SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Strickland did something really dumb on Monday night.
After blowing his fourth save of the season — and making a big huff as he walked off the field — the Giants’ closer decided to keep the party going in the clubhouse by punching a door and broking his hand.
Now the Giants’ closer is out six to eight weeks.
It’s a blow to a San Francisco team that has spent the season on the brink, fighting bad injury luck and bad play to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot this year.
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy announced Stickland’s injury before Tuesday’s game, a June contest against the Marlins that — somehow, someway — carried importance. The Giants entered the game 5.5 games back of the division lead and 4.5 games back of the second Wild Card berth.
This is a team on the edge. They’re still in this thing — there’s a ton of baseball to play — but one bad week could change that.
Losing Strickland doesn’t guarantee the Giants’ season is over — not by a longshot — but losing a closer makes things a bit harder for this team, and that’s, obviously, not a good thing.
The Giants don’t believe Mark Melancon, the man they paid $62 million to close games two offseasons ago, is capable of closing games, so Bochy will use either Sam Dyson or Tony Watson as the team’s closer until Melancon is deemed trustworthy or Strickland comes back.
Both Dyson and Watson are capable of getting the required outs — a nice byproduct of the Giants having a rock-solid bullpen (fourth-best reliever WAR in National League) is that it doesn’t ride on one guy.
But Strickland going down does slide everyone in the bullpen up a slot. It asks the starters to push a little further into the game to make up for being one trustworthy arm and it eliminates some margin of error for the remaining members of the Giants’ bullpen.
The fact that Strickland’s injury was self-induced shouldn’t matter — how the injury came to pass doesn’t change the length of time he’s out — but it does.
The fact that the injury was extremely on-brand for Strickland — whose reputation around baseball is more for being a hothead than as a lights-out reliever — shouldn’t matter but it does.
Strickland clearly views himself as a guardian of the game — an enforcer of the unwritten rules. Remember, this is a dude who decided three years was within the statute of limitations to bean Bryce Harper for having the audacity to hit two home runs against him in the 2014 playoffs and admire the moonshots.
That bit of redassery last Memorial Day earned Strickland a five-game suspension. No big loss for last year’s last-place Giants team, which was effectively out of the running for a playoff spot by June 1.
Under Bochy, the Giants have been a bend-but-don’t-break kind of team — up until last year, they were consistent and resilient. This year, they’re showing some of that temperament. But Strickland losing his cool — again — and taking himself out of commission — again — at a time when he had proven himself as valuable to the team is nothing if not deflating.
It’s just another stressor on a team that’s being bent a bit further seemingly every day.
And for what? A blown two-run lead? Yes, the Giants’ loss to the lowly Marlins was frustrating, but Strickland’s reaction to it Tuesday was way over the top.
Though I’m not sure what else should have been expected. Overreactions are kind of his thing.
Life has an interesting and sometimes… https://t.co/ae0cd3eI9K
— Hunter Strickland (@hstrickland60) June 20, 2018
When Strickland plunked Harper last year for his perceived indiscretions three years prior, Giants catcher Buster Posey just stood there, refusing to intervene as the two — and later two full teams — threw fisticuffs on the AT&T Park mound.
“There’s some big guys tumbling around on the ground,” Posey said after the game. “It’s a little dangerous to get in there sometimes.”
“We’re probably lucky somebody on either side didn’t get hurt in that situation,” Bochy said.
On Monday, Strickland was jawing at Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson for being a bit too happy he knocked home the tying run in the ninth inning. He let the young Marlin know as he exited the game after giving up another run.
He then proceeded to go to the clubhouse and break his hand.
The Giants plunked Brinson in the outfielder’s first at-bat Tuesday. It seems as if the unwritten rules — the single largest impediment to the game — needed to be upheld. Why? To defend Strickland’s honor? To teach Brinson a lesson? Beats me. What I do know was that it was a colossal waste of mental energy and it resulted in Posey being plunked in the bottom half of the inning.
It makes me wonder: Is Strickland really worth the trouble? I know he’s the closer, but is having your best player hit with a fastball worth backing Stickland up for being mad?
Luckily, Brinson and Posey didn’t decide to follow Harper’s lead and charge the mound, pushing this wholly unnecessary and fruitless thing a bit further.
Tuesday’s events should effectively end this bit of useless umbrage. At least in this case of Strickland being a hot head, the only one who was physically hurt was himself. Emphasis on “physically”.
Having already avoided further injuries via beanball or brawl, we’ll see how much Strickland hurt his team in the weeks to come.