By Art Spander
SAN FRANCISCO — He wears glasses. Not Madison Bumgarner, of course — he simply wears out the opposition. And not anyone from the Chicago Cubs, although given the frequency with which they struck out against Bumgarner, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad idea. But no, the reference is to Kelby Tomlinson.
As in Grand Slam Kelby, who Thursday, on the warmest (79 degrees at first pitch) and surely most enthralling afternoon of this often painful season at AT&T Park, hit his first major-league home run.
That it came in the eighth inning with the bases loaded of a 9-1 victory over the Cubs had Tomlinson’s teammates applauding like fans, and had Tomlinson a bit bewildered.
Barely a month away from the minor leagues, Tomlinson wasn’t sure how to respond when the slam was reshown on the big video board in center field. When your career has been limited to places like Augusta, San Jose, Richmond and, until August 3, Sacramento, there’s unfamiliarity with heroic celebrations in the bigs.
“Everybody got up and started clapping for me,” said Tomlinson. Including, one guesses, in absentia his optometrist.
In these days of laser surgery and contact lenses, the ballplayer who wears glasses is rare. Across the Bay, Eric Sogard of the Athletics chooses them. And although he’s not competing, Cubs manager Joe Maddon wears glasses, the horn-rimmed variety.
Tomlinson has astigmatism. He tried contacts, on the suggestion of his wife. But he feels more comfortable in the spectacles, he said facing a dozen newspaper and TV types, half of whom also were wearing glasses.
Years ago when he first played for the Lakers, Kurt Rambis wore horn-rims, leading a group of young men who called themselves the Rambis Fan Club to show up at games in the same sort of glasses, whether they required vision correction or not. Maybe some of the Giant partisans should try the same stunt, although Tomlinson’s glasses are not particularly unusual.
Tomlinson, 24, born and raised in Oklahoma, isn’t unusual either. Although the way he’s started with the Giants definitely is. In 20 games, he’s had 18 hits in 52 at bats, a .346 average, and now 11 runs batted in.
“He’s a base-hit guy,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Tomlinson. “Has a short swing. Good speed. One of the most complete players from this club.”
A club with so many players injured that men such as Tomlinson, Juan Perez and Ehire Adrianza have to start. But it’s also a club that, after going winless in five games against the Cubs, won the last two — and the series.
As always, Bumgarner was at least in part responsible. The first six outs he recorded were strikeouts. By the time Bochy decided to “give him a break,” taking him out after six innings, MadBum had 12 strikeouts and his 16th win.
He allowed only two hits and two walks, and in August was 5-0 with a 1.45 earned run average. “A great athlete,” said Bochy. “He was disappointed because when I sent him up to pinch hit (in St. Louis) he didn’t get a hit.” That was a night after Bumgarner pinch hit and did get a single.
The Giants have lost Joe Panik, Angel Pagan and now for a few days Brandon Crawford. So they reach down and grab Tomlinson, and Tomlinson grabs the spotlight. “It’s a long season,” said Bochy, “and you learn to deal with it because you have no choice.”
Wednesday night, on first, Tomlinson beat a throw to second on a grounder when it appeared he would be out. “That’s how the game should be played,” Bochy said of Tomlinson’s hustle.
His power isn’t bad either. “You play in the yard,” Tomlinson said about growing up, “and you never dream about getting a hit. You dream about hitting a home run and hitting a grand slam. I don’t hit that many home runs, so that was great.”
Marlon Byrd, a few days from his 38th birthday, does hit that many home runs. He had 21 for the Mets in 2013, 25 for the Phillies in 2014 and his shot in the third for the Giants was his 21st of 2015.
He was the one who urged Tomlinson to step up and acknowledge the ovation for the grand slam.
“I’m so happy for him,” Bochy said of Tomlinson. “I loved the way he came through.”