WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hunter Pence bearing down on him from behind, the voices of some 40,000 rowdy Pirates fans raining down from all sides, Joe Panik kept his cool.
Backpedaling for a Gaby Sanchez pop-up in the second inning of the Giants’ 8-0 win in Tuesday’s wild-card game over the Pirates, the rookie second baseman secured the catch despite Pence sliding into him as he did.
The two could be seen talking in the dugout in between innings -- that’s the right fielder’s ball if he calls for it -- but Panik on Wednesday stated his case for making the play in the same manner he has approached his first postseason, not a full year into his MLB career.
"We talked about it," Panik said. "It was just so loud there, it’s one of those things in that situation that if you’re not 100 percent positive, you just hang in there and so what if he hits you? He hits you, just hang in there and make sure you make the catch."
Little has seemed to overwhelm the 23-year-old Panik during his first few months in the majors. The lone rookie in the Giants’ starting lineup Tuesday night, Panik went 3-for-5 and handled all his defensive chances at second base. He said of his first experience with postseason atmosphere: "My first at-bat I was a little jumpy, (but) once I got the first at-bat out of the way, I definitely settled down."
It helped, Panik said, that his first hit was a line drive back up the middle -- the kind of simplistic approach that served him so well in the second half. Panik batted .305 in the regular season, with 69 of his 82 hits being singles. That he was able to maintain that approach even amid the heightened urgency of playoff baseball was encouraging, he said.
"It was good just to try to settle down and go with what I do best, and not try to do too much," Panik said.
"I know these are going to be games that are a lot tighter, a lot closer. And to be able to have already gone through a game and done what I do best, so I can go back to that when things get tight, that can definitely be good going forward."
In a manner reminiscent of Buster Posey in 2010, Panik has stepped in his rookie season and handled his duties -- albeit in a less central role -- with veteran poise. Wednesday, he said that so far, "Nothing has really surprised me" about his first taste of the playoffs. "It was going to be crazy, loud, all that type of stuff," he said. "So it kind of held up to my expectations."
Panik did acknowledge that after feeling some late-season fatigue in September, getting to this point means "the adrenaline’s kicking in … Everything feels like you’re moving 1,000 miles per hour."
And even if that were too fast for the rookie, he said: "I won’t show it."
* The pitching matchups for the first three games of the series are set. They go:
Game 1: RHP Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.17) vs. Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14)
Game 2: RHP Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66)
Game 3: LHP Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) vs. Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41)
It’s an unusual situation for the Giants to be in, given the way their pitching has carried them to two World Series titles the past four years, but they seem to enter this series as clear underdogs -- in large part because of the Nationals’ strength in arms.
"I mean looking at the numbers," Hudson acknowledged Wednesday, "you can’t say they don’t have the best pitching."
The Nationals led the National League this season in ERA (3.03), WHIP (1.16), fewest walks allowed (352) and fewest home runs (110). The Giants ranked seventh (3.50), second (1.17), second (389) and eighth (133) in those categories, respectively.
Strasburg, of course, will be getting his first taste of the postseason after being shut down before the playoffs in 2012. He played down the significance of that Wednesday, saying, "I’ve been asked that question so many times, and I try not to look back on what it was like two years ago. I’m just trying to live in the present, and I’m excited for getting the chance now."
Strasburg will also get a chance to oppose a pitcher in Peavy whom he grew up watching, when Peavy was pitching for the San Diego Padres and Strasburg was living in the area. Strasburg called it a "tremendous opportunity." Peavy said Strasburg is "a friend," that the two have worked out together in the offseason and that he’s "a big Stephen Strasburg fan.
"For tomorrow, it’ll be different," Peavy said. "I will be trying to beat him with everything I’ve got."
Peavy certainly has the edge in postseason experience, though it hasn’t always equated to success. In five career playoff starts, Peavy is 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA. His best outing came in last year’s ALDS for Boston, when he held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run in 5 2/3 innings in a game the Red Sox won.
That Boston team, of course, went on to win the World Series. Peavy said he sees a few similarities between that team and the Giants team he joined at midseason.
"The thing that reminds me the most about the two teams is the way they play the game," Peavy said. "This team plays the game all-out, all-in, 27-outs, everything you can give.
"I don’t think anybody is picking us at this point in time to do much of anything, you know. But this bunch believes in ourselves. We have a group of guys in here (that are) battle-tested, not going to be afraid of any moment, any big situation."
* Tomorrow’s print story is on Peavy and his emotional demeanor on the mound. The notes cover Brandon Crawford’s day-after reaction to his historic grand slam Tuesday night, and Hudson addressing his "between the legs" comment from after the wild-card game (spoiler: He says it wasn’t a shot at the Nationals).
Manager Bruce Bochy wasn’t ready to announce his 25-man roster this afternoon, but said the Giants will likely finalize it tonight. They were waiting to judge Michael Morse’s availability for the series. Bochy did say there’s a chance the Giants could go with 12 pitchers, which would leave them with a four-man bench.
It’s an early first pitch tomorrow -- 3:07 p.m. local time, just after noon on the west coast -- so that’s it for this evening. Giants-Nationals gets underway in a matter of hours.