There were hiccups and warning signs of pitching troubles for the Giants on a glorious day for a home opener against their longtime rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But an entertaining 12-6 win was secured with two powerful antidotes for those games when the offerings of Giants pitchers are flying all over – and out – of the yard as they did Thursday.
First, it really is true. It’s not a rumor: The Giants have constructed a lineup capable of equaling or surpassing powerful Giants teams of 15 years ago.
Health permitting, the 2016 Giants are capable of bailing out one of their starters if he lasts only five innings, a la Jake Peavy on Thursday. Their hitting prowess runs so deep, they can insert pinch hitters to trigger offensive outbursts that promptly erase Giants pitching gaffes, like the two-run bomb Giants reliever Sergio Romo surrendered in the eighth to cut the Giants’ lead to 7-6. Before Romo could warm his end of the bench in the bottom half of the inning, the Giants had batted around and scored five runs.
“If you look through that lineup, somebody did something big to help us,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “It was a great game, an entertaining game.”
In the bottom of the eighth, it started with a Gregor Blanco pinch hit – just as the Giants’ first rally started with a Kelby Tomlinson pinch hit in the fifth. The big hit after Tomlinson’s that gave the Giants a spark was a Joe Panik triple in the fifth. In the eighth, it was a Hunter Pence grand slam in an offensive sequence that was breathtaking as a packed AT&T Park went bonkers and the Dodgers seemed to sag like a fighter after taking one punch too many.
It was as if the spirit of Barry Bonds had been resurrected sans the negative baggage.
But perhaps just as important as all the big hits is the tactical edge the Giants hold over arguably every other team in their division with Bochy pulling the strings.
The headlines will focus on Pence’s grand slam, Panik’s three RBIs or Buster Posey’s three hits. But the turning point in the game spoke to an advantage the Giants have that is impervious to hitting slumps and therefore equally valuable.
Plainly stated, it’s Bochy.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who once played for Bochy with the San Diego Padres, is a rookie skipper and showed it Thursday. Instead of lifting starter Alex Wood after he surrendered three runs in the fifth inning to make the score 4-3 Dodgers, Roberts let Wood go out for the sixth.
The young Dodgers left-hander who had kept the Giants off-balance and scoreless for the first four innings was solved in the fifth. He was done. If the roles had been reversed, Bochy would have sensed danger and gone to his bullpen.
Wood promptly surrendered singles to Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford. Then Roberts lifted Wood. Too late. After a sacrifice bunt moved the Giants’ runners to second and third, left fielder Angel Pagan drove them in with a single.
The Giants had a 5-4 lead they would not surrender. The Dodgers, after sweeping the host Padres with three shutouts before arriving in San Francisco, looked rattled and played that way. On Panik’s single in the sixth that scored Pagan, Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson airmailed a throw home that allowed Panik to move up to second.
He promptly scored on a Posey single, made worse when Dodgers left fielder Scott Van Slyke also airmailed a throw home that allowed Posey to move up to second.
It was bad baseball that followed a bad decision by a rookie manager. They were the kind of mental mistakes the Giants minimize under Bochy. It was a fascinating moment in a young season that laid bare the tiny differences between winning and losing in a tough Western Division of the National League.
On Thursday, the Giants’ hitting outshone the Giants’ thinking. But the strength of this club, the hope of this young season, is that the Giants have the goods to prevail in various ways: They can outhit you on days they don’t pitch well, and, when the margins are thin, they will avoid the careless move that costs runs.
It’s how championships are won.