It was the top of the sixth, and Matt Cain was in a little trouble. Curtis Granderson had popped a leadoff triple off the wall in center and Ruben Tejada was looking to notch the Mets’ first run of the game.
Tejada sent a loopy fly ball down the right field line that Hunter Pence caught diving into foul territory before springing to his feet, whipping around and gunning down Granderson trying to score. Andrew Susac tagged him inches from the plate, the fans erupted and Pence grinned; Cain’s shutout was saved.
Bruce Bochy said of the play:
“Pretty amazing, came up and threw it right on the money, which he had to.”
“It was impressive. Something that you might not see again.”
It was the perfect play to cap Cain’s first win since July 9, 2014, almost a year ago, and showcase Pence’s flashy return from injury; Pence led the Giants to a streak-snapping 3-0 win over the Mets on Tuesday night with a little two-RBI contribution.
Pence was playing with little inhibition for someone that had just gotten over a fractured arm:
“I was pretty emotional before the game because you really don’t know when it’s gonna be taken away from you.”
It was that all-or-nothing attitude that inspired the play, said Pence:
“Just going over, caught the ball with nothing to lose, and there was no one on base so you throw it as hard as you can. … Susac made a ridiculous catch and tag, that’s the special part of the play. … That play was literally the perfect opportunity to let it all out there and let it hang and the stars aligned.”
Pence was activated off the DL just before Tuesday’s game in hopes he could spark a listless Giants offense that had scored 14 runs in seven losses. Bruce Bochy knew a rehab assignment was pointless — the Giants needed him now. Bochy, and his teammates, said they needed his energy:
“We needed some presence out there … something that would just be a shot of adrenaline and he gives you that.”
Cain was just impressed by Pence’s appetite for good baseball:
“He brings a lot of energy, and its fun. He was probably as fired up as anybody. … The moment was just perfect. To go out there without any rehab, seeing those at bats, that’s impressive.”
Only a brief conversation between the right fielder and his manager confirmed his spot:
“He was like are ‘You ready?’ I was like, ‘I’m ready let’s go.’”
Cain (W, 1-1, 4.09 ERA) looked like his old self, it was a sight to behold for nostalgic fans. He wasn’t giving much of anything up, striking out seven and giving up just two big unproductive hits in his six innings of work. The pitch count sent him packing, he was at 95 when the sixth wound down.
Cain was feeling pretty good:
“We definitely threw a lot more strikes this time out. Susac was telling me to get ahead, stuff feels good, even from the last start. So I just went out there with that confidence.”
He looked well on his way to a late-inning outing — dishing 22 pitches in the first two 1-2-3 innings — but was derailed in the third trying to escape a bases loaded jam. Cain escaped with an inning-ending strikeout to Daniel Murphy, but had added 27 pitches to his count.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Said Bochy of his veteran’s performance:
“He looked good tonight. Had good stuff, good life on his fastball. Good change-ups. We got him about where we wanted, close to 100 pitches.”
Pitch count aside, Cain was pitching with gusto. His strikeout fastballs had bite, mixing breaking balls in tactfully, and the Mets couldn’t get much past the infield.
It’s been a long road back for the ace. He underwent surgery in August 2014 to remove bone chips from his elbow, watched from the dugout as his team took their third World Series title in five years, and his return was suspended this year after he strained his flexor tendon during Spring Training. He struggled in his season debut against Miami last week, giving up five runs in five innings, but made a statement today:
“I think I’ve mentioned that to Vogey, it’s been a long time. It’s been a long road. It’s definitely been a lot of work and I can’t give those trainers enough credit. They found a way to keep me kind of grounded for the long haul of it. I didn’t think it was gonna be this long in between being back out here, but it did.”
Tonight, the Giants bats had something to give back. Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan took advantage of a slow-moving Bartolo Colon on the mound; the 42-year old pitcher missed the bag on an easy out in the first, giving Blanco a hit, and fumbled a soft ground ball from an equally slow-moving Pagan, who took first on the error.
Blanco capitalized on Colon’s immobility, punching a bunt single to lead off the third. Joe Panik, who entered the game hitting .500 against his hometown team, blooped a single to left, advancing Blanco to second. Matt Duffy reached first on another fielding error, this time from third baseman Murphy, to load the bases for Pence.
Pence answered the call, pushing a little ground ball enough to score Blanco and put the Giants on the board. Brandon Crawford followed with a sac fly to score Panik for a 2-0 lead.
Pence struck again in the fifth, hitting a clean RBI single the opposite way to score Panik, who had singled with two outs, easily from third.
The bullpen, which has racked up a sluggish 5.54 ERA in 17 games, held it together for Cain. George Kontos, who has been one of the most stable pillars to this bullpen, and Hunter Strickland pitched the seventh and eighth without too much fuss. Josh Osich made his AT&T debut in the eighth, ending the inning with a groundout from Murphy.
Santiago Casilla, who has given up six runs this month, closed out the ninth despite giving up a one-out walk. How much did the Giants want this one, Boch?
“In the worst way. It’s been a real grind.”