AT&T PARK — Twice, on Saturday, the AT&T Park crowd bubbled to its feet in anticipation. The first was before Hunter Pence added a much-needed insurance run with a pinch-hit homer to lead off the seventh. The second was when Buster Posey — bound for Vail, Colorado on Sunday for hip surgery on Monday — stepped into the on-deck circle in the bottom of the eighth.
With Pence — a starter on two of the San Francisco Giants’ last three World Series teams — reduced to pinch hitting, spot starts and defensive replacement duty in his age 35 season, there’s more than a chance Saturday was the last time the two would be wearing the same uniform.
“He’s just a battler,” Pence said. “To be able to play as long as he has this year with what he’s dealing with just goes to speak volumes of his character, and it’s definitely been an honor and a privilege to be his teammate.”
While much of the attention was focused on those on their way out — Posey to a seven-to-nine-month recovery, Pence to who-knows-where — the Giants got a solid performance from one of their rookie pitchers for the second day in a row. Unlike Friday, though, they staved off a late-inning comeback from the Texas Rangers to give Andrew Suarez the 5-3 win.
“I think the biggest thing is just find a way to win today,” Pence said. “Give everything you have to win today, and at the end of the season, no matter where you’re standing, you’ll be alright.”
Like Friday, San Francisco (64-67) scored four runs in the first inning, and like Friday, the Giants saw the Rangers (58-73) score runs after the seventh inning.
Erstwhile closer Hunter Strickland — back from his stint on the disabled list with a self-inflicted broken hand — came on in the eighth up 5-0, thanks to Pence and a three-run homer in the first from Brandon Crawford. With two outs, he served up a two-out single and a bloop fly ball to left by Joey Gallo that clanked off of Austin Slater’s glove for an error. Rugned Odor then turned on Strickland’s first-pitch 87-mph changeup and pounded it to right for a three-run homer.
When new closer Will Smith came on for his third day of work in a row, he put two men on in the ninth via a walk and a single before pinch hitter Adrian Beltre stepped to the plate. After uncorking an 0-2 wild pitch, he fanned Beltre, but then walked pinch hitter Isiah Kiner-Falefa to load the bases.
Then, Mark Melancon — who has had 12 saves since signing a four-year, $62-million deal in 2017 to be the Giants closer — saved his second game of 2018, getting pinch hitter Carlos Perez to fly out to left.
In sidestepping the comeback attempt, San Francisco (64-67) bounced back from a 7-6 heartbreaker on Saturday that saw Texas (58-73) erase a six-run deficit against the Giants bullpen, scoring five runs after starter Dereck Rodriguez exited the game following six excellent innings of work.
With the 2010 World Series team honored before the game, it was fitting that, for the second day in a row, manager Bruce Bochy had to endure a little bit of torture.
“It’s really incredible how similar the two games were,” Bochy said. “We found a way to get the last out today … Torture was back. Mark, he found a way to get that last out for us. What Suarez did, great bounce-back for him, after a tough start there in Cincinnati. Got us what we wanted. Eighth inning, two outs and an error, and they’re right back in the game … They had some good at-bats there, and Smitty, that was his third day in a row, and that’s why he was done after that last walk.”
Suarez, who had gone 1-4 with a 6.88 ERA in his last seven starts, had an encouraging outing two starts ago against the Los Angeles Dodgers — allowing two hits and three walks over six innings — but allowed five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings last time out against Cincinnati. On Saturday, the 25-year old left-hander went seven innings, striking out five in a 5-3 win, earning his first victory since July 29, and his second since June 29.
Suarez gritted his way through seven three-ball counts, 19 foul balls and three walks to author a three-hitter on 106 pitches. It was the first time since July 14 that he’d pitched longer than six innings. Suarez record 14 ground ball outs — his most since June 29 — and one pop out to go with his five strikeouts and two double plays.
What’s been an anemic Giants offense got Suarez comfortably ahead in the first. A leadoff double from Andrew McCutchen was followed by a single from Brandon Belt, and cashed in on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Evan Longoria.
Then Crawford — who had been slumping badly since the All-Star break to the tune of a .183 batting average — slammed his 12th home run of the year to dead center, bringing home three. Crawford’s bomb helped lift the Giants to just their fourth four-run-or-more first inning all season, and 24th inning overall where they’ve scored four or more runs.
With Suarez’s day done after the top of the seventh, Pence came on and hit his second home run of the season — and seventh career pinch-hit homer — on a 2-1 offering from his former Giants teammate, Matt Moore.
“Whether I’m playing every day, whether I’m coming off the bench, whether people think I’m done — maybe I am, maybe I’m not — every day, you’re not promised tomorrow,” Pence said. “I feel very fortunate every day, being able to do what I love for so long. You never know who’s watching, so I feel like it’s important to respect the game, because you could have a kid or a family that, this is their one game to come see. Don’t forget that, whether you’re losing big or winning big.”
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