With all the new faces and turnover in the Giants’ clubhouse over the past two months, Joe Panik may seem like an established presence in comparison. In fact, Panik hasn’t been in the majors two months. But his contributions since his June 21 call-up have been enough to make an impression.
Panik had two key hits and scored the game-winning run in eighth inning of the Giants’ 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday afternoon. In his last 11 games, the rookie is 16 for 39 at the plate, a .410 batting average, and he has started 31 of 48 games at second base since being called up from Triple A, lending some constancy to what has been the most unstable position for the Giants this season.
“He’s doing what you hope the young guys do, showing they belong up here in the major leagues, handling major-league pitching and also playing well on defense,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He has a knack for slowing down the game, and that goes with confidence. … I think he’s earned going out there every day, the way he’s played.”
The Giants have used eight different players at second base this season. They have combined for a .194 average and .555 OPS, the lowest marks on the team from any position aside from the pitchers. Panik, though, is batting .274 in 35 games with the Giants and has looked particularly comfortable lately hitting late in games in pressure situations.
In the Giants’ extra-innings loss Friday night, Panik singled in the eighth with two outs and Pablo Sandoval on second base, but he was denied an RBI when Sandoval was thrown out at home. Saturday, Panik contributed to the Giants’ four-run sixth inning, in which they tied the score 5-5, by beating out an infield single with the bases loaded, and then began their go-ahead rally in the eighth with a leadoff triple.
Both hits came against left-handed Phillies pitchers. Panik, who throws right-handed but hits left-handed, is 11 for 24 (.458) against all left-handed pitchers. Panik, who also had a higher average against left-handers (.359) than right-handers (.310) at Triple-A Fresno this season before being called up, said this weekend he couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the numbers.
“I tend to keep my front shoulder closed (against left-handers) a little better, I guess, since I have to focus on that a little bit more with the arm angle,” Panik said. “It’s kinda strange, but I have no problem hitting lefties. To me, there really is no preference. I don’t feel like I hit one better than the other.”
As for his approach in the late-game at-bats, Panik said he prefers to think that the pressure’s on the pitcher. “It’s their game to lose,” he said. “I go up with that mindset of, just battle and do whatever you can to get on base.”
Leading off the eighth Saturday, Panik fell behind reliever Antonio Bastardo, 1-2, before laying off of a tough slider for ball two. Bastardo then tried to come inside with a fastball that Panik said “left a little too much plate,” and Panik lined it into the right-center-field gap for his first major-league triple. The Phillies brought in Jake Diekman for Bastardo, and Gregor Blanco singled to left on Diekman’s second pitch to score Panik.
It helped the Giants win for just the sixth time in their last 22 games at AT&T Park and completed their comeback from an early 5-1 deficit, with the Phillies knocking starter Tim Hudson out of the game in the fifth inning for his shortest start this year other than a rain-shortened game in Colorado.
The comeback came with several layers of redemption. Like Panik, Michael Morse had led off the second inning with a triple – one of three extra-base hits on the day for Morse – but was stranded there as one of several early scoring chances wasted by the Giants.
Blanco, who made two late base-running mistakes in Friday night’s loss, had a bloop RBI single in the four-run sixth – which gained steam when the Phillies let Pablo Sandoval’s infield popup drop with a runner on first and nobody out – and put the Giants ahead by lining Diekman’s 1-0 fastball past the Phillies’ drawn-in infield in the eighth.
Jeremy Affeldt, who surrendered a game-tying homer in the eighth inning Friday, pitched a scoreless eighth and came back out to start the ninth, retiring slugger Ryan Howard on a groundout before turning the ball over to Sergio Romo.
Romo, whose last save had come June 22 before he was removed from the closer’s role, struck out Marlon Byrd and allowed a single to Domonic Brown before coaxing a flyout from Grady Sizemore to seal the Giants’ fourth comeback win from four or more runs.
“We talked about it – we’ve got to keep fighting, and we started to have some decent at-bats, got a break on the popup that fell in,” Bochy said. “It’s all about going hard for nine innings. And they did that today.”