Barry Bonds was hanging around the batting cage before the game, talking to players about hitting, and talking about players to coaches. In the game, the SF Giants collected 22 hits, setting a record for the 16 years of their current ballpark. Coincidence?
The Giants chased Phillies ace Cole Hamels in the rout, winning 15-2. Hunter Pence hit a grand slam homer to the opposite field in his third game back. Normally the story would be all about that. Not this game. Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Justin Maxwell all had four hits. Three players with four hits hasn't happened since the 60s. Panik hit a two run homer that got wet on a bounce. Maxwell had two doubles and a triple. Angel Pagan, finally rested and his injury better, had three hits and two RBIs batting leadoff. Brandon Belt (seen in conference with Barry Bonds earlier) had two doubles.
Yet the game started slowly. Both SF Giant Madison Bumgarner and Hamels looked pretty sharp in the early innings. The Giants scraped a run, and the Phillies got two on a homer. It looked like another low scoring, low support Bumgarner start. Lately the Giants have held on until he weakened in about the sixth, and then the bullpen did or didn't hold a small lead. But the fourth just exploded with 9 runs, so not even a grand slam got the majority of them.
Plus Bumgarner continued his torrid hitting--he's over .400 for the past month or so--with a couple of hits and an RBI. He's still tiring in the late innings, though.
There was more good news for the Giants. Pitcher Tim Hudson looks very close to ready, reliever Jeremy Affelt pretty close ( with Tim Lincecum better but not close) and outfielder Aoki improving faster than expected. He may be back in a couple of weeks.
Good news also for the Pirates, who beat their division rival the St. Louis Cardinals. When they've made a run in recent years, it was because they handled the Cards, and when they fell short--like last year--it was because they didn't. They lost the first game of this set, but won 5-2 on Friday behind Geritt Cole's majors-leading 13th win, and Neil Walker's 2-run homer.
The Giants have the mo to get the sweep they should get against the Phillies, and that they need going into the break. They are still 5.5 games behind LA.
Imagine you are a SF Giants fan who lives within an hour or two of the city, and you don't have a lot of money. There probably still are such people, even in this high income tech zone. Anyway, you can't afford a lot of games but you got tickets early to a game that was available and not especially important: a Tuesday night game with the New York Mets. Maybe you even got it from somebody sufficiently discouraged by a 7 game losing streak.
Well, you got quite a night. First, Matt Cain in his first start at home in a year. But at least that was scheduled, you knew that going into the ballpark. What you didn't know, what noone knew, was that you were going to see Hunter Pence suddenly return to the Giants lineup.
I can just imagine the buzz, the swirl and then the roar of sound when he trotted out onto the field.
Then how about when he drove in the Giants first run. And then when he singled in the Giant's second run--which turned out to be 2/3 of their total.
And then the catch and throw, which quickly got the honor of playing on a loop on the SFG's Bleacher Report page all night. He layed out for a fly ball on the line, jumped up, and gunned down the Met heading for home. Pretty much the play of the year so far.
The Giants won that one 3-0. That goose egg courtesy most of all of Matt Cain, who pitched a strong 6.
Wednesday's day game was played under the lights, as the fog played around fly balls before lifting to a gloomy marine layer. And it stayed gloomy, as ace Mets pitcher and All Star de Grom held them in check. The Giants hit some hard deep balls but for outs, plus a Hunter Pence homer that went foul by inches. They also had an inning of opportunity which they blew with poor baserunning by Justin Maxwell. Otherwise, nothing until they scored one in the 9th.
The worst part of it was they again wasted a superlative start by Jake Peavy. He's pitched well enough to win both outings since his return, and he's lost both because the Giants didn't score behind him.
There was some managerial bad luck, too. Bochy rested Buster Posey (with a hamstring problem) and the hurting Angel Pagan, but not Brandon Crawford, who made an uncharacteristic and costly throwing error. Then in the 9th Andrew Susak was the tying run at the plate with two outs, with Posey set to pinch hit if he extended the inning. Bochy couldn't pinch hit for the catcher because Posey, the only other catcher on the roster, couldn't catch with that hamstring. But that was minor, really. Even though Susak hit the ball up the middle but not hard enough for a hit, it was a good at-bat, and he's enough of a hitter to trust in that situation.
The Giants are unquestionably limping to the break. But if they can win the last few, they won't be in bad shape--and the last few days have shown that the second half could be good. Peavy and Cain are clearly ready, Pence is back. I think Bochy learned today that Maxwell can play left field (he sure can't play center)--so with him in left, Blanco in center and Pence in right, it's a solid defense.
Meanwhile the Pirates are sprinting to the break, as they did last year. In fact, last year the break broke their mo.
That the SF Giants lost their three game series at Washington was less of a shock than their 3 duds in Miami, but it still had to be discouraging.
Washington proved to be the better team, and the Giants didn't even see their best pitcher. The Nationals' infield woes receded, and they have right now a superior outfield that took away several extra base hits from the Giants, who couldn't score a run for two of the games except for two solo homers.The final game was additionally frustrating for all the bad calls on balls and strikes. Ryan Vogelsong was still pitching well when he was ejected, which didn't help matters. George Kontos, who hadn't given up a run in ages, gave up the winner on a home run. It ended up 3-1.
Bryce Harper of the Nationals was the top All-Star vote getter, and he showed why even in this relatively quiet series for him. He's something of a Mickey Mantle figure, with incredible potential and putting up incredible numbers, but whose career has been marred by injuries. And instead of off-field excesses like Mantle, he's prone to on-field temper.
The Giants return home from an 0-6 road trip depleted and exhausted, 4 games back in second place. It could have been worse, since the Dodgers also lost on Sunday. They have to rest Pagan or risk losing him later, and they are going to rest Panik as they did Duffy today. Their latest roster moves bit them today when Travis Ishikawa returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates on waivers. That's an experienced bench player the Giants won't have for late season, but the Pirates now will.
The Pirates are ending the first half going in the opposite direction of the Giants. They won their series against Cleveland, with a 1-0 gem by Jeff Locke and a 5-3 win by league leader Gerrit Cole (his 12th victory), with a 5 run fifth capped by a double by Andrew McCutchen, who didn't make the All-Star starting lineup but will probably start anyway due to injuries. The Giants' Aoki was the 4th outfielder in votes, but he's injured, too. The Pirates have no starters, and the Giants only Buster Posey. So that's exactly one of my selections that start, two if you count Cutch.
All-Star Update: NL players voted Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford onto the All-Star team, and All-Stars manager Bruce Bochy selected second baseman Joe Panik for the team, as well as pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Pirates added to the All-Star team are Andrew McCutchen and pitchers Gerrit Cole, Mark Melancon and A.J. Burnett. It's great news for Burnett, who had a bad year last year with the Phillies, and is back with the Bucs for his 17th and last year (at least, that's his plan.) Meanwhile, starter Cole leads the league in wins and closer Melancon is arguably the best in the league. (So that's four of my selections. Fans didn't pick pitchers.)