May 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (left) crosses home plate to score in the 10th inning as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Drew Butera (31) watches at Dodger Stadium. The Giants defeated the Dodgers 3-1 in 10 innings. They took three of the four games in L.A. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Before the season began, The San Francisco Giants had a pretty good idea of what they needed to accomplish in order to establish their position as the leader of the pack. The schedule had them playing twenty-nine of their first thirty-eight games against National League West opponents, including ten against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Having had the best record against NL West teams last year, they set out to do it again.
The last ten games of this stretch had the Orange and Black playing on the road against three teams who made the playoffs just last season. The Killer Road Trip was obviously an early test to see how the team would handle the rigors of competing with the best, while playing in opposing ball yards. The results of the test are in now and it is patently obvious that the Giants were up for the task, going 7-3 on the epic journey, a winning percentage of .700.
I like to think of them as road warriors.
Generally speaking, if a team can consistently play .500 ball on the road, it will clean up at home and it’s a formula for ultimate success. Imagine how much more formidable a team becomes, when it proves that it can compete on even terms on the road as well. The first thought that jumps into my little pea brain is the notion that a team that can play well on the road, tends to be able to dominate a seven game series, the type which is encountered in a playoff formula.
Apr 27, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Hicks (14) connects for a two run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at AT&T Park. In yesterday’s game, Hicks connected against Kershaw for a two-run blast. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
The way the Giants played yesterday in Los Angeles was a condensed version of the way they have functioned all season, despite the uncharacteristic collapse of the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth. They got excellent starting pitching from Tim Hudson, top-notch defense from key players, a long blast off the bat of Brandon Hicks, and clutch hitting in the tenth to seal up their tenth come-from-behind victory of the still young season. That’s slightly better than one of these gems every four games.
To have been able to take seven of the first ten contests from the Dodgers is the highpoint of their achievements. Having taken the season series from L.A. last season, it was at the top of the agenda to do so again this year. I find it especially telling that they went into SoCal, facing a Blue Crew that already had doubt in its mind, that they were not up to the task. Don Mattingly had gathered them together before the first game of the series, to try and rally his troops. He had urged them to not allow the Giants’ success to get inside their heads.
But success breeds confidence and confidence produces success. We have been waiting for Pablo Sandoval to wake up. He had three hits in a game yesterday, for the first time since he hit three home runs against San Diego last season. He batted in the first run in the first inning-against Clayton Kershaw-and he knocked in the go-ahead run in the tenth, to seal the deal. Timing is everything.
Angel Pagan continues to find ways every game to demonstrate his value to the team. Besides getting on base four times, and scoring three runs, he nailed Adrian Gonzalez at the plate with a one-hop seed to Buster Posey, to take the steam out of a sixth-inning rally. He is the consummate spark plug, who motivates those around him with his hard-nosed play, both on offense and on defense.
Hudson and Posey chatting after warmups on March 11, 2014. Photo by Denise Walos.
Buster Posey, arguably the game’s MVP, had two hits and a walk, including an RBI single in the eighth for a critical insurance run. Equally important is the fact that his play at the plate prevented two runs from scoring, the first on a brilliant sweep tag of Andre Ethier, trying to score from third on an infield grounder to Brandon Hicks.
There was Brandon Hicks hitting his seventh home run of the season, another in a series of unexpected offensive bursts from a player who never hit more than three home runs in a single season. Bruce Bochy really likes this guy and so do the pitchers.
Tim Hudson threw six full innings, in yet another quality start, which ironically was his shortest stint of the year. It was good enough to get the Giants to the ninth, where Sergio Romo suffered his first blown save of the season. Even that worked out in the long run as the team, in a collective effort, proved they had their closer’s back by coming back in the tenth and scoring three runs.
There was Brandon Crawford coming in off the bench to make a spectacular play in the tenth to rob Ethier of a hit and produce the second out. There was Hunter Pence getting two more base hits, and there was Hector Sanchez coming through with still one more clutch hit in a pressure situation, knocking in the seventh and final run in the tenth.
Bruce Bochy put up a lineup that featured the numbers four through number nine players, all batting under .200. The entire lineup from Pagan through Hudson sported a cumulative .198 batting average, compared to the Dodgers’ .248. Bochy called it his bomb squad, and he smiled when he said it, but that’s fifty points’ difference. Without Crawford and Michael Morse in the lineup, the offense seemed pretty anemic.
Regardless, San Francisco got help from so many different areas, it makes me think back to the way they got it done in 2012, and 2010 for that matter. Winning on the road against high-caliber teams is another way they got it done. It’s a winning combination and one that has them with the best record in the National League at 24-14.
The Giants have begun the season by accomplishing their most important goal to date, beating the Dodgers seven of ten games. Especially with the loss of Brandon Belt, the Giants are determined to forge ahead on the biggest goal of all, the playoffs. We all know that when the Giants make the playoffs, big things happen, and after this Killer Road Trip, I’m beginning to think we have the team to make the biggest accomplishment happen again.
Photo courtesy of sfgiants.com & Chris Haft / MLB.com