SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Giants stranded Michael Morse on third base following a leadoff triple in the second inning Saturday, it stirred memories of their recent issues with clutch hitting. When they left Pablo Sandoval and Morse standing at first and second base in the fourth, after they’d reached on a leadoff single and walk, you could almost hear the grumbling across a sold-out AT&T Park.
The Phillies then took a 5-1 lead in the fifth, knocking Tim Hudson out of the game with no outs for his shortest start this season besides a rain-shortened outing in Colorado, and the Giants looked listless, well on their way to another frustrating loss at home. And then:
"The bats came to life," said manager Bruce Bochy.
The Giants pieced together a four-run rally in the sixth on four hits, a walk, a sacrifice fly and one crucial Pablo Sandoval pop-up that the Phillies let fall smack in the middle of the infield. Two innings later, they pulled ahead as Joe Panik hit a leadoff triple and this time Gregor Blanco got the elusive hit, shooting a single into left to give the Giants a 6-5 lead that Sergio Romo ended up closing out for his first save in nearly two months.
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"What’s important is you’ve got nine innings," Bochy said. "We talked about it -- we’ve got to keep fighting, and we started to have some decent at-bats, got a break on the pop-up that fell in. It’s all about going hard for nine innings, and they did that today."
The "keep fighting" mantra could apply to the Giants’ season right now. With their win and the Pirates’ 4-3 loss to the Nationals, the Giants pulled back to half-game ahead of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot. They also ensured they wouldn’t lose another game in the West standings, whey were 5 ½ back of the Dodgers entering Saturday.
More immediately, they rebounded admirably from a frustrating loss Friday night, when they blew a late 3-1 lead and squandered numerous scoring chances. For several players, Saturday was a shot at redemption. Among them:
Blanco, who made two late base-running mistakes in Friday night’s loss, had a bloop RBI single in the four-run sixth and put the Giants ahead by lining Jake Diekman’s 1-0 pitch just to the right of shortstop Jimmy Rollins -- who appeared to step left for some reason -- to score Panik in the eighth.
Jeremy Affeldt, who surrendered a game-tying homer in the eighth inning Friday, pitched a scoreless eighth and came back out to start the ninth, retiring slugger Ryan Howard on a groundout before turning the ball over to Romo.
"Jeremy, great job of bouncing back," Bochy said. "That’s what you have to do, you have to be resilient and put it behind you. Same with Blanco. I talked to him a little bit on what happened yesterday, (and said) you can’t do anything about it. Just brush that off, as we say, and don’t dwell on what’s happened. That’s what separates the average athlete from the good one, and he’s able to do that, have a short memory."
Romo, whose last save had come June 22 before he was removed from the closer’s role, struck out Marlon Byrd and allowed a single to Domonic Brown before coaxing a flyout from Grady Sizemore to seal the Giants’ fourth comeback win from four or more runs.
Bochy said he used Romo to give a break to Santiago Casilla, who "worked pretty hard the night before. … You have a couple guys who are comfortable closing the game, it makes it a little easier to give one a break and have the other you’re comfortable with out there with the game on the line."
Romo refused to attribute much significance to his first save in nearly two months.
"We won," he said. "That’s really what matters the most. We have a goal to make the playoffs and I want to do what I can to help out, whether it be in the seventh, eighth or ninth. I’ll start a game if they ask me to. I just want to help out."
With Romo’s help, the Giants put themselves in a position to win this series in Sunday’s finale and record a winning homestand. That would be a rarity over the past two months -- and a much more pleasant memory to tap into.
* Tomorrow’s print story focuses on Panik, who had two key hits in the win, scored the game-winning run, threw a runner out at home and continued to play the solid all-around baseball that has earned him most of the playing time at second base lately.
"He’s doing what you hope the young guys do, showing they belong up here in the major leagues, handling major league pitching and also playing well on defense," Bochy said.
"He has a knack for slowing down the game and that goes with confidence … I think he’s earned going out there every day, the way he’s played."
Among Panik’s numbers: He’s batting .410 (16-for-39) in his last 11 games. He’s 11-for-24 against lefties since being called up, including both of his hits Saturday. Overall, he’s batting .274 in 35 games since being called up, and by accounts from both his manager and several teammates, he’s handling himself like he belongs.
