Williamson could do nothing but stand in left and hope his relievers saved the day. It was a steady stream of big-time pitching.
Santiago Casilla recovered to throw a two-strike slider to Jackie Bradley Jr. that catcher Trevor Brown said was "nasty," and “one of the three best pitches he’ll throw all year.” Javier Lopez strolled in and walked the dangerous David Ortiz before striking out Travis Shaw. Hunter Strickland got the final out on one pitch, earning his second career save.
“Four batters in a row, three pitchers made really good pitches,” Brown said.
Casilla, Lopez and Strickland made sure that Williamson would not look back on this night with regret. Instead, he’s hoping it’s a launching point. Williamson wanted the rest of the Giants to have faith in his ability, and they certainly do after the game-winning homer.
But afterward, it sounded like that confidence was actually there all along.
“He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself trying to do well,” Madison Bumgarner said. “He’s got some of the best tools in the game. If he puts it together, he’s going to be a really good player.”