Michael Morse’s two-strike chopper sneaked past the dive of Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe and down the left-field line, clearing the bases that were loaded with Giants as Morse cruised into second base with a double. That’s when a fifth-inning hit became a moment.
With Morse’s double giving the Giants a 7-1 lead, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire came out to relieve starter Ricky Nolasco. Meanwhile, the center-field scoreboard remained on a video feed of Morse at second base, and the crowd at AT&T Park, many of whom were already applauding loudly, swelled in a sustained standing ovation.
On the ovation went, while the stadium blared Morse’s walk-up song “Take On Me” and a handful of fans behind home plate mimicked the wrestling-inspired “Yes!” celebration that Morse and Hunter Pence have helped popularize with the Giants. And Morse stood at second base with his hands on his hips, shaking his head, smiling.
“I don’t know, man, it’s awesome. The fans here are the best fans in baseball,” Morse said after the Giants secured an 8-1 win over the Twins on Sunday. “Moments like that – they just make you feel so humble and happy that you’re here, or that I’m here.”
It’s a positive feeling right now at AT&F Park, where the Giants swept Minnesota on a warm afternoon to stay perfect (6-0) in interleague play and improve their majors-best record to 32-18. One of the Giants’ most commanding wins of the season featured several factors manager Bruce Bochy cited over the weekend as key to the team’s success after 50 games, including the kind of clutch hit Morse delivered.
The Giants loaded the bases in the inning with no outs before Buster Posey struck out and Pablo Sandoval flied out to left field, too shallow to score a run. Morse, though, hit one of his three doubles on the day to give the Giants a combined 97 two-out RBIs this season – most in the majors.
“He really did a nice job picking us up there,” Bochy said.
Another reason Bochy cited is the Giants’ surprising home run total, which Pence raised to 59 with a third-inning solo shot off Nolasco. It was also the 23rd homer the Giants have hit in 25 games at AT&T Park, putting them more than halfway to their 2013 total of 44 in 82 home games.
The support seemed excessive with Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner allowing just a Brian Dozier sacrifice fly in the third inning. Bumgarner struck out 10 and didn’t issue a walk – the fifth time he’s done that in his career – and is now 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 32 innings over five starts in May.
Three strikeouts came against Twins first baseman and three-time American League batting champion Joe Mauer, as Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to strike out Mauer three or more times in a game, joining Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and CC Sabathia.
Mauer, as it happens, was the lone lineup holdover from Bumgarner’s only prior outing against the Twins – a disaster of a start on June 21, 2011, in which Bumgarner faced 10 batters, retired one and allowed eight runs. It was easily Bumgarner’s worst start in the majors, and he admitted it was on his mind Sunday.
“I for sure didn’t forget about that,” Bumgarner said. “It doesn’t matter who was there and who’s not there now; it’s the same team. And it sticks with you.”
Bochy agreed the ultra-competitive Bumgarner probably “wanted to even things out a bit.” In recording his team-leading sixth win, Bumgarner also improved his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate to 10.28, which as of Sunday afternoon ranked sixth in the majors.
“I’m just trying to make pitches,” Bumgarner said. “If you get a guy 0-2 or something, you might go for (the strikeout) with one pitch. But just trying to make pitches and get them out of there as quick as you can, and it’s just happened to work out that way so far.”
The Giants staked Bumgarner to a 2-0 lead in the first inning as Gregor Blanco, Posey and Sandoval hit soft singles and Morse scorched a sacrifice fly. With Angel Pagan getting a day off, Blanco, who hadn’t had a multi-hit game all season, led off and singled three times off Nolasco.
It highlighted another reason Bochy cited for the Giants’ record: lineup depth. The Giants had four hitters in their lineup with 20 or more RBIs on Sunday, led by newcomer Morse, who raised his team-leading total to 33. Two of them – Brandon Crawford and Brandon Hicks – were batting seventh and eighth.
“We’ve got a good team, better than a lot of people realized to start the year,” Bumgarner said. “We play together. On paper, it might not be the best team, but I’d put us up against anybody.”