It was 3:50 p.m. on game day and the Giants’ clubhouse was quiet.
Hunter Pence didn’t have anything to do. The training room wasn’t going to open until four.
That was Bruce Bochy’s call: on-field batting practice was cancelled. His team didn’t have to report for duty until 5:00 p.m., a few hours after the normal call-time.
As it turned out, the Giants needed that no-baseball time. They’d just been swept at the hands of the San Diego Padres and faced a critical, “playoff-like” four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who landed in San Francisco hot on their Wild Card tail.
“Obviously with the way we had been struggling against the Padres, it’s good to have to take a step back. Reframe, refresh and regroup. And it felt good.”
Pence’s reputation is the pre-game hype man. The energizer. He was even more animated prior to Thursday’s first pitch as he dapped and whooped with his teammates. He’d had enough time to himself.
He was ready to have fun.
That energy flowed right into his first at-bat. Pence took Adam Wainwright’s first hanging curveball deep to left field to give the Giants an early two-run lead, sparking a 6-2 playoff-like win over the Cardinals.
It seemed the mental vacation lessened the pressure. Denard Span, Angel Pagan and even Johnny Cueto knocked in the team’s four other runs. Pagan entered the game with just seven hits over his last 13 games. Span, only two hits in 41 at-bats.
The Giants collected 12 hits overall. Buster Posey, who was hitting .193 over the past 14 games, eased to his 16th career four-hit game:
“Sometimes it’s good to mix things up. … Break up the monotony of everyday B.P.”
Bochy laughed when he told reporters that he’d be cancelling on-field batting practice for Friday night’s game. But he wasn’t kidding around:
“We are not changing anything. So tomorrow is five o’clock show up.”
The benefits from an extra hour of solitude spread to every other angle of the ballpark, too. Particularly Johnny Cueto, who strolled into the clubhouse at 5:10 p.m. and was surprised to see that he wasn’t late.
The Cardinals are a familiar foe for the former NL Central guy, so Cueto looked almost at ease as he overcame a scrappy game-tying rally that spanned over the third and fourth innings.
Once the Giants regained the lead, Cueto went into overdrive:
“Every inning I felt a lot better. This was my game, and I felt like I was just in sync with Buster.”
After Randal Grichuk’s game-tying single, Cueto retired the next 17 batters en route to his fifth complete game of the season. Seven of the nine innings Cueto pitched were perfect.
Cueto’s first complete game of the second half tied him with White Sox’s Chris Sale for most complete games in the majors.
Posey felt the complete game brewing:
“That fastball command got better and better.”
Every game, win or lose, prompts a peak at the scoreboard this time of year. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost, which puts the Giants four games back of them in the NL West. They now have a one-game lead over the Mets and a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the Wild Card.
The Cubs clinched the NL Central with the Cardinals’ loss.
Moral of the story? Don’t go to the ballpark early tomorrow. The Giants won’t be in the cage.