SAN FRANCISCO -- The events of the past two nights have made this statistic look as astounding as ever: In 58 games last season after the All-Star Break, Buster Posey, the Giants’ catcher and former MVP, hit two home runs.
Posey matched that total Tuesday night alone, accounting for all of the Giants’ offense in a 3-0 win. Wednesday night, after the Giants blew a one-run lead in the top of the ninth to the Colorado Rockies, Posey lifted them to a 4-2 win with a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the inning, the second game-ending homer of his career. In his last seven games, Posey has hit five home runs.
It’s not something Posey would ever admit, but the numbers support the idea that he wore down toward the end of last season. He reiterated on Wednesday night something he has said before, that he worked hard this offseason "to make sure I could be in the best shape possible" for a full 162-game slog, and credited the team strength coach and training staff with "keeping me out there."
And there is, he acknowledged, another component fueling his drive that was not there in 2013: The Giants are fighting for a playoff spot. And in that way, Posey said, "It’s night and day coming to the park now compared to last year."
"It’s a better feeling," he said. "We have something to play for."
The Giants began the day five games behind the Dodgers and with a 1 ½-game lead for the second wild card spot. They cannot afford to give away games like Wednesday’s, in which they got one of Tim Hudson’s best starts of the year and, despite failing to come up with clutch hits on several occasions, handed a lead to their closer in the ninth inning against an injury-ravaged Rockies team with the worst record in the National League.
With one swing, Posey made sure they didn’t. You could say it was two swings -- he also drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a two-out single to score Angel Pagan from second base and break a 1-1 tie. In the top of the ninth, after Justin Morneau’s game-tying double off Santiago Casilla, Posey also made a backhanded pick of a pitch in the dirt to keep Morneau from taking an extra 90 feet.
Those moments were overshadowed by his swing in the ninth, on an 0-1 fastball, up and in, from reliever Juan Nicasio, which Posey crushed down the left-field line. But they all suggested one thing, also reflected in his offensive night Tuesday in support of Madison Bumgarner: That as the Giants make their stretch run in September, Posey will be the one to carry them.
"He’s feeling pretty good up there," Hudson said. "I mean, it’s fun to see. I think he’s really starting to see the ball really well, he’s hitting homers and squaring the ball up.
"We need to jump on his shoulders to get us through this last month, win some ballgames and make it interesting here."
After batting .250 in July, Posey is hitting .330 in August with six home runs and 14 RBIs. He offered no expanded explanation, saying: "I’m feeling good. Just keeping a simple approach and trying to get a barrel on it."
Of course, that’s typical for Posey -- understated and direct. It’s rare to see him show much emotion during games, but the past two nights have provided glimpses. After he hit the go-ahead two-run homer Tuesday night, he appeared to let out a yell rounding first base. After his tiebreaking single Wednesday, he clapped standing on the bag.
That might have been more than he allowed after the home run. While teammates waited at home plate to mob him, Posey trotted toward the plate with his head down, and calmly entered the fray as such, without so much as a helmet toss or fist pump.
Still, as the Giants celebrated, they did so around a player who has shown before that he’s capable of putting this team on his back. In that way, it’s perhaps fitting, the work Posey put in over the offseason, the extra muscle he added to remain strong into the second half. It seems he may need to use it to carry the Giants once again.
"This is the fun time of the year," Posey said. "We’re fortunate to be fighting for the division and just trying to get in the playoffs. I think a lot of us know what this team is capable of doing if we do get in the playoffs. So again, this is the fun time of the year."
* It was a milestone night for two other Giants. First, Hudson, who was denied a win despite allowing one run in eight innings but did record his 2,000th career strikeout -- becoming just the 71st pitcher in major-league history to do so.
Hudson reached the mark in the sixth inning, by striking out opposing pitcher Franklin Morales. When he got back to the dugout, he was met with a handshake from Bochy -- confusing, as he thought the manager was taking him out.
"Then guys started coming over and I realized what everybody was talking about," said Hudson, who was unaware he’d reached the milestone.
"Really awesome, I struck out the pitcher," Hudson added. "Broke out my repertoire on him."
Sarcasm aside, Hudson acknowledged he was downplaying the achievement a little, and that it’s "something I’m proud of, obviously." The right-hander has never been seen as a strikeout artist, and his repertoire is not overpowering. Earlier this season, he summed up his approach to pitching at age 39 this way: "Make the balls look like strikes, and make the strikes look like balls."
In other words, do just enough to keep hitters from squaring up his pitches and making solid contact. Whether the outs come by strikeout, groundout, flyout, it doesn’t matter. And yet, Hudson is now only the fourth active pitcher with 2,000 strikeouts to his name. The others are C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon. New teammate Jake Peavy should join them soon.
"I mean, it just says I’ve been playing for a long time," Hudson said. "It’s a milestone that I’m proud of. Obviously I’m not really considered a strikeout guy, but I’m just glad I can go out there and still give a team a good chance to win."
* Hudson said the milestone he considers "more impressive than 2,000 strikeouts" is the one reached by Bochy on Wednesday night. Bochy won his 1,600th game as a major-league manager, moving ahead of Tommy Lasorda for 19th place on the all-time list.
"I don’t know what it means," Bochy said. "I guess I can give Tommy -- ride him a little bit."
Bochy, like Hudson, credited the number in part to longevity and to his supporting casts along the way. "That number’s not you," he said. "Sure, it goes on your record. But there are so many people that have done something to help me, and you don’t forget that, how lucky you are to be doing this as long as I’ve been doing it."
"I would’ve liked to have this one be a little easier," he added with a smile. "Got a few more gray hairs on this one."
That was after the Rockies found a way yet again to break through against a Giants closer in the ninth, with Casilla the victim this time. Casilla hit Drew Stubbs to start the inning, then threw a 2-0 fastball that Morneau lined into the left-center field gap, tying the game and robbing Hudson of a win.
Hudson, as a result, is still 9-9 and one win away from his 14th double-digit win season in the majors. Bochy said he considered sending Hudson back out for the ninth, and that it was a "tough call" to take him out, but he went with his gut and opted to use his closer.
"It’s a one-run game, ninth inning, we’ve got a closer ready to come in the game -- it’s the right call," Hudson said. "Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work out as far as getting the decision. But we won the game in that inning, so it’s all that matters."
Late last season, the Giants too often found themselves on the other side of the outcome. But Posey actually cited 2013 as indicative of why Bochy was marking a milestone on Wednesday night.
"Last year when we were struggling, he kept pushing, kept pushing, and even though we were out of it that last month, we were still playing, he still had us going," Posey said. "I think that’s one of the many reasons he has that many wins."
* Despite the blown save, Bochy credited Casilla with keeping his poise after Morneau’s double and getting out of the inning without further damage. Casilla did get some help -- Posey’s scoop on the pitch in the dirt, and a nicely turned double play started by shortstop Matt Duffy, who took a tough short-hop on a chopper by catcher Michael McKenry.
Duffy, starting in place of Brandon Crawford, quietly had a good game all-around -- he added two hits off Morales, including a double, and played solid defense. When you look at the Giants’ lineup in late August and they’re starting a pair of rookies up the middle, in Duffy and Joe Panik, it might seem like a shaky situation. But for the most part, the kids seem to be holding their own.
* Bochy did say that Crawford will be back in the lineup for the series finale Thursday afternoon. It’s Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles (6-1, 4.05) against Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit (3-3, 3.59). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.