CHICAGO — As the Giants spent the week rolling through the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs, Wilmer Flores worked out at Oracle Park, testing his hamstring and strengthening his beat-up body as his activation date neared.
The Giants swept the Rockies and took the first game from the Cubs, and they did so with a deep lineup leading the way. They looked like a team that could allow an injured player to stay in San Francisco a couple more days, avoid a long flight to Chicago and return to the lineup Monday at home. And yet there was Flores, a huge smile on his face, stepping onto the field Saturday morning to take batting practice.
The Giants and Flores decided to fly him in for just one game. It was certainly worth it.
Flores was brought off the IL on Sunday and started at first base in an all-righty lineup. He reached base four times, drove in three runs and hit a crucial two-run homer in a 6-5 win that clinched the first Giants sweep at Wrigley Field since 1995.
For Flores and manager Gabe Kapler, the decision was a no-brainer.
“We’re on a run here. Any little thing counts, any game counts,” Flores said. “I always want to play and if I have to fly in for one game I’ll do it again.”
Flores said he had conversations with the staff on Wednesday and Thursday about making the trip. With lefty Justin Steele on the mound for the Cubs, they wanted Flores available. Austin Slater, who was on the whole trip, was also brought off the IL as Kapler started nine right-handed hitters — including sneaky-dangerous Logan Webb — against Steele.
“I’m sure it’s gratifying for him, and obviously for us as a team as well. What I would say is that it wasn’t a tough decision at all,” Kapler said of flying Flores in. “He’s one of your best bats, period, against a left handed pitcher. He’s a guy who has historically been excellent against lefties and he’s well rested. There wasn’t much of a question there. He was a perfect fit in the middle of our lineup.”
The Giants jumped out to a 6-3 lead and then held on late for their seventh straight. The trip couldn’t have ended in a much better way, as Flores and Slater returned and Kapler revealed that Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson are getting close to being available. The roster is nearly at full strength as the final three weeks approach, and Kapler is seeing a lot of bounce from his veterans, including Flores.
The hamstring was first injured about a month ago, but Flores said he “felt great” on Sunday. He feels close to 100 percent and was relieved he didn’t lose his timing at the plate after missing nine games.
“You can tell both in his face and his body that he’s feeling better,” Kapler said. “I think he was grinding for a really long time, just not feeling healthy all that often. He looks sturdier. He looks physically sturdier, like he got a little bit of a break and had a chance to recover. And you can see it in his eyes that he is feeling much better, and I think, at least in part, that is what led to his success today.”
Flores’ big day capped off an incredible road trip for the Giants. It might have looked easy on paper, but it’s never a picnic at Coors Field, and the hungry young Cubs had won eight of nine coming into this weekend. The 6-0 trip brought in another tie to the 2016 club, the last to make the postseason, something the Giants can clinch with a win Monday night. This was the first undefeated trip of at least six games since the 2016 team went 7-0 through Arizona and San Diego early in the year.
That Giants team was the best team in baseball in the first half. This one has held that distinction most of the season, and seems to refuse to give it up. They’ll try to keep the momentum going back home against the Padres, who are desperately trying to hold their Wild Card spot, and a Braves team that’s in a battle for the NL East crown.
“I really like the way we played the majority of the time on this road trip,” Kapler said. “I think we’re a good enough team where most of the time that’s going to be enough. In the biggest moments against the best teams going forward, I think we’re going to have to play really the best brand of baseball that we have, and I think we’re capable of doing that. We have a challenging stretch ahead of us and a challenging stretch coming up.”