Giants first baseman Brandon Belt could only crack wise about what rookie second baseman Joe Panik is doing in his first postseason at 23 years old.
“I wonder if he’s human sometimes,” Belt said. “I think he is, but you never know.”
Panik drove in the Giants’ first run with a third-inning single and scored the decisive run after a leadoff triple in the seventh in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday.
It gave Panik five hits in two career playoff games – the most by any Giants player over his first two postseason appearances. Panik also started a key fifth-inning double play after Bryce Harper had singled for the first hit off Jake Peavy, and he made a diving play to his right to rob Denard Span of a single for the final out of the seventh.
“He has a calmness about him,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
To the Giants, that isn’t news. Panik made his big-league debut in May, took over the second-base job in late June and finished the regular season with a .305 batting average in 73 games. In his postseason debut, he collected three hits in the Giants’ wild-card win in Pittsburgh, and later said he was encouraged by being able to carry over his line-drive approach from September into the heightened atmosphere of the playoffs.
In his first at-bat Friday, Panik drove a fastball from Stephen Strasburg to the warning track in center field for an out. In his second, he lined a single up the middle that scored Travis Ishikawa to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. In the seventh, he again hit a deep drive to left-center off reliever Craig Stammen, and this time Span could not make the catch as it bounced off his glove while Panik sprinted into third base.
“It looks to me like he’s just got one of those swings that’s just extremely consistent,” said catcher Buster Posey. “You’re going to see a lot of line drives and base hits. And he’s been huge for us.”
Asked to describe his first taste of the postseason, Panik gave this response:
“It gets a little louder and stuff,” he said. “(But) when it comes down to it, it is the same game.”
• Along with extending their postseason winning streak to a franchise-record nine games, the Giants have now won 13 of their last 16 playoff games and 23 of their last 31. Their last loss came in Game 4 of the 2012 N.L. Championship Series in St. Louis.
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval also extended a streak with his single in the fourth inning. Sandoval has hit safely in his last 12 postseason games, the longest such streak in Giants history and the longest current playoff streak in the majors.
• Right-hander Tim Hudson went 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA in September but said he never doubted he’d start in the NLDS if the Giants made it. The 39-year-old will make his first playoff appearance since 2010 as today’s Game 2 starter for the Giants against Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
Bochy said he “liked the way (Hudson) threw the ball” in his last regular-season start in Los Angeles, when Hudson allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings.
“It looked like he was healthy again, able to execute his pitches,” Bochy said. “I think his biggest issue is that his hip was bothering him. I think he is over that, really.”
Hudson said he feels “really good physically” and addressed some mechanical issues with pitching coach Dave Righetti before his start against the Dodgers. His career numbers against the Nationals are excellent – 18-5 with a 2.35 ERA in 31 starts.
Hudson acknowledged much of that came against the bad Washington teams of the 2000s. But the Giants’ only two wins in seven regular-season games against the Nationals this year came behind Hudson, who allowed one earned run in 121/3 innings.
• The Giants left Michael Morse (oblique) off the NLDS roster, opting for the pinch running and defensive versatility provided by Gary Brown over the potential for one pinch-hit appearance by Morse, who has played in one game since Aug. 31.
Bochy said Morse is close to being game-ready and the Giants could send Morse to the instructional league next week to get live at-bats, keeping him an option if they move on to the next round.