"I feel like I’ve been hitting my stride," Panik said. "The first couple weeks, it’s an adjustment period like with anything. I struggled a little, but I really feel like I’ve gotten comfortable with the preparation it takes, the work it takes, just the atmosphere. And I really feel like I’m hitting my stride now."
Second base has been the most unstable position for the Giants this season -- they have used eight different players there so far -- and it’s a question mark going into next season. Bochy was asked whether Panik, with his current play, is stating his case for being more than a short-term solution and said: "It certainly helps your decision at the end of the year when you’re looking at your needs."
Said Panik: "I don’t take anything for granted. We’re in a playoff race now, we have to win every game we can. I’m not really thinking about that, I’m just trying to produce."
* Speaking of bats coming to life, Morse has reached safely in six of his last seven plate appearances with four extra-base hits, including his three-run homer Friday, two doubles and a triple Saturday. Any explanation for that?
"I don’t know," Morse said. "The big moon? The super-moon?"
More seriously, Morse said he has tried to reign in his approach at the plate and is "just trying to hit my pitch, looking one spot and putting my swing out there, not try to cover the whole plate." His triple and RBI double in the sixth Saturday were both hit to right-center field, which Morse said you’ll see when he’s putting good swings on the ball.
Morse’s home run Friday was just his third in 57 games and his four extra-base hits in the last two games equal his total from his previous 23 games combined. Morse hitting more like his first-half self than the version of the past two months would be a huge benefit for the Giants down the stretch.
If nothing else, Morse appears to be more his demonstrative self on the field lately. After making contact on his sixth-inning double Saturday, he briefly turned into a base coach, waving Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval forward as he ran toward first base. Morse said he didn’t even recall doing so, or whom he was signaling at.
"Don’t watch what I do on the field," Morse said, shaking his head. "It’s bad. I don’t know. I get excited."
* Hudson summed up his outing this way: "I just wasn’t really in sync, didn’t feel in sync for most of the game. It just wasn’t a very good day for me."
Hudson put runners on in all five innings he started and paid for it in the third and fifth. His main antagonist was Howard, who had an RBI single in the third and a two-run hit in the fifth that knocked Hudson out of the game. That’s nothing new -- Howard is now a .343 hitter against Hudson in his career, with 20 RBIs.
"He’s an MVP-caliber talent, even though probably this year he maybe hasn’t played to his standards," Hudson said. "But he’s still a guy that can hurt you at any time. We’ve had our share of battles over the years and he came out on top again today."
Bochy, who removed Hudson at 79 pitches, said the pitches adding up "might’ve caught up with him, some long at-bats … He left some pitches up, but the guys picked us up on offense." Lately it’s been more of the opposite -- the Giants have scored just five runs in Hudson’s last five starts with the right-hander in the game. But he got to enjoy watching the final innings Saturday.
"I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain today," Hudson said. "But everybody else did, and that’s what it takes to win sometimes."
* Romo is quietly on a good run -- he has held opponents scoreless in 11 of his last 12 appearances, a total of 12 innings. He offered an interesting explanation:
"In a sense I stopped trying to control everything," Romo said. "I can’t control outcomes. I can’t control much out there, other than how I prepare and how I execute my pitches. And that’s really what I’ve been trying to focus on, is executing.
"I really don’t feel that I lost any stuff at any point this year. I really feel that it’s come down to one pitch every time -- every time that it’s gone well, and every time it’s gone not so great, it’s really been that one pitch. And if I’m able to focus and execute that one pitch more consistently, good things can happen."
* Brandon Crawford, in a prolonged hitting funk, popped out in his first two at-bats and was removed on a double-switch in the fifth when Juan Gutierrez replaced Hudson. Bochy, though, said that wasn’t a result of Crawford’s struggles, but because Crawford had batted last the previous inning and with the pitcher’s spot due to lead off for the Giants in the bottom of the fifth, he wanted to leave open the possibility of Gutierrez staying in the game to pitch more than one inning.
* The Giants go for the series win Sunday behind Tim Lincecum (9-8, 4.51), while the Phillies counter with right-hander David Buchanan (6-6, 4.40). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.