Bruce Bochy’s decision betrayed a feeling of urgency. With the Giants mired in a two-week slump, already trailing the Washington Nationals by three runs and building a rally in the fourth inning Saturday, the manager lifted his starting pitcher, Jake Peavy, for a pinch hitter, hoping to spark his struggling offense.
“It was one of those games I felt like we had to throw everything at them to try to win this ballgame,” Bochy said.
The pinch hitter, Mac Williamson, drew a walk to load the bases and set up a three-run inning. The Giants squeezed two more runs out of another bases-loaded situation in the seventh. Bochy used six relievers who combined for five scoreless innings, and the Giants beat the Nationals 5-3 for just their third win since the All-Star break.
It capped a positive day for the Giants, who have had few of them in the last two weeks. They welcomed right fielder Hunter Pence back to the lineup after a two-month absence and clung to sole possession of first place in the National League West for at least one more day by winning a game that several members of the clubhouse indicated they had to have.
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“It’s been feeling like that for a while,” said catcher Buster Posey. “Great win, great team win, Jake going four and then the bullpen to do a nice job. I thought Mac’s at-bat where he walked in Jake’s spot was as big an at-bat as anybody’s.”
The Giants trailed 3-0 when Brandon Belt led off the fourth inning with a walk and Joe Panik singled. After Gregor Blanco struck out, Bochy sent Williamson to hit for Peavy, who had thrown just 74 pitches.
“I told Jake, ‘It doesn’t matter how well you throw from this point, we’ve got to score,’ ” Bochy said. “He understood.”
Williamson drew a seven-pitch walk to load the bases, but even that did not guarantee a breakthrough. For the Giants, the inning was the 11th in their last 10 games in which they had loaded the bases. To that point, they were 1 for 17 in bases-loaded at-bats.
But Eduardo Nunez, acquired from the Twins on Thursday, delivered an opportune second hit as a Giant, lining a double to right-center field to drive in two runs. It was the kind of timely hit that has eluded the Giants lately. They were just 2 for 13 with men in scoring position Saturday and are hitting .148 in those situations since the All-Star break.
“That’s a huge hit,” Bochy said. “It just lifts the ballclub when somebody comes through like that.”
Nunez, ironically, said he knew nothing of the Giants’ offensive struggles before he was traded; he only found out during a team meeting to address the issue Friday night.
“That’s the reason they bring me here,” Nunez said. “To win games and try to help the team win.”
The Giants would not score again on a hit. Angel Pagan followed Nunez with a soft groundout to drive in Williamson. In the seventh, Panik broke the tie with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly, and pinch hitter Trevor Brown drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run.
It proved enough as the Giants’ bullpen faced just two batters over the minimum in the final five innings. Posey helped by throwing out two runners at second base – including Bryce Harper, who attempted to steal after leading off the eighth inning with a walk.
Peavy thought he had Harper struck out on a full-count pitch that would have ended the third inning but was called a ball. The next batter, Anthony Rendon, hit a two-run homer, the sixth home run that Peavy has allowed in his last three starts. Danny Espinosa hit an RBI double in a fourth inning that became Peavy’s last.
“It’s not the way I drew up the start,” Peavy said, “but it’s the way I drew up the day.”
Pence, who had missed 48 games with a hamstring injury, doubled off the left-field wall in his first at-bat and walked and scored in the seventh inning. He was greeted with loud ovations during lineup introductions and while walking to the plate in the second inning.
“It’s no secret that he’s our emotional, spiritual – whatever you want to go with – leader,” Posey said. “And (getting him back) is definitely a big boost.”
The Giants certainly needed one, as they won for just the third time in 14 games since the All-Star break. During that time, their lead over the Dodgers had shrunk from 6 1/2 games to one entering Saturday. Only one Giant gained ground in that time: Nunez, who moved from the last-place Twins into the middle of a pennant race.
“I like the mind our group has,” Nunez said after Saturday’s game. “The only goal is to win games, no matter how we win. I love that. I love that mentality.”