SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence had a feeling Tuesday afternoon that he would be in uniform and in the lineup for the Giants later that night -- but he still had to convince his manager, Bruce Bochy.
"It didn’t take much," Pence said. "He was like, ‘Are you ready?’ I’m like, ‘I’m ready to go.’"
Having missed 30 games with tendinitis in his left wrist, Pence said he and the Giants’ training staff had tested just about every scenario possible that could re-aggravate the injury: Catching, swinging a bat, check-swinging. The only one they couldn’t simulate was a diving catch at game speed.
In the sixth inning Tuesday night, that’s exactly what happened. And it became the iconic moment of Pence’s return and the Giants’ 3-0 win over the New York Mets.
After Curtis Granderson led off the inning with a triple against Matt Cain, Ruben Tejada lofted a fly ball in foul territory near the Mets’ bullpen. Racing in, Pence made a sliding catch and then whirled to his feet and threw to home plate. On a line, his throw reached catcher Andrew Susac, who lunged to tag out a sliding Granderson for a double play that brought a crowd of 42,164 at AT&T Park to its feet.
"The moment," Cain said afterward, "was just perfect."
Ironically, it was while making a similar sliding catch on Andrew McCutchen’s sinking line drive on June 2 that Pence has said he first aggravated the tendinitis in his wrist. It resulted in the second extended DL stint this season for a player who had previously held the majors’ longest streak of consecutive games played, and whose high-energy playing style is often cited as a catalyst for the Giants.
It was partly to tap into that energy that the Giants chose to activate Pence from the DL on Tuesday and put him in the lineup, batting cleanup, despite the fact he had not gone out on rehab assignment and thus had not faced live pitching in more than a month. In his first at-bat Tuesday against Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon, Pence struck out swinging. In each of his next two, he drove in runs, on a bases-loaded groundout in the third inning and a two-out single in the fifth.
"We needed some presence out there with the streak we’ve been going through, just something to be a shot of adrenaline," said Bochy, whose team had lost seven in a row entering Tuesday. "He gives you that.
"What a great play he made there. That was a beautiful play."
Pence described the catch-and-throw as follows: "Really it was just going over, caught the ball with nothing to lose, and there was no one (else) on base, so you can just throw it as hard as you can, kind of spin and throw a prayer up there. Susac made a really ridiculous catch and tag, that’s the special part of the play. And when I saw that and I saw the umpire call him out, it was a pretty good feeling."
After he was first diagnosed with tendinitis, Pence said there was a period of time where his physical activity was extremely limited, a difficult proposition given his energy level. For more than a month, he was unable to influence games on the field. Meanwhile, he said, he was "emotionally and mentally grinding" along with teammates and waiting for the clearance to play.
After more than a month of waiting, it took just six innings Tuesday for the opportunity to present itself for Pence to make the kind of impact that both he and the Giants hoped he could.
"I mean, that’s kind of a miracle," Pence said. "All the stars kind of have to align … I knew the guys have been grinding, I knew I have a lot of energy and hopefully I’d get an opportunity. And that play was like literally the perfect opportunity to just let it all out there and let it hang. Like I said, the stars aligned, and Susac made an incredible catch and tag, so it was pretty cool."
Pence acknowledged that making the catch he "landed right on the wrist." He said he felt OK after the game, but that he was still "riding on a high of adrenaline," and that there will likely be an element of risk for aggravating his wrist every time he takes the field the rest of the season.
Tuesday, however, illustrated why his presence is so important to the Giants. Even before the game, while taking his traditional jog to the center-field wall during warm-ups, Pence received a loud ovation from the fans in the outfield bleachers. He waved back, pointing to several, returning the recognition.
"I was pretty emotional before the game," Pence said. "Because you really don’t know when it’s going to be taken away from you. I love to be a part of this team and I love to play the game. So it was pretty special for me."
* Pence’s contributions somewhat overshadowed the performance by Cain, who threw six scoreless innings and recorded his first win in nearly a full calendar year -- since last July 9, when he beat the A’s at AT&T Park in his final start before being shut down with elbow problems.
In his first start back last week in Miami, Cain needed 89 pitches to complete five innings while allowing seven hits and five runs. Tuesday night, he held the Mets to two hits in his six innings, walking two batters and striking out seven. His fastball sat at 92-94 miles per hour, and he gave the Giants the start they needed to avoid equaling their longest losing streak of the season.
"It started with Cain, obviously, the great effort he gave us," Bochy said. "He looked good tonight, had good stuff, good life on his fastball, breaking ball, threw some change-ups. We got him about where we wanted, close to 100 pitches (95). It’s good to see him throw the ball well."
Cain said his game plan with Susac called for pounding the strike zone against the Mets’ hitters, and he gained confidence throughout the game. Though he had pitched at AT&T Park during the preseason Bay Bridge series against the A’s, Cain acknowledged it was "definitely nice" to be competing again in front of a home crowd. Getting back in the win column was nice, too.
"It’s been a long time, it’s been a long road," Cain said. "It’s definitely been a lot of work and I can’t give the trainers and those guys enough credit. They found a way to keep me grounded for the long haul of it."
It was a good night for the Giants’ training staff overall, with Cain and Pence playing key roles in the win in their respective comebacks. While Bochy talked about the importance of Pence’s "presence," Pence, in so many words, discussed the impact of Cain’s.
"Obviously he pitched magnificent tonight," Pence said. "But more than just his performance, his leadership, his accomplishments, his confidence -- he brings so much having him pitch every fifth day. There’s a lot of special things about Matt Cain that you can’t quantify, and it’s really exciting to get him back."
* The shutout win was the Giants’ 13th of the season. That leads the majors and is one more than they had all of last year. The Mets, meanwhile, were shut out for the 10th time, which is second-most in the majors only to the San Diego Padres’ 13.
The shutout was secured by three innings from the Giants’ bullpen, which has struggled of late, entering Tuesday with a 5.54 ERA in their previous 17 games. Bochy used Josh Osich, recently called up from Triple-A, to get the final out of the eighth inning, and he brought in Santiago Casilla for the save situation after Casilla’s rough outing Monday.
Casilla walked the first batter he faced, but got Lucas Duda to fly out and John Mayberry Jr. to ground into a game-ending double play.
"He walked a guy, probably added a little pressure on him," Bochy said. "But I thought he came back like it woke him up, and he started throwing the ball better."
Bochy said it was an "important" game for Casilla -- and for the Giants overall, who were in danger of falling below .500 for the first time since they were 17-18 on May 14.
"They needed this," Bochy said.
* The series concludes Wednesday as Giants right-hander Jake Peavy (0-3, 6.43) opposes Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom (8-6, 2.30). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.