The smell of spring and anticipation of a new season is palpable on a Saturday afternoon at Raley Field in West Sacramento, as fans file in for the River Cats-Giants exhibition on March 24.
Whenever the Giants come to town — this is the second pre-season meeting at Raley Field since Sacramento became the Giants’ top minor league affiliate in 2015 — it is a highly anticipated event. The Giants still retain many recognizable faces from those beloved teams of 2010 to 2014 that claimed three World Series titles, including manager Bruce Bochy, and players Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik and the “Brandons,” Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. To complete a 2018 rebirth, the team added former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, and three-time American League All-Star Evan Longoria.
Two injury disasters hit the Giants just days before they have arrived in Sacramento and the team’s optimism to turn around last year’s 98-loss, last-place finish — the Giants’ second-worst season since moving to San Francisco in 1958 — was dealt a severe blow. The unthinkable had happened: Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, two of the team’s top starting pitchers, suffered significant injuries that would sideline each player indefinitely to open the season.
Ace Bumgarner’s injury was the most devastating. Making his last appearance of spring training on Friday, the announced Opening Day starter’s left pitching hand was hit by a line drive, breaking his pinkie finger. He had surgery and will be fortunate to be back playing by July. This came after Bumgarner, the 2014 World Series MVP, missed several months last season after an April off-day dirt bike accident.
“He was really locked in,” an exasperated manager Bruce Bochy says about Bumgarner before today’s game. “That’s the thing that makes me sick about this. He was looking as good as I’ve seen him.”
As expected, Bumgarner and Samardzija, who suffered a strained pectoral muscle earlier in the week, didn’t make the trip to Sacramento. But fans are also disappointed that catcher Posey, one of the Giants’ most popular players in history, hasn’t make it to Raley either, opting to travel ahead to the Bay area where the Giants are scheduled to play the Oakland A’s the next day.
Despite the cool, jacket-worthy evening, the game proves to be an entertaining matchup, with Sacramento first baseman Jerry Sands hitting a two-run sixth-inning home run, while River Cats closer Reyes Moronta strikes out the side to stave off a ninth-inning Giants rally as the Cats knocks off their parent club 6-5.
The Giants opened the 2018 season March 29 in L.A. against the rival Dodgers, while the River Cats, also recovering from a last place finish in 2017, will finalize their roster before opening league play April 5 in Tacoma. Sacramento’s opener at Raley Field is set for April 10 against the Reno Aces.