Jason Giambi did it again last night. At 42 years old, he stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter with a man on in the bottom of the ninth inning of a
tie game one-run game—a game that his team desperately needed to win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive—channeled his violent and nervous energy through his signature bat wiggle, waited for a pitch on the inner half, and then crushed the ever-loving shit out of that fastball. Game over. The Indians won, and Giambi continued to be the perfect picture of an aged slugger.
For the last few years, this has been Giambi's thing. He hasn't been a full-time starter since his last year with the Yankees, and since 2010 he has been primarily a pinch hitter, nothing more than a big bat to come off the bench when his team needs a miracle. In that role, he's been a saint.
Since 2010, Giambi has hit eight go-ahead or game-tying home runs in the eighth inning or later, according to Baseball Reference. Six of those homers have been walk offs, accounting for the bulk of his 10 career walk-off home runs. There are many other players who have hit more home runs within that criteria than Giambi, but every player ahead of Giambi on that list is a starter, and most of them—guys like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Matt Kemp—are stars.
Giambi's not a star, but he's something just as entertaining. I say this because I watched Giambi for four seasons when he played in Colorado, and watching him stride to the plate in the late innings as the NWO theme song blared in the background was one of the few pleasures that the Rockies offered fans in those years. Far more often that one would reasonably expect, a late-inning Jason Giambi at-bat would end with him diving into a mob of teammates at home plate.
I can remember one game in particular, a shitty August game against the Marlins that I begrudgingly attended while hungover, that Giambi salvaged with one violent swing of the bat. The listless crowd had watched the Fish and the Rockies slapfight each other into a 4-4 tie, and as the bottom of ninth began, we were all dreading extra innings. The Rockies managed to scrape together two base runners, and as Giambi emerged from the dugout those fans who were left in the stadium suddenly snapped to attention.
Hey, we might actually get to see something cool today! was the collective thought that was suddenly in our heads. Giambi hit his homer, we all went nuts, and I exchanged a flurry of excited text messages with my brother about what an awesome game it had turned out to be. I think that's the last time we've had a happy conversation about the Rockies.
And Giambi's never been a more dangerous late-inning weapon than he has this year. Last night's walk off was his second of the year. Those are in addition to the two eighth-inning, game-tying home runs he's hit this year: a three-run homer in August that came with his team down 7-4, and a solo shot that erased a one-run deficit against the Reds in May.
It's been fun to watch Jason Giambi undergo this transformation—from Oakland's grimy faux-biker to the Yankees' disgraced juicer to baseball's version of the Hail Mary—because it's ultimately a happy transformation, one that every once-great slugger would undergo in an ideal world. When a great hitter ages, it's not his ability to hit the baseball a fucking mile that goes first. It's all the little things—bat speed, eye-hand coordination, joint stability, etc.—that go, undermining the power that's still there. It hurts to watch an old timer strike out because you know, you just know, that if he could only get the bat on the ball, it would be just like old times. And that's way Jason Giambi is the best. Because despite how old he is and how far he's fallen, he can still get the bat on the ball when it counts.