Manager Bruce Bochy ventured a fairly obviously statement Saturday night: The Giants, their division lead hanging by a thread, must start winning on Madison Bumgarner’s day, especially “with the way he’s been throwing.”
The Giants, though, had lost their ace’s first five starts following the All-Star Break, including a 1-0 defeat last Sunday in Washington in which Bumgarner threw a complete game and gave up two hits and a run. Saturday night he managed to be better, holding a potent Baltimore Orioles lineup scoreless for seven innings. And this time, the dormant Giants offense finally gave him some support in a 6-2 win at AT&T Park.
Joe Panik showed signs of breaking his post-concussion slump with three hits. Denard Span drove in four runs with a pair of two-out, two-RBI singles. Brandon Belt added a two-run homer as the Giants doubled their scoring output of their previous 27 innings.
It was likely what Bochy had in mind when he said after Friday’s loss it looked like some hitters were poised for a breakthrough -- and when he held a meeting with a few key hitters before batting practice Saturday afternoon. The result was the Giants’ first win in a Bumgarner start since July 10.
“Pitch the way he’s been pitching, to not get wins, that’s frustrating,” Bochy said. “It’s good to get him some runs. I just thought we threw out some better at-bats tonight to have those chances.”
The Giants started the game batting a majors-worst .180 with runners in scoring position since July 1, making Span’s at-bats, in a pair of eerily similar rallies, all the more critical.
In the second inning, Hunter Pence walked and Panik hit a drive to left-center that one-hopped the wall for a ground-rule double. Bumgarner failed to drive in a run by striking out, but Span lined a single to center field to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.
In the sixth, Eduardo Nunez walked and Panik hit a drive to right-center that one-hopped the wall for a ground-rule double. Bumgarner failed to drive in a run by grounding out to third, but Span grounded a single into right field to give the Giants a 4-0 lead.
“Denard was huge today,” Panik said. “That’s not an easy position to be in – and to come through not once but twice, especially the way our offense has been, it was huge. Hats off to him.”
It was of double benefit to Bumgarner, a competitive hitter, who sounded a bit chagrined afterward about his at-bats in those innings.
“You come up in two spots and just gotta hit a fly ball somewhere and you get a run, and don’t get anything done,” Bumgarner said. “That’s tough. But Span picked me up both times. That’s big for us. That was the ballgame there.”
Panik’s night was encouraging: The second baseman, who entered 6 for 36 since coming back from the disabled list, reached base four times on three hits and a walk. The doubles were his first extra-base hits since his return, and he added a single in the eighth.
“I think the past couple games … I felt like it was coming,” Panik said. “Kind of feeling a little more comfortable mechanically and seeing the ball, just everything kind of coming all together, and today it felt like everything clicked. I finally feel like I got my legs back under me, my swing. When it clicks, it clicks. And today was that day.”
Though Panik missed a month following his concussion, Bochy said after the game that the Giants still “probably brought him back a little early,” hoping to spark a struggling lineup. Panik countered that idea by saying he told the Giants he was ready to return, and said he did not want to use the time off as an excuse.
“You’ve been out a month and you come back, it’s going to take some time,” Panik said. “Obviously you don’t want that. But you’ve just got to trust the process … You know it’s coming. I know I’m a very good hitter. It’s just a matter of when, not if.”
Bumgarner’s winless streak fell under the same category. Saturday, he held a Baltimore team that leads the majors in home runs to three hits in seven innings, lowering his ERA for the season to 2.11. His toughest inning came in the sixth, when the Orioles loaded the bases with two outs on a Manny Machado double and two walks. But Bumgarner threw three straight fastballs to Chris Davis, the last freezing Davis for strike three.
Asked how it felt to win for the first time in six starts, Bumgarner replied: “A lot better than the alternative.” He was similarly laconic when asked about the Giants’ six runs, which in recent context qualifies as an outburst.
“Long as we score more runs than the other team,” Bumgarner said, “we’ll be all right.”
Saturday, they did so for just the ninth time in 26 games since the All-Star Break, held onto their one-game lead in the National League West and got Bumgarner his 11th win as a result.
“He’s been so good for us,” Panik said of Bumgarner. “He deserves some run support. It was definitely a good night.”