SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy said sometimes it takes "something strange" to enliven a struggling offense. On Wednesday, it was an overturned call on a play at the plate that started one of the strangest seven-run innings you’re likely to see.
The Giants beat the White Sox, 7-1, with all their runs coming in the seventh inning. The Giants trailed 1-0 with runners on first and third and one out when Joe Panik hit a ground ball to White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who threw home in plenty of time for Tyler Flowers to tag Gregor Blanco for what appeared to be the second out.
Bochy, though, emerged from the dugout and asked umpires to review whether Flowers had violated a new rule this season by blocking the plate before he had the ball. After a review of 4 minutes, 55 seconds, umpires overturned the call, ruling Blanco safe at home with the tying run. The Giants went on to score six more runs, all with two outs.
"(Bench coach Ron Wotus) checked with (replay coordinator Shawon Dunston) to see if he was blocking the plate, and the reply we got was he was," Bochy said. "It’s a rule. I know it’s a rule creating a lot of controversy, and they’ve talked about reviewing this at the end of the season, maybe tweaking it. But it is a rule -- you can’t block the plate without the ball."
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The new rule governing where a catcher can set up for a play at the plate, of which Bochy has been a big proponent, is primarily designed to prevent violent collisions like the one that ended Buster Posey’s season in 2011. But it also makes for awkward scenarios like the play Wednesday, where Blanco was clearly out -- the ball beat him to home plate by about 15 feet -- but ruled safe anyway.
The ruling did not sit well with White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who came storming out of the dugout immediately and was ejected amid an impressive display that included kicking dirt onto home plate. Ventura, somewhat ironically, had challenged an identical play Tuesday night with the Giants throwing out a White Sox runner at home. Umpires in that case ruled Posey had set up far enough in front of the plate to leave Jordan Danks a clear lane, before swipe-tagging Danks for the out.
"It’s a vague rule and it obviously went against us today," Ventura said, according to MLB.com. "You look at the spirit of the rule, of what they’re trying to do, and what it’s actually doing, and it’s a joke."
The official Rule 7.13 states that a catcher without possession of the ball "cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score." But it doesn’t specify where the catcher can set up and leaves "blocking the pathway" up to the discretion of umpires. Though the rule benefited the Giants this time, Bochy acknowledged afterward that it’s likely due to be re-evaluated soon.
"Is it perfect? No. Does it need to be tweaked? Yeah, I think it does," Bochy said. "Rule is you can’t block home plate without the ball, it’s right there. And (Flowers) was doing that. Now, how they tweak it, I don’t know."
Looking around the league, Bochy said it does seem like there have been fewer violent collisions and players landing on the DL as a result of the rule, so: "I think it has served some purpose." Still, Bochy and a couple Giants players acknowledged the current state of the rule, though apparently interpreted correctly in this case, made for an odd outcome Wednesday afternoon.
Giants starter Jake Peavy, a former teammate of the White Sox pitcher who was on the mound at the time, left-hander Jose Quintana, said: "It’s tough watching your buddy in Quintana … come out on the short end of what happened." Blanco said he didn’t know right away whether Flowers had illegally blocked the plate, but that after rewatching the play during the umpires’ review, he came away convinced.
"When I went inside and really looked I saw he was really blocking the plate," Blanco said. "I’ve been playing so long the same game, it’s kind of tough to see a rule like that can change the game.
"At the same time, it was good for us today. We’re happy that we won, and I was saying, whatever it takes to win a ballgame."
* The overturned call, again, only started the inning. Quintana got Brandon Crawford to fly out for the second out with the score still tied 1-1, and after Quintana walked Joaquin Arias to load the bases, Ronald Belisario came in to face Angel Pagan and try to preserve the tie.
Pagan, though, hit a soft line drive off the end of the bat into left field to score two runs, the first of three consecutive hits off Belisario. The Giants added two more when Adam Dunn knocked Pablo Sandoval’s fly ball to right-center out of Danks’ glove, resulting in a three-base error. In the end, the Giants had their highest-scoring inning since Aug. 17, 2012, when they scored eight runs in the third inning in San Diego.
"I’ve said many times, when your offense is struggling, you need a break somewhere. It can be a bad hop, a blooper that falls in, anything to loosen them up, take some pressure off them," Bochy said.
Pagan’s hit helped open the floodgates, and Bochy acknowledged: "We needed a hit in the worst way there. And he didn’t try to do too much. He went with the pitch and placed it in a real nice area there."
Pagan, who drove in his first runs since returning from the DL on August 7, said he was wary of Belisario’s sinker and was looking for a pitch starting a little bit up as a result. "You see the (pitch), I think it was down, but it started like a strike," Pagan said. "Put my best effort and I put it in the right place, so feel good about that."
The Giants have talked often about Pagan being key to a stretch run, and the leadoff hitter was asked what a successful one is going to take.
"Just keep playing the way we played today," he said. "Just never give up, try to create the best consistency possible.
"We’ll be fine. I think the dog days will end. And I think they’re going to end right now, like, today."
* While the Giants snapped a five-game losing streak, the seven-run inning helped Peavy put an end to an even longer one. Peavy earned his first win since April 25. He had gone 18 consecutive starts without one, losing 12 of those decisions.
"It was good to see him get on the board," Bochy said. "He’s had some tough luck in his starts, but he competes so well, and besides the home run (to Dunn in the fourth), he was putting up zeroes, which we needed because we weren’t doing anything offensively. So good for Jake, good for us. I was glad to see him rewarded for how he threw the ball."
Peavy and Dunn are friends from Peavy’s time in Chicago, and the right-hander joked of Dunn’s blast, which splashed down in McCovey Cove: "I’m sure I’ll have to hear it. But at the end of the day, we get the last laugh with the team winning, and that’s all anybody in this room cares about."
Nor did Peavy admit to caring much about his winless streak.
"I have nothing personally to prove in the game anymore," he said. "It’s certainly nice to get that monkey off your back, so to speak. But for me, it wasn’t on my back.
"Everything has an expiration date, and I knew I wasn’t going to continue to lose."
Peavy did say it was "big" for the Giants to go into Thursday’s off-day with a win, while avoiding the possibility of slipping further behind in the standings. He said the Giants had a meeting Tuesday, in which the topic of playoffs came up and the general message was: "We’ve just gotta get in."
"You’ve got to have a chance," Peavy said. "Anything can happen, we’ve seen that. Any team that gets in has a chance. We’re all major-league players, we’ve all got guys that are hungry and want to win a championship. You just got to stay focused on the daily grind to get in, because sometimes that’s the hardest part."
* Bochy talked along those same lines, citing the fact that with 42 games to go, and their frigid past two months notwithstanding, the Giants are still in position to make a run.
"It’s not easy when you go through something like this, but because of our good play early in the season we have put ourselves in a situation where we can get there," Bochy said. "It’s up to us now. It comes down to our play and how bad we want it."
Of the Giants’ remaining games, 27 come against teams that are below .500. That starts with a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies beginning Friday night. Here are the pitching probables:
Friday: LHP Cole Hamels (6-6, 2.37) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 3.22)
Saturday: RHP Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.88) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (8-9, 2.81)
Sunday: RHP David Buchanan (6-6, 4.40) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (9-8, 4.51)