The Giants couldn't repeat in 2015, facing a whilrwind of injuries, but still had plenty of memorable moments. Here’s a look back at the year:
3. Chris Heston's No-Hitter
Manager Bruce Bochy took to calling Heston “a savior” because of the rookie's outstanding fill-in work during the first half of the season. Heston was supposed to start opening night for Triple-A Sacramento, but Matt Cain’s flexor strain opened a rotation spot and the little-known prospect sprinted with the opportunity, going 13-7 with a 3.14 ERA through his first 20 starts. That stretch included the individual highlight of the season for the Giants, a no-hitter against the eventual National League-champion Mets at Citi Field on June 9.
Heston struck out 11 on a warm night, including all three batters he faced in the ninth. He was the first since Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax (1965) to whiff the side to cap a no-hitter, and he helped the Giants become the second team in MLB history to throw a no-hitter in four consecutive seasons. As always, the stories that came out later made the night even more memorable. Heston, who ignored the final-out ball in search of a Buster Hug, threw the no-no in front of his Little League coach, who had randomly attended that game. His agent watched the ninth inning at AT&T Park after getting lost in downtown San Francisco and getting a frantic call from general manager Bobby Evans. When it was all over and the hundreds of text messages were returned, Heston packed away a souvenir from the trip: A cover of the New York Daily News with the headline, “HOLY MOSES!”
2. Development of the Infield
How is it that the Giants feel comfortable spending $220 million on two new starting pitchers? Look no further than the homegrown infield. Brandon Crawford was rewarded with a $75 million extension in November that might make him a Giant for life, but the rest of the group is affordable, young, and — most importantly — very, very talented. The Giants had a lot of issues in 2015 as they fell short of a return to the postseason, but as Hunter Pence looked around the clubhouse in late September and recapped a rough year, he pointed out that the future was bright because of what management learned about the infield.
Crawford broke through with a career-year, hitting 21 homers and winning his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. At 28, he’s the best shortstop in the National League. A concussion ended 27-year-old Brandon Belt’s season, but he posted a .356 OBP, hit 18 homers, played Gold Glove-caliber defense, and is under club control for two more seasons. Joe Panik was an All-Star in his first full season, hitting .312 before a back injury ended his season. At 25, he’s expected to make a full recovery. His backup, 25-year-old speedster Kelby Tomlinson, sparked the lineup in August and September.
[PAVLOVIC: Giants Year in Review: In their own words]
The biggest development came at the hot corner. Management should be forever grateful that Pablo Sandoval took Boston’s money, opening a spot for surprising Rookie of the Year candidate Matt Duffy. The 24-year-old’s bat led to the end of the brief Casey McGehee Era, and he finished with a .295 average, 12 homers and 77 RBI. He learned a new position on the fly and may already be the second-best defensive third baseman in the National League.
The Giants were once built on pitching. They now now know they can go head-to-head with any team in the league thanks to young infielders who have grown around Buster Posey, giving the franchise one of the best lineups in baseball.
1. The Injuries
You might notice something about those two previous story lines. Heston only got a shot to make history because Cain got hurt, and as prolific as the infield was, Belt, Panik and Crawford all missed time down the stretch. That leads to the clear No. 1 story line of the 2015 Giants season: Injuries.
It started early in spring training when Pence was hit by a pitch, leaving him with a fracture that twice put him on the DL and cost him 66 games. In all, the Giants had 22 separate DL stints by 14 players, with six officially ending the year on the disabled list and others — Belt, Gregor Blanco, Nori Aoki — unavailable down the stretch when a shorthanded team tried desperately to catch the Dodgers. Pretty much every part of the roster was hit hard. Cain (flexor strain) and Jake Peavy (back/hip) missed most of the first half, and trade acquisition Mike Leake (hamstring) almost immediately went on the DL. Both of Buster Posey’s backups suffered season-ending injuries, and Duffy (who played through an ankle sprain in September) was the only regular other than Posey to avoid missed time.
Bochy summed it up after the Giants were finally eliminated: “Four concussions, three obliques — and here we are on Sept. 29. They fought. They never stopped and I felt good about that,” he said.
It was a valiant effort, but as they enter the #EvenYear, the Giants are hoping for a much quieter season for trainer Dave Groeschner and his staff.