SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants, with their backs to the wall and more in danger of falling than the playoff race, needed a spark – any spark – for the entire month of August.
San Francisco lost seven straight series and avoided a sweep in Sunday’s 8-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves. A struggling Attack on Titan woke up, as it usually does after a long cold spell, but something about the win seemed different. The energy at Oracle Park was palpable and the Giants looked like a team injected with new life, dominating the plate, on the mound and on the field.
That’s because before the game, second baseman Cerro Estrada held a private team meeting at the Giants’ club where he addressed the entire team and delivered a powerful message that not only resonated with his teammates, but had an immediate impact in the game that followed. .
Estrada, through interpreter and assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, stood at his locker and talked to his teammates, who were understandably frustrated with the team’s struggles, about the shift in mentality they needed to adopt over the remaining 32 games of the regular season. Estrada wanted his message to be heard loud and clear, and specifically asked Guerrero to translate every word he said exactly, without paraphrasing, in order to get his message across correctly.
“The match motivated me, which we have done before,” Estrada told reporters after the match. “I just asked the team to go out on the field, take the extra base, do the things we’ve been doing before.
“Everyone knows we had a very difficult and challenging August, so I just told the team that we are able to move forward and do positive things. It was just a positive message that I wanted to give to the team.” There’s a month left and I think there’s still a chance for us to come in and not forget what we did at the start and try to forget about August.”
His message was very well received and hit home for many frustrated Giants players who had been searching for answers for the better part of a month.
“Obviously it’s been a little over a month for us, but that can’t diminish the way either of us approach the game individually,” pitcher Tristan Beck said of meeting Estrada. “One of the things that really touched me was that he mentioned how you give up one hit, maybe one hit doesn’t go the way you thought it would, you can still affect the game in a million ways, run the bases and play defense.”
“It was great to see him,” said fisherman Patrick Bailey. “I think we need it. I think he stepped up.”
Not only was the team meeting the first time Estrada had addressed a room full of teammates, but it was also the first time any Giants player had addressed the group privately this season.
“This year it was the first time,” Estrada said. “I think it was a necessary thing. I think everyone felt it was necessary to have the meeting. I want everyone to play hard, to respect the game, to play every half, every court really hard.”
On the surface, Estrada may seem soft-spoken and somewhat reserved, but he’s become a vocal leader in the Giants Club. Ironically, the other vocal leader on the team, whom Giants manager Gabe Kapler praises most, is veteran outfielder Wilmer Flores, who also emerges as one of the quieter players on the team.
Despite the way Estrada’s personality might be seen, he has had no problems getting face to face with his team mates and knows that he, like many others in the club, is respected for the way he plays the game.
“I’m not shy at all, and I have no problem calling a team meeting,” Estrada explained. “You guys might tell my face that I’m upset, but I’m never upset, I’m a very positive person. But I respect everyone and they respect me, so it was easy to address the team.”
“Everyone knows I’m playing the game hard, it doesn’t matter what the outcome of the game is. I think I respect everyone at this club and I think they respect me too. It’s not easy to call up a team. The meeting, especially with my team-mates who have a lot of experience, but I thought it was the right time To go share a positive message that will likely help us the rest of the way.”
His self-assessment is 100 percent accurate and he wastes no time backing up his words with his on-pitch play. In Sunday’s win, Estrada was only 1-for-5 on the plate with an RBI, but he made two walks, scored two huge runs, put up a great hit to one out and made an impressive diving play at second base for the steal. Braves first baseman Matt Olson hit a hit in the top of the eighth inning.
“That’s the guy I look up to on this team,” Beck said. “When he speaks, he carries a lot of weight and I loved the message and he went there and delivered it. I think it would be a different game if Theroux wasn’t out there doing his best for second place.”
Estrada’s fingerprints were all over the Giants win and his pre-game message was on full display with not only his performance but that of his teammates as well.
“Today was a good example of what we can do,” Estrada said. “We played really hard, got the extra base and the result was a team win.”
“The guy we needed to get over him today the way Theroux did, he did,” Kapler said of Estrada’s speech and performance on the pitch.
With their Sunday win, the Giants (67-63) sit 1.5 games behind NL West rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks (69-62) to claim their third and final Wild Card spot.
The Giants looked like they were the furthest thing from a playoff team in August, but they completely turned the scenario around on Sunday. Estrada remains confident the team can secure a place in the playoffs as long as they run out the basics and carry the same competitive mentality that was on display on Sunday.
“We have to win, of course, to get to the playoffs. But you guys know we have capable players here who can run, they can hit. We can compete, as long as we compete and try to do the basic things in every game. I think we have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.”
After a nine-game challenge consisting of six games against the best team in MLB, the Atlanta Braves, and three against the rookie Philadelphia Phillies, the Giants will continue to be tested in the coming days. San Francisco will play 10 games against playoff hopefuls Cincinnati Reds, star-studded San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs, who currently own the #2 spot in the NL Wild Card.
It’s not getting any easier, and the Giants must take Estrada’s message seriously now more than ever.
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