The first meeting of the season between the Giants and Dodgers on Thursday showed what the next six months could be like in the National League West – long, back-and-forth, close until the end, eventful.
The Giants defeated their rivals 12-6, rallying from an early four-run deficit and giving an announced sellout crowd reason to cheer in the first game at AT&T Park in 2016. Their lineup rapped out 17 hits against a Dodgers pitching staff that had not allowed a run in the team’s first three games, with Hunter Pence’s sixth career grand slam in the eighth inning putting an exclamation point on the afternoon.
Dodgers pitchers had recorded three straight shutouts in San Diego and, behind starter Alex Wood, ran their scoreless innings streak to 31 through the first four innings Thursday – one behind the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals for the longest such streak to start a season.
That narrative changed quickly. Wood walked Brandon Crawford to start the fifth inning, Kelby Tomlinson dropped a bunt single, Angel Pagan’s groundout moved both runners up, and Denard Span’s grounder to the right side – with the Dodgers’ infield playing back – scored Crawford for the Giants’ first run.
It opened the floodgates. Joe Panik tripled in a run. Buster Posey laced a double into the left-field corner to score Panik. Wood escaped the inning with the Dodgers leading 4-3, but manager Dave Roberts sent the left-hander back out for the sixth, and the Giants scored four more runs – two charged to Wood – to take a lead they never lost.
“It was a great feeling to watch,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was slow going there at first. Wood was really throwing the ball well, and we couldn’t generate anything early. But the bats came to life.
“You look throughout the lineup, somebody did something big to help us.”
The Giants’ 12 runs were the most they have scored in a home opener since 1998. Their offense was a collective 14 for 24 over the final four innings. Every starter – including pitcher Jake Peavy – had at least one hit, and all except Brandon Belt and Peavy either drove in or scored at least one run.
“We caught that flow and everything started, momentum shifted, and we started riding it a little bit,” Pence said. “We feel like our lineup is pretty deep, and we’re going to give you a good at-bat and you can catch those innings where we’re going to do some damage.”
Early, it was the Dodgers doing damage against Peavy, who allowed 10 hits over five innings in his season debut. Peavy acknowledged the later innings of his outing were about “damage control,” giving the Giants’ lineup a chance to get back into the game.
“You count on the at-bats and the effort that those guys give,” Peavy said. “You see (the lineup) that deep and stretched out, it can look awfully dim like it did there for a while today and then turn.”
One of the runs surrendered by Peavy likely wouldn’t have scored last season. He appeared to be out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning when Wood grounded into a double play. But the Dodgers challenged whether Panik’s foot was on second base when he received the feed from Brandon Crawford. Before this season, the “neighborhood rule” required infielders just to be close to the bag.
In this case, Panik’s foot came off the bag before the ball hit his glove, and umpires reversed the call, giving the Dodgers their second run. Peavy escaped the inning without further damage by striking out leadoff hitter Chase Utley.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for some of these infielders,” Bochy said. “You learn from something like this. Joe will. The throw, he went up to get it, and it took him off. We could see it. I wasn’t surprised to see that overturned there.”
The Dodgers closed to within a run on Joc Pederson’s two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the eighth, but the Giants responded with five runs in the bottom of the inning, Pence’s grand slam off reliever Pedro Baez earning him a curtain call.
It brought full-circle the enthusiasm that had marked the start of the Giants’ home opener. Before the first pitch, the team entered from center field behind a band of Little League players who fanned out on the infield for pregame introductions. The Giants recognized former players Monte Irvin and Jim Davenport, both of whom passed away during the offseason, with Irvin’s two daughters throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
Pence called the atmosphere “electric.” Then he sent his own jolt through the building.
“I’m going to go ahead and get it started right now,” Posey said after the game. “We’ve got to get him in the Home Run Derby this year.”
Posey was asked if he’d broached the topic with Pence.
“I have,” Posey said. “He’s on board.”