San Francisco Giants

Nori Aoki, Joe Panik fuel Giants’ win with unlikely 1-2 punch

San Francisco Giants' Nori Aoki, right, rounds the bases after hitting a leadoff home run off Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver during the first inning on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants' Nori Aoki, right, rounds the bases after hitting a leadoff home run off Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver during the first inning on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Bay Area News Group/TNS

Nori Aoki and Joe Panik each hit one home run in a combined 760 regular-season at-bats in 2014, and neither had homered in the Giants’ first 24 games this season.

So naturally, each player collected his first of 2015 within the first four pitches thrown by Angels starter Jered Weaver on Sunday.

"For Nori to hit a home run, OK. For me to hit a home run, OK," Panik said. "But for us to go back-to-back like that -- I think the odds-makers would’ve (given) pretty good odds on that."

Sure, it was an unlikely combination to hit the Giants’ first back-to-back home runs since last June 15 (Hector Sanchez/Pablo Sandoval). But the situation made it even rarer.

Aoki and Panik became the first Giants to start a game with consecutive home runs since May 27, 1964, when Chuck Hiller and Duke Snider did so against Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. It was just the fourth such occurrence in the Giants’ franchise history.

They almost made it three in a row, as Angel Pagan crushed a Weaver pitch high off the wall in right field. Pagan settled for a triple, and was stranded there. Later in the game, Brandon Belt hit a ball about 415 feet to the deepest part of AT&T Park, only to watch it bounce off the warning track and into the stands for a ground-rule double that robbed him of an RBI (Buster Posey, running from first base, would have scored easily).

"The ball was carrying well today," manager Bruce Bochy said. "(Aoki) and Joe both just got enough of it, and I think the ball was blowing out to right. But if you pull the ball here to right field, it’s going to carry well."

Despite his one home run last season, Aoki joked upon joining the Giants this offseason that he was aiming for 20 to 25 homers. When he got back to the dugout Sunday after his first, Aoki said through interpreter Kosuke Inaji: "Everyone looked surprised."

"(Shortstop Brandon) Crawford asked me how I got it, so I told him my secret, which is bi’s and tri’s," Aoki said, flexing those arm muscles for emphasis.

Aoki’s leadoff home run was the third of his career and first since Sept. 27, 2013 against the New York Mets. While surprising, the power display was certainly welcome for the Giants, as it gave starter Tim Lincecum an early cushion and proved to be all the offense needed for a 5-0 win that finished a three-game sweep of the Angels.

"Nori did a great job setting the tone, jumping right off the bat, and Timmy did the rest," Panik said. "Nori set the tone, and that was huge."

* The print story for Monday is on Lincecum, who lowered his ERA to a rotation-best 2.40. His outing followed an eight-inning start by Tim Hudson on Saturday -- both matched Madison Bumgarner’s April 28 start against the Dodgers for the longest by a Giant this season -- and Friday’s starter Chris Heston allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings in the Giants’ 3-2 walk-off win.

The Giants’ starting pitchers combined to allow four runs and 10 hits in 22 1/3 innings this series, and Bochy said of the sweep: "Really our starters, the whole series, I thought they set a great tone every game."

Lincecum threw to Buster Posey in a start for the first time since last April, but both said it felt natural preparing for Sunday’s game and the Angels. Posey was asked if he might want to catch Lincecum more often, but wasn’t going to stir up any controversies.

"I’ll do whatever the skipper wants me to do," Posey said.

* Along with the leadoff home runs, Bochy pointed to Brandon Crawford’s fifth-inning at-bat as an important one in the game. After Posey singled and Belt doubled with two outs, Crawford hit a double to drive in both run, giving the Giants a 5-0 lead and himself a team-high 14 RBIs for the season.

"He had a big hit there to kind of open it up and give us a bigger cushion," Bochy said.

Crawford also showed some nifty footwork fielding Matt Joyce’s chopper in the second and stepping on second base to start a double play, and the Giants got some nice defense from Gregor Blanco in the fifth (running down Jered Weaver’s foul pop-up in right field) and Panik in the sixth (ranging up the middle for a sharp Albert Pujols grounder).

Despite a disappointing April, the Giants have won six consecutive home games and nine of 13 overall. They can pull their record back to .500 with a win Monday against the San Diego Padres, who arrive to start a three-game series.

"Anytime you’re in a funk early on, everybody kind of hits the panic button," said Panik. "But this is the type of ball that we know how to play … This is the type of baseball that we should be playing."

* The pitching probables for Giants-Padres:

Monday: LHP Madison Bumgarner (2-1, 3.73) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-2, 4.55)

Tuesday: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (0-2, 9.31) vs. RHP Andrew Cashner (1-4, 2.61)

Wednesday: RHP Chris Heston (2-2, 2.51) vs. RHP Ian Kennedy (1-1, 7.11)

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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