SAN FRANCISCO -- After Joe Panik’s ninth-inning single gave the Giants a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night, an announcement in the press box said it was Panik’s first career walk-off hit -- a bit of a technicality, as Panik had also accounted for the Giants’ first walk-off win this season with a game-winning sacrifice fly April 22 against the Dodgers.
"Sac fly’s a little anticlimactic, I guess," Panik said, grinning.
But no less decisive. Panik’s two-out, pinch-hit single off Angels right-hander Joe Smith made it three straight walk-off wins for the Giants at home. They ended their last home-stand beating the Dodgers consecutive days on Panik’s sacrifice fly and a Justin Maxwell game-winning single. They started a 10-game stretch at AT&T Park on Friday night with Panik again sending the sellout crowd home happy.
The last time the Giants had three straight walk-off wins at home was Aug. 19-21, 2003, against the Braves. Their performance in close games, though, has been a bright point in an otherwise mediocre season so far. Friday’s win made the Giants 7-3 in one-run games this year, and their seven wins lead the majors.
"When we get in close games, our guys are confident, they’re confidence never wavers," Panik said. "We have a lot of fight. In close games, we’re not going to back down."
The Giants gave back a pair of one-run leads before mounting the game-winning rally in the ninth. Buster Posey started it by beating out an infield single on a slow chopper up the middle. Manager Bruce Bochy promptly sent in Gregor Blanco as a pinch-runner.
"(Posey) did mention that when he came in (to the dugout): ‘Trust me, speed kills,’" said Bochy, grinning. "But he chopped it high enough and hit it in a good spot where he could beat it out. He was pretty determined to beat that ball out."
Maxwell then executed a sacrifice bunt that, according to baseball-reference.com, was his first in the major leagues.
"We haven’t asked Maxwell to bunt since he’s been over here, including spring training," Bochy said. "He lays down a perfect bunt and that won the game for us."
Well, not quite. After Andrew Susac walked and pinch hitter Brandon Belt struck out, the Angels chose to walk Brandon Crawford to load the bases and pitch to Joaquin Arias. But with the side-winding right-hander Smith in the game, Bochy said it was a "no-brainer" to send in Panik, his second-to-last remaining bench player along with Hector Sanchez.
Panik didn’t wait around, lining Smith’s 1-1 pitch up the middle to bring Blanco home. Panik said he had spent previous half-innings staying loose down the tunnel, hitting off the tee or taking live swings. He’d also watched some video of Smith, along with the at-bat in which Smith struck Belt out on a backdoor slider.
"Watching Belt’s at-bat, kind of got an idea of, that’s what he’s going to try to do, keep that fastball away, out over the plate, and work that slider backdoor," Panik said.
Panik took an 0-1 slider for a ball before hitting a fastball back up the middle.
"He’s a great weapon to have off the bench at that point," Bochy said of Panik. "It’s a simple swing, short, and he smoked it."
For the win, and -- officially -- another career first.
"He’s got ice in his veins, man," Susac said. "He’s your guy right there in that situation."
* Bochy said the timing of Panik’s hit couldn’t have been better since: "I used up all my set-up guys trying to save that win."
The Giants took a 2-1 lead in the seventh on a Susac RBI single. But they gave it back in a strange top of the eighth. Erick Aybar led off with a grounder that Matt Duffy couldn’t handle at second base. Johnny Giavotella singled off Sergio Romo. With runners on first and third, Romo struck Mike Trout out waving at a slider, his fourth in a five-pitch at-bat.
Bochy brought in Jeremy Affeldt to face Kole Calhoun, but Affeldt hit Calhoun on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases Santiago Casilla entered to face David Freese, who hit a soft fly to shallow center -- but Aybar tagged up from third, and Angel Pagan’s throw came in late after it appeared he had trouble getting a grip on the ball.
"He went to grab it and didn’t quite get a handle," Bochy said. "He had a shot at him. I think he would’ve got him, too. His momentum was going toward home and he’s got the quick release. But his first reach into the glove, he just didn’t get a handle on the ball."
Casilla got C.J. Cron to pop out to end the inning, preserving the tie, and pitched around a two-out Efren Navarro single in the ninth to stay in line for his third win.
This spring, Matt Cain said the quality he values most in Bochy as manager is that Bochy tries to win every game, no matter the circumstances. This is May 1, but Bochy using his closer to record five outs in an interleague game underscores that trait.
"Normally I don’t bring the closer in, in that situation," Bochy said. "But the game’s on the line, so I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to use him if I don’t bring him in then. He held them to one run, so good for him."
* Chris Heston continues to play the role of savior to the Giants’ rotation. Heston pitched into the seventh inning for the third time this season in five starts (he also completed six innings in another) and allowed one run when the Angels scratched together three singles off him in the seventh.
None were particularly hard-hit. Calhoun hit a broken-bat bloop to center, Cron hit a slow grounder through a vacated right side on a hit-and-run, and Matt Joyce shot a grounder to the outfield to tie the game 1-1. Heston showed a little emotion after Joyce’s hit, his final at-bat of the game, but said afterward: "That’s just the competitiveness out there."
Otherwise, Heston did what he tries to do. Over the first six scoreless innings, he notched 15 of his 18 outs via ground ball or strikeout. His ERA of 2.51 through his first five starts is the lowest by a Giants rookie since Madison Bumgarner in 2010 (2.41).
"He’s been really clutch for us," Bochy said. "You lose Cain, you lose Peavy, you hope somebody steps up, and he’s done more than that.
"I thought he threw the ball great. It’s a shame he couldn’t have come away with the win, but he did his job."
* Bochy summed up the win this way: "It wasn’t our cleanest game, but we overcame it." The Giants had an error, a passed ball, Pagan’s juggle in center field, a runner thrown out stealing and a narrowly averted error when Casey McGehee kicked a grounder that took a ricochet to Brandon Crawford, who threw to second for a force-out. But they started May with a win after finishing April with their lowest winning percentage after the first month since the 1991 season.
"We weren’t happy with our April," Panik said. "But I think yesterday having the offday, new month, 10-game homestand … it kind of cleans the slate."
* One last note: Alex Rodriguez tied Willie Mays tonight with his 660th career home run. Mays released a statement through the Giants:
"Congratulations to Alex Rodriguez on his 660th home run. Milestones in baseball are meant to be broken and I wish him continued success throughout his career."
* Game two of the series has Tim Hudson (0-2, 3.91) starting against Angels left-hander Hector Santiago (2-1, 2.28). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.