Panik, Giants finish off Dodgers in ninth

Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw. Lefty on lefty. Ace against ace. The 2014 National League MVP pitted against the 2014 World Series and NLCS MVP.

The golden arms pitched the Giants and Dodgers to a stalemate through the late innings, a tie that was broken in the bottom of the ninth when Joe Panik sent a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded way past an outfield playing short to give the Giants the 3-2 win over their NL West foes Wednesday night.

That ninth inning hit off Dodgers reliever Chris Hatcher (L, 0-2, 10.80 ERA) came about 10 minutes later than it should have. After a Brandon Belt single loaded the bases, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sauntered in and out of the dugout multiple times, adjusting his defense and arguing with umpires that third base coach Roberto Kelly physically attempted to stop pinch runner Gregor Blanco from rounding third.

The official MLB rule Mattingly said was breached asserts that interference should be called if:

“The base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.”

In real time, it seemed the contact was merely incidental: Kelly held his hands up and Blanco fell into those hands. But the contact in itself, Mattingly argued, was enough to warrant an interference call.

Blanco asserted after the game that he had no plans to head home. But Mattingly, taking time to chat and walk around the field arguing that Kelly and Blanco broke a rule, may have had an ulterior motive with Panik holding a potential walk-off hit:

Said Panik:

“I know how NFL kickers feel when they get iced … I was standing at home plate for a while.”

Mattingly came back out to the mound with a special defensive alignment: Yasiel Puig was summoned from right into a five-defender infield, with two shallow outfielders playing the alleys. But it was no matter, Panik got the pitch he needed to secure his first career walk-off:

“I just wanted to make sure I got something I could get up in the air … I didn’t miss it, so I was happy with it.”

But before the ninth inning circus, there was a steady battle on the mound; Wednesday night’s matchup appeared sure to be a tense ride. A packed AT&T Park settled in for a classic pitchers’ dual between the storied rivals, maybe looking for rekindled angst between Bumgarner and Puig as well.

Bumgarner’s 6-1/3-inning, five-hit shutout lasted until his 109th pitch, a fastball up in the zone that pinch hitter Alex Guerrero launched halfway up the left field bleachers to tie the game at 2-2.

Bumgarner was happy with his performance, and didn’t regret his sixth inning performance and the pitch to Guerrero:

“I felt good, kept going and could still make pitches. … The pitch to Guerrero … I’m not 100 percent on where it was at, I know it felt like a decent pitch.”

He added later he wasn’t phased too much by the Kershaw matchup:

“Regardless of who I’m facing, I have to get hitters out.”

Giants bats struggled to break through Kershaw’s air-tight performance. The NL MVP pitched 6 innings — four in 1-2-3 fashion — of stifling ball.

Joaquin Arias and top of the lineup found a small leak in the third. Arias, the first baserunner of the night, slapped a leadoff single to center field. He moved to second on a Brandon Crawford walk and then third on a solid MadBum bunt that dribbled down the third base side.

Nori Aoki — the Giants’ hottest batter sitting on a .338 batting average and reaching base in 15 of the all 16 games played — dribbled a groundout that scored Arias and advanced Crawford to third.

Matt Duffy, filling in for a resting Joe Panik at second base, hit a bloop single that escaped center fielder Chris Heisley’s grasp to score Crawford and give the Giants the early 2-0 lead, a lead they lost with a single stroke in the sixth.

Duffy is a career 3-for-5 against Kershaw, something worth noting, even despite the small pool of at-bats.

Bruce Bochy was happy to see his team get a hot start against the ace pitcher:

“The fact that we got it going against a pitcher like Kershaw…it was intense out there. Hopefully this is something that lifts us.”

Then it was the bullpen’s turn. George Kontos, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla (W, 1-0, 2.57 ERA)pitched a combined 2-2/3 innings of shutout ball to preserve the tie. Casilla gave up the only hit to preserve the Giants’ chance at the win their second straight game for just the second time this season.

Said Bochy:

“It’s a good (series) to take before we hit the road.”

The Giants finish the series and with the Dodgers and homestand Thursday afternoon at 12:45 p.m. before heading off to Colorado.