The Giants had five innings to score three runs against the second-worst bullpen in baseball. Deep in the cell of this slump with a lineup that’s struggled to produce quality at-bats, that kind of production seemed near impossible.
This team is struggling to keep heads above water and, down two runs in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins, it seemed the team would drown in its second consecutive home sweep, noted Hunter Pence:
“Eventually you want the process to produce results.”
Sunday afternoon, results poured down for the Giants (26-39). Buster Posey‘s go-ahead two-run double off Matt Belisle (L, 0-2, 8.59 ERA) in the seventh inning gave him a season-high four RBIs on the day in a four-run seventh inning. Austin Slater added some sugar with a bases-loaded triple, lofting his team to a five-run eighth inning and securing San Francisco’s eventual 13-8 win over the Twins (32-27).
The grueling process finally paid off in a show of clutch hits, a rare frenzy the key players could only attribute to a team-wide sense of practicality. Said Posey on his approach:
“Be ready to hit and if it’s not there, maybe take it.”
A 13-run barrage and season-high 17-hit game broke open what seemed to be yet another futile day at the plate for the Giants despite a bounty of opportunities.
That this reality could present itself became apparent early when Pence hit his first of three doubles in the fourth, and Nick Hundley singled him home breaking a 2-2 tie and presenting the bottom of the order an opportunity to add on with no outs.
Slater doubled to keep the line moving, but Gorkys Hernandez grounded out to third base for an unproductive out. Matt Cain followed with a strikeout and Kelby Tomlinson grounded out to strand a pair of runners in scoring position.
The Twins answered back with a long fifth against Cain, who gave up a leadoff walk and single. Hernandez made an ill-advised throw to third on Miguel Sano‘s fly ball, allowing a pair of runners to advance and eventually score on a bloop single from Robbie Grossman.
That theme carried through the meat of the game; The Giants took an early 2-0 lead against Nik Turley — making his MLB debut — on an Aaron Hill sacrifice fly and a Posey ground-out RBI. Eduardo Escobar and Byron Buxton knotted the game up with a pair of solo shots in the next inning.
The lineup appeared too anemic to mount a comeback with three lefty starters (Brandon Crawford, Denard Span and Brandon Belt) sitting against the lefty Turley (ND, 0-0, 9.00 ERA). But this lineup turned process into production. The top of the order set the table: Tomlinson went 2-for-4 and scored two runs. Eduardo Nunez extended his on-base streak to 28 games, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored. The heart of the lineup made it all flash.
Pence, manager Bruce Bochy noted, has been biting in a lot of his at bats. Back in his knee-high socks, he looked refreshed:
“Hunter looked quiet at the plate, a lot more relaxed.”
Perhaps it’s the socks — Pence said that was the “first and last time” he’ll ditch the knee-highs. Pence matched a career high with three doubles, and all went used. He scored on one and collected a pair of RBI on the next pair, bridging the gaps in the Giants’ two big innings. A productive Pence is a dangerous sight for the opposing team, Posey noted:
“If you know Hunter, he wants to help the team more than anyone. … He gets on a roll and we all know what he’s capable of.”
It’s the kind of help that sends a jolt through the lineup, said Slater:
“Oh yeah, It’s easy to hit when you have guys on base.”
The rookie out of Stanford fed off the energy, and showed his versatility with an opposite-field RBI in the seventh and sealed matters with a make-good, three-run triple immediately after the Twins intentionally walked Hundley to load the bases with two outs.
Slater moved up the minor league ranks into San Francisco quickly and is finding his stride with the big club — he’s 6-for-13 in his last four games with five RBIs, including a home run. He’s got speed on the base paths, too. The skipper and his teammates notice his maturity, said Bochy:
“Slater, I like his swing. He can drive for a hit but he has some pop, too. He’s figured it out and he’s succeeded. … It’s not easy coming up here for the first time, but he’s confident and comfortable and throwing out good at-bats.”
It was clear, though, that Posey was the engine driving this machine.
Posey was hitting .341 with just 19 RBIs coming into the game. Of course, RBIs are more a mixed measure of opportunity and clutch hitting than anything. But Posey had plenty of opportunity Sunday, and he took advantage, notching his RBI count to 23 with a 3-for-5 day. Pence said Posey’s big double was “very clutch,” but his consistency despite a team-wide skid speaks volumes:
“You could say we’re going through a tough stretch. … You tend to see what people are made of during those times.”
The bullpen picked up after a sloppy start from Cain (ND, 3-5, 5.22 ERA), who shouldered five runs. Cain struggled to find the zone; he walked three and gave up seven hits in 4-1/3 innings. George Kontos couldn’t hold an inherited runner, but combined with Josh Osich (W, 1-0, 3.60 ERA) and Hunter Strickland for 3-2/3 scoreless innings.
Sam Dyson made his debut as a Giant in the ninth and proceeded to load the bases. Dyson didn’t record an out and the Twins plated those three on a Posey error, wild pitch and ground ball. Bochy said he wasn’t stressing over the outing and that it was some “tough luck” as he was “trying to make a good first impression.” Dyson showed a lot of potential — a 95 mph fastball with sink, for one — but made a lot of mistakes. A 13-5 game was definitely the best opportunity to let Dyson get the first impression jitters out, who knows when the Giants could have gotten something similar.
The Giants get an off-day Monday to watch the Warriors, obviously (and perhaps day one the MLB Draft), before the Kansas City Royals (27-34) visit for the first time since Game 5 of the 2014 World Series.