Justin Maxwell nearly had what might have been a game-winning hit in the eighth inning Thursday. With the Giants trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by a run, the bases loaded, two outs and the AT&T Park crowd on its feet and chanting “Beat L.A.,” Maxwell scorched a line drive that seemed destined for center field – only to have second baseman Howie Kendrick make a sensational diving catch to end the inning.
Maxwell stayed near first base removing his batting gloves as the crowd groaned and the Dodgers jogged back to their dugout, and appeared to say something briefly to Kendrick. “I was probably going to throw my helmet at him,” Maxwell joked afterward. “No, that was a heck of a play.”
It robbed Maxwell of a chance to be the hero – until two innings later when, after the Giants tied the game on Brandon Crawford’s RBI triple in the ninth, Maxwell came up again in the 10th with two outs and the winning run on second base. And this time, his shot down the third-base line eluded Juan Uribe and brought Angel Pagan home to give the Giants a 3-2 win and an important, albeit early, sweep of the rival Dodgers.
“If you looked at the homestand, and really our play, we just weren’t playing the type of ball that we’re capable of playing,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the Giants, who’d lost nine of 10 games entering this series but salvaged a 4-6 record in their first homestand.
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“I thought this was a big test for us, and they rose to the occasion. I said we had to play our best ball against these guys – they came in hot – and we did.”
The walk-off single capped quite an introduction to the rivalry for Maxwell, the 31-year-old who actually grew up a Giants fan in Maryland. Maxwell’s father, Austin, is a big fan of Willie Mays, and Justin naturally gravitated toward his father’s favorite team.
He said he didn’t feel much of the Giants-Dodgers tension watching games on TV as a kid. But in his first contributions to the long-running series, he made his presence felt.
In the Giants’ 6-2 win Tuesday night, Maxwell hit a triple and two-run homer and made a sliding catch while colliding with the right-field wall – arguably the defensive play of this series until Kendrick robbed him Thursday. The play left Giants reliever Javier Lopez with his hands on his head in disbelief in the dugout and the crowd at AT&T Park stunned, but Bochy credited Maxwell with not letting it be “deflating.”
The Giants collectively shook it off. Casey McGehee, entering the ninth inning hitless in 12 at-bats, lined a leadoff single to right field off Dodgers closer Pedro Baez. Crawford then hit the first pitch he saw into the deepest part of the park in right-center field, scoring pinch runner Matt Duffy from first base and sliding into third with his first triple of the season.
That gave the Giants a good chance to win it in regulation, but with no outs and Crawford 90 feet from home, Gregor Blanco struck out, Nori Aoki popped out and Joe Panik flew out to shallow left field. Santiago Casilla loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the 10th, but facing Adrian Gonzalez, who entered the game batting .434 and had already homered off Ryan Vogelsong in the third inning, Casilla struck Gonzalez out swinging on his 2-2 pitch to preserve the tie.
Pagan led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and stole second on a 2-2 pitch to Brandon Belt – one pitch after the Dodgers had pitched out. The Dodgers walked Belt to face Maxwell, who delivered the Giants’ second consecutive walk-off win, following Joe Panik’s game-winning sacrifice fly Wednesday.
Maxwell said Pagan’s stolen base to get into scoring position “just shows what kind of player he is. He has no fear.” Asked to recall his last walk-off hit, Maxwell didn’t have to think long: A grand slam in the 10th inning off Texas’ Joakim Soria on Sept. 22, 2013, when Maxwell was playing for Kansas City.
“You don’t forget those,” he said.
Maxwell didn’t stick with the Royals, just as he hadn’t with the Astros or Nationals early in his career. Now he’s getting a chance to play for the Giants with Hunter Pence out, and through 15 games Maxwell is batting .300, with a home run, five RBIs and one timely hit to help a struggling Giants team complete a needed sweep.
“He’s a good dude and takes the game seriously and works hard, (so) it’s good to see him having some success,” Vogelsong said. “It’s encouraging to see, especially in a time that we’re missing Hunter. Good teams have guys step up when you’re missing people, and he’s definitely stepped up for us.”