Chris Stratton didn’t have the proverbial mic drop most starters aim for in their last start of the season, lasting 4-2/3, allowing three runs (only two earned) on six hits, and walking a season-high five batters.
But he kept San Francisco in the game, and in the end it was another starter— Madison Bumgarner — who dropped the mic Tuesday night with a walkoff single in the bottom of the twelfth to snap the Giants (73-85) five-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the Padres (63-95).
A pair of Forever Giants — Hunter Pence and Gregor Blanco — also left their marks as they continued to make the most of what is likely the last week either will spend in a Giants uniform, knocking in three runs between them.
For Pence it was particularly special, as just yesterday manager Bruce Bochy gave him the news that he will be leading off for each of the remaining games. The veteran outfielder with two World Series rings plans to control what he can control in these last games, a motto he said he’s had since he was very young:
“The future is unknown, but it really is a tremendous honor and it’s a joy for me deep down inside to take this field for as many years as I have and for these last couple games.”
After facing the wrong end of a shutout against the Padres Monday night in their fifth-straight defeat, the Giants had hopes of a rebound when they got on the board in the first inning for the first time since September 9.
In an almost comic display of one of their season’s fatal flaws — their inability to hit with runners in scoring position — the run came after Pence reached first on an error from Friars shortstop Javy Guerra (the first of two he would commit) and Evan Longoria roped a double down the left field line.
San Francisco would have fruitless opportunities with runners in scoring position in both the second and fourth innings, and coming into Tuesday, they had just seven hits in their last 43 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Following the theme, their second run came on Pence a solo shot (4) into the bleachers in left-center field in the fifth, his second in September.
Meanwhile, Stratton (ND, 10-10, 4.85 ERA) suffered costly errors from rookie Abiatal Avelino, in his first start at second base, and Gorkys Hernández in center field, which contributed to a high pitch count for Stratton. The Padres scratched across a pair of runs (one unearned) in the fourth, so with two out in the fifth and the Giants down 3-1, Stratton was pulled at 102 pitches.
“[Stratton] was just a little off, he wasn’t quite as sharp with his command and his finish pitches. He didn’t execute those quite as well as he normally does—a couple of 0-2 hits there. He just missed his spots at times tonight. He [had] a lot of pitches there [and] I had to go get him, but he battled hard to keep us in the game.”
And just as it was beginning to look like another lost cause in an increasingly dismal season, the Giants snapped out of their RISP-phobia.
Joe Panik pinch-hit with two outs in the seventh and knocked a single to left to bring up Pence, and the veteran rose to the occasion.
Despite being edged out of right field with the Giants offseason acquisition of Andrew McCutchen, Pence has maintained a positive attitude this season. He transitioned to left field without complaint and embraced a role that saw him spend more time than not on the bench for much of the season.
Stratton noted that Pence has had a positive impact for the Giants this season even from the bench:
“He’s just all out, all the time, it doesn’t matter if he’s not even playing, that guy, he’s still cheering on the team and always trying to feed us positive energy. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room, I’ve really enjoyed playing with him.”
With Pence’s contract up after the season, and with a performance decline coinciding with aging into his mid-30s, it’s no secret that his tenure in San Francisco is likely up. But with the vacuum created by McCutchen’s trade to the Yankees, the Giants have allowed him to split time with Chris Shaw at his former position out in right field, and he’s made the most of ten starts so far in September.
Asked if he’s noticed a September surge for Pence, Bochy said:
“Oh I do, don’t you? A home run [today], a couple hits last night. I know he’s excited about being out there every day. He’s excited about getting that everyday chance now as we wrap things up.”
Tuesday in the seventh he kept the line moving with a single up the middle to move Panik over and bring up Blanco, a fellow beloved Giant. Blanco took an 0-1, 99-mph two-seamer from right-handed rookie Robert Stock and shot it to left to clear the bases and give the Giants the 4-3 lead.
But the Giants Biofreeze Pitcher of the Month Will Smith (BS, 14 S, 1.90 ERA) forced extra innings allowing a run in the ninth, and with the Giants out of position players off the bench, it fell to Bumgarner to untie the knot as he came up to bat in the bottom of the twelfth following a leadoff triple from Hernández.
As Bumgarner stepped to the plate Pence said he felt confident:
“You [always] feel like he’s gonna have a good at-bat.”
Pence’s confidence was bolstered by a moment he had in the batting cages right before Bumgarner came up:
“It was like a weird deja vu-ish moment cause I was in the cage getting warmed up and they have these pictures [back there] and one of them was of our 2014 World Series Championship, and it had Bum and everyone hugging him and I was like, ‘Is this some kind of foreshadowing?’ It was cool [because] he hit it and we did the same thing.”
As teammates raced out of the dugout to maul Bumgarner for his clutch hit, Pence said he made sure to beat them all to the big man, to keep him from “killing anybody.”
An attempt was made to dump the ceremonial Gatorade on the game-winning hitter, but Bumgarner put that to a quick halt with a stiff arm and an admonition:
“They started to dump it on me and I told them not to do that.”
Pence recalls a more strongly worded admonition from Bumgarner, though:
“Well he was telling everyone he was gonna kill ’em. I had to make sure that I was the one to get to him [first], because I’m not sure what he might do to some of the other people.”
Casey Kelly (0-2, 2.89 ERA) will make his third start in a Giants uniform in Wednesday’s season series finale against the Padres. In his two previous starts Kelly allowed just one run against the Reds and two against the Mets, but the Giants were shutout in both matches. He will face lefty Eric Lauer (6-7, 4.60) in the 7:15 p.m. contest.
The Dodgers currently have just a one-game edge on the Rockies in the race for the west after they lost to the Diamondbacks Tuesday and Colorado defeated the Phillies. LA will finish their series with the Diamondbacks (80-78) Wednesday, while Colorado closes out a series with a comparable opponent in the Phillies (78-79). The Rox will take on another .500-ish team when they face the Nationals (80-78) at home this weekend as the Dodgers come to San Francisco. … The Giants have pushed Madison Bumgarner‘s start back a game so that he will make his final appearance of 2018 against the Dodgers Friday in an effort to throw a wrench in Los Angeles’ October plans. While on paper the Giants appear an easier mark than the Nats, they have played the Dodgers hard this season and go into the series with a 9-7 record against LA.