Giants ninth-inning rally rolls playoff hopeful Rockies

The Colorado Rockies infield is as impenetrable as it gets. Throw Gold Glovers like second baseman DJ LeMahieu and third baseman Nolan Arenado on the diamond and an infield hit seems near impossible.

Pablo Sandoval took the batter’s box, game tied 3-3, in the ninth inning with four hits in his last five at-bats, double the amount he had in his previous 55.

So, of course, he rolled an infield single to a scrambling Arenado.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Ryder Jones followed suit, pushing a bunt past the diving third baseman, and Kelby Tomlinson cleared the infield to load the bases.

The Rockies responded by sending five infielders to tackle whatever Hunter Pence would shoot off the bat. Pence responded by smoking a walk-off sacrifice fly — courtesy of a diving catch in right-center by Gold Glove right fielder Carlos Gonzalez — to seal the Giants 4-3 win Tuesday night.

Pence didn’t think too much about avoiding the wall of Gold Glove infielders, he just wanted to take a good swing at a good pitch:

“If you try to hit it in the air, it probably won’t go well.”

San Francisco (59-93) now needs to win four of its final 10 games to avoid losing 100. Colorado (82-69) fell to within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild Card spot.

Before first pitch at AT&T Park, Kansas City’s Alex Gordon hit baseball’s 5,694th home run of the year, breaking a league record set in 2000 — the heart of the steroid era.

Two hours later, Pence hit baseball’s 5,705th home run (yeah, 10 home runs were hit in between).

Johnny Cueto watched it fly from first base, then, as they approached third, asked Pence to slow down on the base paths:

“I was happy he hit the home run, so I said, ‘slow down and enjoy the home run, because you’re always running so fast.'”

Pence has found himself penciled into the leadoff spot regularly down the stretch this season, a move that, in this case, puts him in a position to use his ‘naturally fast jog’ behind the pitcher. He had to respect the pace of a guy who exerts himself every few seconds on the other side of the inning:

“That most likely was the slowest of my career.”

While the pair speed-walked down the third base line together, celebrating, a couple hundred miles away Arizona’s A.J. Pollock hit his second of the day, No. 5,706. Home runs by the home team sometimes feel earth-shattering in San Francisco given their infrequency, and just minutes later that moment was eclipsed.

Nearly every other MLB team has lapped the Giants’ home run production. With 11 days left, the Giants have hit a league-low 121 homers, 22 behind the next-worst Pittsburgh Pirates and 106 behind the league-leading Orioles.

The disparity isn’t something the Giants staff has talked about much, though they’ve acknowledged that other teams are paying more attention to launch angles and, as Bochy said before Tuesday’s game, have a commitment to “sacrificing more contact and doing more damage.” He added a repeated mantra:

“That’s not how we’re built.”

But the bigger implications of the team’s lack of power is another issue to address a few weeks from now. Tuesday, Pence’s home run salvaged what Bochy called “gutty” start from Cueto, who only allowed Charlie Blackmon a two-run double — his 200th hit of the season — in the second inning. The double compounded what was already a rocky journey through 6-2/3 innings.

The Rockies battled early and Cueto’s pitch count rocketed to 71 through 4 innings. But by then he’d hit cruise control, noted Pence:

“He got a rhythm going and he’s good at breaking other teams’ rhythms.”

The defense rocked to Cueto’s rhythm with a pair of rally-killing double plays. Joe Panik made the most spectacular one, making a jumping throw off second base to snag Jonathan Lucroy at first.

The lead and Cueto’s second win since returning from the disabled list was lost when Hunter Strickland lost a nine-pitch battle with Gerardo Parra, who knocked the game-tying double in the eighth.

Cueto lost his win, but the team victory had this 93-loss team smiling, said Pence:

“It’s not just about the standings. We love competing.”

Up next

The Giants will finish their penultimate home stand with Matt Moore facing Tyler Chatwood Wednesday afternoon.

Notes

Mark Melancon had surgery to relieve compression in his right forearm on September 12. He, with confirmation from Dave Groeschner, told reporters Tuesday that he could be throwing again by December and ready to play once Spring rolls around. … Sam Dyson has been a pleasant surprise filling in for the closer — he’s 13-for-14 in save chances — but Bruce Bochy is committed to Melancon as his closer in 2018.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.