SAN FRANCISCO — After pulling a single through the right side of the infield on Thursday night at Oracle Park, LaMonte Wade Jr. was mobbed by teammates on the first base side of the diamond following his first career walk-off hit in a 5-4 Giants victory.
For the second straight evening, Wade received a standing ovation from the Oracle Park crowd, but Friday’s was different. The celebration of the ninth-inning heroics Wade has provided throughout the second half of the season took place during a pregame ceremony.
On a Giants team featuring beloved homegrown stars Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, Wade was the player teammates, coaches, staff and fans voted as the 2021 Willie Mac Award recipient.
“I’d like to thank Willie (McCovey), who I know is watching from above.” Wade said in an on-field speech.
Since 1980, the Giants have given the Willie Mac Award to the player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership consistently shown by McCovey throughout his legendary career. Winners have ranged from Posey and Crawford to broadcaster and former pitcher Mike Krukow and some of the franchise’s most decorated starters, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
The honoree for the team that has already set the record for single season wins since the franchise moved west to San Francisco in 1958 was a left-handed slugger responsible for six game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning this year, which is the most by any major league hitter in the last 40 years.
All of those hits have come since the All-Star break as Wade has broken the hearts of the Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, A’s and the Diamondbacks, who have lost twice as a result of failing to retire the former Twins prospect with the game on the line.
“I think overall he’s a really calm hitter,” Posey said. “I think anytime you can slow things down in a big situation, it’s an advantage. Also, success breeds confidence and he’s had a lot of success in those situations. I’m sure he feels like he’s going to come through.”
The Giants acquired Wade in February in a minor transaction that sent reliever Shaun Anderson to the Twins in exchange for an outfielder who had a .211 average and .684 OPS in 113 major league plate appearances. Minnesota needed bullpen help at the same time the Giants were looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder to balance their depth chart, so president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made the move.
In an ironic twist, Anderson was in the ballpark on Friday as he’s latched on with the Padres after being designated for assignment by the Twins, Rangers and Orioles this season. In 16 appearances in the majors this year, Anderson has posted an 8.49 ERA while Wade has launched 18 home runs with an .821 OPS for a Giants team that’s relied on his clutch performances en route to unexpected success.
Following Thursday’s walk-off single, Wade is now 13-for-23 with 12 RBIs in the ninth inning this year.
“We’ve come to expect that from him,” manager Gabe Kapler said in a matter-of-fact way.
Wade went from a part-time player shuttling back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues for much of the first half of the season to an overnight fan favorite in the span of a couple of months by showcasing the versatility to play both corner outfield positions and first base and by launching several important home runs. In September, the Giants hosted a t-shirt giveaway with Wade’s name and number on the back when the Maryland product had played fewer than 100 games with the club.
Wade accepted the Willie Mac Award Friday with his parents, LaMonte Sr. and Emily, on the field as they have become frequent guests at Oracle Park this season. On July 31, Emily was circling the stadium concourse during the Giants’ game against the Astros when she stopped along the right field arcade to watch her son hit.
With the game tied 3-3, Wade gave the Giants a lead they would not relinquish by crushing a two-run home run off Zack Greinke over his mom’s head and into McCovey Cove for a splash hit.
“There’s nothing more stressful or rewarding than watching your own kids play sports so I can only imagine what it’s been like for LaMonte’s family watching him have the success that he’s had,” Kapler said. “So many big hits late in games.”
Wade is the third consecutive outfielder acquired by Zaidi to win the Willie Mac Award, following 2019 winner Kevin Pillar and 2020 honoree Mike Yastrzemski.
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Author: Kerry Crowley