SAN FRANCISCO – Giants catcher Buster Posey has a well-stocked trophy case, the expressed confidence of his manager and teammates, and a major-league track record to lend perspective during lean times at the plate. But as his home run drought stretched from spring training through the first 18 games of the season, the typically unflappable Posey admitted even he started to ruminate on it a little.
"We've been talking, just as friends, while he was just feeling a little bit off," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "He said he's been feeling better (hitting) lately, and I think he showed that today."
In his third at-bat in the Giants' 5-0 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, Posey stepped into the first pitch he saw from left-hander Eric Stults and hit it out to left field for a two-run homer.
It was Posey's first home run since Game 4 of last year's World Series, and it capped the scoring on a sunny afternoon at AT&T Park on which Barry Zito shed the memories of his disastrous outing in Milwaukee and the Giants sealed a sweep of another division rival.
Asked if there was a sense of relief watching the fifth-inning blast carry over the fence, Posey said: "There definitely is. I think the longer you go, the more you start to think about it, as much as you try not to. So it's nice to get the first one."
Posey went 23 games last year, from Aug. 12 to Sept. 8, without hitting a home run. But by then, despite his longest drought of the season, he was well on his way to a final total of 24 in his MVP season. This stretch had coincided with an uncharacteristically slow start overall – for Posey, anyway – as he entered Sunday hitting .231 and flew out and struck out in his first two at-bats.
"He had some good swings," said manager Bruce Bochy, who has dismissed any concerns over Posey's hitting. "Stults was throwing the ball well. He changes speeds and has the slow curveball. I thought Buster did a good job of staying back. First at-bat he was a little early, but he took some good swings."
Posey said he actually felt he let a changeup get too deep on him in his first at-bat, a 12-pitch battle in which he fouled off seven pitches before flying out to left. With two outs in the fifth, following a Pablo Sandoval single, Posey pounced on a slider from Stults.
"We don't worry about Buster," said center fielder Angel Pagan. "We know what kind of hard worker he is, what kind of approach he has. He's been hitting the ball hard but with no luck.
"But it's great to see him being successful out there, because that's our best hitter in the lineup. Whenever he's on, we're going to produce a lot of runs."
Pagan drove in the Giants' first two on Sunday with a third-inning double on a 3-0 pitch, scoring Andres Torres and Crawford. He later scored when Sandoval singled to center on a two-strike pitch that nearly bounced in the dirt.
That was plenty of support for Zito pitching at home, where the left-hander has yet to allow a run in 21 innings this season. Coming off his start against the Brewers, in which he allowed nine runs in 2 2/3 innings but said he felt he didn't pitch that poorly, Zito gave up five singles in seven innings and didn't allow a Padre past second base.
"He felt like he made good pitches last game and it didn't work out," Bochy said. "I think the worst thing a pitcher can do is change up something when things have been working for so long and you have one game when you're off.
"Good for him that he didn't feel that way."
Zito said he tried to forget the Milwaukee outing as quickly as possible because, "If you let things bleed into the next one, that's when things kind of go bad."
After the rotation posted a 6.92 ERA on the Giants' seven-game trip, the trio of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Zito allowed two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings against the Padres. The bullpen chipped in 7 1/3 scoreless, including Chad Gaudin's two innings Sunday, and San Diego didn't score a run over the final 21 innings of the series.