Andrew Susac had just finished his first season in the Giants’ organization when the big-league club made its 2012 World Series run that featured several inspirational pregame speeches from right fielder Hunter Pence.
The so-called “Reverend Pence” was at it again Thursday night, delivering a fiery – and expletive-laden – oration as the Giants celebrated clinching a wild-card spot after their 9-8 win over the San Diego Padres. This time, Susac was one of several key Giants rookies to witness the delivery first-hand.
“It was fun to see it in person,” Susac, a Roseville native and longtime Giants fan, said Friday afternoon. “YouTube doesn’t do it justice.”
Nor, several of the Giants’ younger players said before the team’s 4-1 loss to the Padres on Friday night, did any number of such celebrations in the minors live up to their first champagne-drenched experience in the major leagues.
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“In (High-A) San Jose, when we clinched, we had a little one,” said second baseman Joe Panik. “But it doesn’t compare. … Ever since you started playing baseball, you wanted to play in October – you’re grinding out every game to get that opportunity and for it all to pay off, for the moment when you clinch.”
For infielder Matt Duffy, the celebration was a first. Duffy played on teams in the minors the last two years that clinched their divisions – but only after Duffy had been promoted to the next level.
“I missed all the celebrations,” Duffy said. “But this isn’t a bad place to have your first.”
Especially, Duffy acknowledged, because the rookies in the room didn’t all feel like they had to enjoy it from the periphery. Manager Bruce Bochy and others have made constant mention of the contributions the Giants have received from some unexpected sources in the second half.
Panik, called up from Triple-A Fresno on June 21, was batting .304 going into Friday and has settled in at second base and the No. 2 lineup spot. Susac was hitting .310 in his last 15 starts and was tied for the third-most RBIs (19) among National League rookies since being called up on July 26. Duffy made nine starts but was 5-for-14 as a pinch-hitter, including a game-winning ninth-inning hit in Arizona on Sept. 17.
“You enjoy stuff like that no matter what, stuff like (Thursday) night,” Duffy said. “But it definitely feels more deserved when you have contributed at some point along the line.”
Panik, Susac and Duffy, who was called up from Double-A Richmond on Aug. 1, joined the Giants during their midsummer swoon. The Giants were 44-30 when Panik arrived June 21. They finished that month losing six of nine and were 12-14 in July before going 16-12 in August, conceding the division to the Los Angeles Dodgers but remaining in position to capture a wild-card spot.
That became official Thursday, though the Giants’ opponent and the location of the game remain undetermined. The Giants are two games behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card standings but could still play St. Louis on Wednesday if the Pirates overtake the Cardinals to win the N.L. Central.
Given the uncertainty, Bochy declined Friday to talk about roster plans for the wild-card game but said the Giants have begun those discussions and that their makeup could change depending on whom they play. One area to consider: Because the roster applies only to the wild-card game, teams don’t need to carry five starting pitchers and those spots can go to extra relievers or bench players.
Bochy has not announced his starter for the game, but 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner is no longer listed as the starting pitcher for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Padres – his regular turn in the rotation – and is a leading candidate.
While Bumgarner did not start any of the six elimination games the Giants won en route to their World Series title in 2012, he is a holdover from that team whose presence, Duffy said, “is definitely going to help. … It’s a comforting feeling knowing that they have been there, and that they’ll be there around us.”
It’s that kind of level-headedness that Bochy encouraged and the Giants tried to maintain during their struggles of June and July. While they’re still not playing near their pace of the first two months – they had a .672 winning percentage on June 8 and were at .538 after Friday’s loss – Panik and Duffy both noted a different feeling in the Giants’ clubhouse than when they arrived.
“It’s the same guys, but just the way we’re playing, we’re grinding out games, we’re battling,” Panik said. “It’s a never-say-die attitude, and that’s definitely a trait you want to have going into October.”
Or more immediately, into a do-or-die game that will determine whether the Giants get a shot at going deep into October. As if they needed more motivation, Pence did his best to generate it Thursday night.
“It got me fired up,” Panik said. “Hearing him last night, it really kind of sends chills through the body. It was like, ‘All right, it’s go time. Enjoy the moment, but now we’ve got some work to do.’ ”