Just before the play that won the Giants Game 3 of the National League Division Series, shortstop Brandon Crawford went where he was told. Then he went somewhere else.
The Dodgers’ best hitter, right fielder Mookie Betts, loomed at the plate with two on and two out. Left-handed reliever Jake McGee hunched on the mound. Crawford made eye contact with the rest of the infielders and with bench coach Kai Correa, who handles their positioning. They planned to play Betts to pull the ball toward left field, which he did 45.2% of the time this season. But something was bothering Crawford.
“I know Mookie’s been a really good hitter for a really long time, a professional hitter,” he said after it was over and the Giants had beaten the Dodgers 1–0 to take a 2–1 series lead. “So with a guy in scoring position, I figured he might not be as pull as he usually is with nobody on or a runner on first. So I just straightened it up a little bit more than I usually do.”
He took a half step toward second base. The other infielders adjusted to complement him. McGee delivered a fastball high and outside. Betts took it. The second pitch was a 94.5-mph four-seamer at Betts’s thighs. Betts smashed it 100 mph. On a night with 45-mph gusts that shook the foul poles, the ball zipped through the wind toward the gap.
But there was no gap. Instead, there was the 6' 1" Crawford, leaping in the air, long hair flying, snagging the ball at the apex of his jump, spinning to his left at the force of it. It was the best play of a series that has been defined by them. He could not have made it if he’d been where he was told.
“It's a great example of Craw being able to combine advanced information with what his eyes are seeing in real time,” Correa says. “You think of that entire spectrum from analysts through the coach and the player, if you have that, that trust across the whole length of the spectrum, then you get potentially positive results. And those [plays] are my favorite examples of it.”
The stab saved the game. It also saved the manager’s night.
With the Giants up 1–0 with one on and two outs in the fifth, Gabe Kapler had summoned submarining righty Tyler Rogers to replace lefty starter Alex Wood as the lineup turned over. Wood had given San Francisco everything it could possibly have imagined against the most lethal offense in the NL, but Kapler did not want him to face Betts a third time. Rogers ran the count full, then got away with a 101-mph line drive within Crawford’s reach.
Rogers worked around a single in the sixth, then took the mound again for the seventh. It was the first time in his major league career he had been asked to sit down and get back up twice. He retired the first batter, then allowed a pair of singles. At 29 pitches—a season-high—he was clearly done. Whoever relieved him would be asked to face pinch hitter Austin Barnes, then the top of the order—beginning with Betts.
The best matchup for the right-handed Betts would seem to be a righty. The Giants had four available. Kapler called for McGee, the lefty.
“That's the question and I can't swear that that was an easy one,” Kapler said afterward. “What I can say is in those situations you're looking for swing and miss, right? You don't want a ball to sneak through the infield. Rogers did a great job for us. He also gave up some hard contact and also had some balls sneak through. So maybe at that point Rogers has done his job and you want to give the ball to somebody else. Now I think at that point you're thinking about Dom Leone and you're talking about Jake McGee, and I really feel comfortable with Jake's ability to get swings and misses and I feel—Mookie Betts is a pretty even-split guy. So you know there's a chance you're going to end up facing Mookie there and while I have full confidence that both Dom and Jake can handle those type of situations, felt like McGee was the right guy to try to get a punchout and then potentially record the second out as well. And Betts put a really nice swing on that ball, Craw made a really great play and that's what happens when two teams kind of go at it, you need some great plays.”
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Kapler did not always project confidence that Crawford could be the one to make those plays. When the manager arrived in 2020, Crawford had lost some of the excellence that won him three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. The new staff began platooning him, sitting the left-handed hitter against left-handed pitchers.
“It’s not something I’m used to,” Crawford said at the time. “It’s not something I’m necessarily thrilled about. I’m working as hard as I can to try to get in there every day.”
That was part of the idea, the staff says now. With that new motivation, the 34-year-old Crawford this season put together a career-best .895 OPS and 15 outs above average on defense, fifth among shortstops. He was an All-Star. He led the 107-win Giants in WAR, with 6.1. He may win the NL MVP award next month.
“He's risen to the occasion in so many big moments over the course of his career, so many big bases-loaded hits, so many clutch playoff moments,” Correa said Monday. “And so being challenged like this at this point in his career became one of those big moments all over again, and that’s been so cool to see.”
Now the Giants know they will return to San Francisco, either for a deciding Game 5 or as series winners. That’s because on Monday, a ball headed toward Crawford. And Crawford rose to the occasion.
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