ORACLE PARK — In the bottom of the ninth inning, one out and Brandon Crawford aboard with a single, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a decision to make.
He could pinch hit Pablo Sandoval for Steven Duggar, or get speed on base and pinch hit Sandoval for the pitcher’s spot, after Kevin Pillar. He chose to hold Sandoval, trailing the Atlanta Braves 3-1. It was a decision that paid off with the Giants dancing on the field after a 4-3 walk-off win — the 26th come-from-behind walk-off win since the franchise moved west.
With two outs, Pillar rattled an RBI single up the middle and stole second, putting Bochy’s hottest two hitters — Sandoval and Joe Panik — at the plate with a chance to win the game. Sandoval — after hitting two pinch-hit homers in the last week — got a perfectly-placed infield hit, and Panik — with a new-found two-strike approach — fought back from down 0-2 to drive home a pair as the Giants — who had scored just two runs in their previous 17 innings — scored three in the ninth to get rookie starter Shaun Anderson off the hook for what had been a dismal offensive performance.
“All it takes is one hit, one base runner,” Panik said. “Hitting’s contagious, I guess. Our guys battled. Craw, KP, Pablo busting it down the line, it was a group effort that inning. It wasn’t just one guy.”
In the bottom of the ninth, down 3-1 with one out, Crawford had lined a single to left, and advanced to second on defensive indifference. After Pillar’s RBI bouncer up the middle, the speedy outfielder stole second — a move both Panik and manager Bruce Bochy lauded as key to the inning.
Sandoval — hitting .391 in his last eight games (9-for-23) with four home runs and seven RBIs — came up and rolled a ball to the left of Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, who knocked it down, but could not make a play.
“Once Pablo got the hit, [Josh] Donaldson made a nice play to keep it in the infield and keep us from tying the game, but we have another good hitter up there,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You have to look at Pillar. He found a way to get a base hit to get Pablo up there. I thought that was the key in that inning.”
After pinch runner Mac Williamson stole his second base of the season, Panik — who came in hitting .308 in his last seven games with three doubles — took a slider for strike one, then fouled off three pitches.
“I’ve been seeing the ball really well,” said Panik, who made adjustments to his swing during the Giants’ time in Toronto, getting his hips to fire quicker, allowing him to see the ball longer. “I feel like I’ve really turned the corner, a few weeks ago.”
Rick Schu and Alonzo Powell noticed Panik had let his hips creep out wide on video, and mentioned it to him on April 21 — the team’s last day in Pittsburgh — after he missed a few pitches. He made the adjustment in Canada. Narrowing his hips allowed him to get to fastballs quicker, so he didn’t have to cheat, and miss other pitches.
“I got really comfortable hitting, getting back to hitting with two strikes,” Panik said. “Any time you can hit with two strikes and feel comfortable with that, it gives you confidence throughout the at-bat where you can be more selective and really get your pitch and still be able to battle with two strikes.”
In the ninth inning on Tuesday, he went from down 0-2 to a full count, working an eight-pitch at-bat by taking a pair of breaking pitches and a 96-mph fastball from Luke Jackson.
“With a guy who throws 95, 96, you’ve got to be ready to hit the heater, and I was able to foul off a heater, and I knew he was heavy slider, heavy curve, heavy offspeed,” Panik said. “Once he got 2-2, he went high fastball and in the back of my mind, I thought it was going to be a set-up pitch for his go-to, which is his breaking ball.”
Sure enough, Panik lined a slider to right for a single, bringing home both Williamson and Pillar in front of the smallest Major League crowd at Oracle/AT&T Park since May 25, 2010 — 28,030.
The size of the crowd mattered little to rookie righty Shaun Anderson, making his second big league start. He got his second no-decision, but pitched aggressively, hunting the inside corner and allowing two runs on eight hits, striking out three without allowing a walk on 79 pitches in five-plus innings (compared with Julio Teherán’s 94 in 5 2/3 innings).
Anderson showed off a varied mix of pitches, flashing a dropping changeup as well as a sharp slider and a fastball that touched 95, getting nine swings and misses and 13 called strikes against a very good Braves lineup. He even drew a 10-pitch at-bat from his opposing number after going 2-for-2 at the plate in his debut.
“[The changeup] has always been a pitch that I feel good with, and I always usually go to my slider because I feel comfortable with that, but we were mixing in everything,” Anderson said. “Curveballs, changeups, sliders, I think that kept them on their toes and gave them a different look.”
Both teams had matching first-inning RBI doubles from their No. 5 hitters — with the Giants’ coming on a liner off the Chevron cars in left field by Evan Longoria — and both starters stranded a pair in the first. Both teams got stellar defensive work in the third, as Crawford dove to his left to rob Freddie Freeman of a single up the middle, and Ronald Acuña Jr. leaped high into the air to rob Brandon Belt of sure extra bases on a 103-mph, 396-foot drive to center.
Anderson at one point retired 10 of 11 after his initial shakiness, but the Giants got just three hits for him, before he allowed a pair of line-drive singles to left to start the sixth, and was pulled for Reyes Moronta. Anderson, the Giants’ No. 4 prospect, got a standing ovation that included his father Keith, a district sales manager for FedEx, as he made his way to the dugout.
Moronta retired the side, but a fly ball to center by Austin Riley set up a sacrifice fly to left by Brian McCann, inching the Braves ahead, 2-1.
After Moronta allowed a run to score, he walked two with one out in the seventh, and Sam Dyson came on and allowed a first-pitch single to Freeman to plate another run. After that, Dyson, Mark Melancon and Trevor Gott threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings, keeping the Braves close enough for a comeback. The Giants had scored just two runs in 17 innings against the Braves, but scored three in the ninth to come away with the win.
“Winning like that, that’s awesome,” Anderson said. “You try to keep the game close, and if we’d have lost by one run right there, I would have had a salty taste in my mouth after giving up one during the six and the first. It’s great to win like that, and it’s something special.”