Pinch-hitting Panik punishes Angels with walkoff

Let’s be real. The Los Angeles Angels will always remind us of that 2002 World Series we all want to forget.

But Friday night the tides turned, and the Giants had their turn. With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Joe Panik launched a single into center field off reliever Joe Smith (L, 0-1, 1.69ERA) to give the Giants the 3-2 win over the Angels.

Panik has quickly evolved into the Giants’ go-to walk-off man–the lefty pinch-hit surprise manager Bruce Bochy keeps chilled on the bench in clutch situations. Panik’s last walkoff was a sacrifice fly against the Dodgers. He is pretty cool, Susac agreed:

“He’s just got ice in his veins.”

Its not just coolness that made Panik into the clutch hit king he’s become; he knows how to stay loose. When a left-hander like C.J. Wilson takes the mound and Panik doesn’t get the starting nod, he takes swings between innings in the batting cage just a few steps from the dugout:

“You just don’t know when your name is going to be called and you have to be ready.”

Though the game’s end looked a bit familiar, the theme of the night revolved around an inexperienced team matchup. The game didn’t warm up until late, after hitters adjusted to the pitchers, and vice versa.

A relatively unknown arm in Chris Heston navigated uncharted waters Friday night — the Angels’ lineup — to start the San Francisco Giants’ first interleague series of the season, and pitched nicely.

Heston looked primed for a low-hitter, giving up just two hits through his departure in the seventh. He was happy with his outing, but kept his reflections simple:

“It went well. I threw a lot of strikes and got a lot of ground balls … I’m just out there trying to throw strikes.”

Though plain, it’s true: Of 97 pitches Heston threw, 61 were strikes and 36 missed. He walked just one batter.

A simple pitching plan might just be what the Giants need. Their rotation is muddled with veterans losing their velocity and incurring frequent, nagging injuries.

This rotation is always on the rebound, maybe with the exception of Madison Bumgarner, while Heston is putting forth some level of consistency.

He leads the rotation with a 2.77 ERA. His only bad start was in Colorado, where he gave up 11 hits in 5-1/3 innings. Today’s 6-1/3 inning effort was his fourth six inning-plus start.

The Angels he faced — all for the first time in Heston’s MLB career — were winging it and swinging it; Heston struck out five and kept those he faced mystified. He only had one true early-inning mistake, a sinker that Trout smoked to left field for a double.

Ten-year vet C.J. Wilson had only faced four from the Giants’ starting lineup before tonight, an advantage Wilson leapt on. The lefty gave up just four hits, including two to Angel Pagan, who is now a career 3-for-7 against Wilson, and one from Nori Aoki, who moved to 4-for-8 against the lefty.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

The pair rallied for the Giants’ first run in the first inning. Aoki turned what looked like a hard hit single to center into a double. The speedster moved to third on a ground out from Matt Duffy and Pagan nailed a sac fly to send him home.

The second run scored needed a little newcomer push, courtesy of catcher Andrew Susac in the seventh. Pagan singled to leadoff the inning and moved to second on a passed ball. Susac, in his first career hit against Wilson, sliced an RBI single past second base to score Pagan.

Just one half inning before that, the Angels began to chip away at Heston. It was clear the mystery had been lifted.

Kole Calhoun, David Freese and C.J. Cron all singled to start out the seventh inning. Matt Joyce followed with an RBI single to tie the game at one and that was it for Heston.

The Angels played catchup again in the eighth, but this time against the usual brick wall of a Giants bullpen. It took a bit of banging, and used up three relievers.

With Sergio Romo on the mound Erick Aybar managed to reach first on a Duffy error and advanced on a Johnny Giavotella single. Jeremy Affeldt loaded the bases when he hit Kole Calhoun with a pitch.

Bochy sent in the horse, Santiago Casilla:

“I didn’t want to bring the closer in that situation, but the game was on the line.”

There wasn’t much Casilla could do with one out; David Freese knocked a sac fly to tie the game at two.

But, in the bottom of the ninth, the one-run Giants came to play. Buster Posey hit a leadoff single, replaced by pinch runner Gregor Blanco. Justin Maxwell advanced Blanco to second with a sac bunt and Andrew Susac incurred a walk. A wild pitch that nailed home plate umpire Bill Miller in the knee advanced Blanco to third. Smith intentionally walked Brandon Crawford to load the bases with Panik ready to pinch hit.

Panik’s single marked his first walk-off hit, his second walk off, and the Giants improved to 7-3 in one run games.

The Giants face the Angels Saturday at 1:05 p.m.