AT&T PARK — When Hunter Pence went down to the batting cages behind the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse in the bottom of the 12th inning against the San Diego Padres, with Madison Bumgarner due to hit second, his eyes fell upon a photo.
On the wall of the cages, among photos of Giants greats, was one of the 2014 World Series celebration, with Bumgarner at the bottom of the pile.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know, is this some kind of foreshadowing?'” Pence said. “I was like, ‘We’ll see.’ That was a cool thing to see right before he’s getting a pinch hit in the 12th inning. He has a knack for those moments.”
After a leadoff triple by Gorkys Hernandez, Bumgarner ripped an 0-1 single up through a drawn-in infield, becoming the first pitcher to record a walk-off hit since 2016, and capping a night that saw nearly all of San Francisco’s remaining 2014 World Series veterans each get an applause line in a 5-4 win, as the Giants broke a five-game losing streak.
“He smoked it, didn’t he?” said manager Bruce Bochy. “It’s good to end that one. We were running out of pitching there. Entertaining game, obviously. A lot happened.”
Pence, 35 and in the final year of his deal with the Giants, went 2-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored, continuing a hot streak that’s seen him go 9-for-22 over his last six games. Joe Panik — who hit a two-run home run in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS to help the Giants to an eventual 6-3 win to advance to the World Series — got a seventh-inning rally started. Gregor Blanco hit a go-ahead two-run single to cap that rally and Bumgarner drove a 102-mph game-winning single through the left side on a night for nostalgia, but not for raucous celebration, at least as far as Bumgarner was concerned.
The 2014 World Series MVP, who’s set to start Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, avoided the Alen Hanson-borne Gatorade shower simply by glaring, and then stiff-arming the bucket.
“Yeah, no, I could do without that,” Bumgarner said. “Just high-five and go inside. They started to dump it on me, so I told them not to do that, so he dumped it on himself.”
“He was telling everyone he was going to kill them,” said Pence, who was the first one out to greet Bumgarner more out of necessity than anything else. “I had to make sure that I was the one to get to him, because I’m not sure what he might do to some of the other people, try not to let him kill anybody.”
In a season that’s fallen far short of expectations, with a new regime on the horizon after the dismissal of general manager Bobby Evans, there were flashes of what might have been in 2018, as well. Evan Longoria — a former Gold Glover who could have hit 20 home runs had he not missed a month with a broken hand — made a pair of sparkling plays at third and had a first-inning RBI double before exiting after the sixth with a knee contusion.
Joe Panik — the everyday second baseman who’s missed 60 games this season —- started a seventh-inning rally with a single. There was the obligatory in-the-hole, off-balance throw by shortstop Brandon Crawford to nail Cory Spangenberg at first to end the eighth.
Pence, in the midst of his own personal weeklong curtain call, is now 9-for-22 in his last six games, with five runs scored, two home runs and four RBIs. He will head to the Dominican Republic this offseason, after a month of working on re-engineering his swing, to play winter ball for the first time. He doesn’t know what team he’s going to be on there, or next year, but he knows he wants to play.
“I’m excited to go out there and watch him,” Bumgarner said. “I know this is the last year of his deal, but I’m not going to assume anything with him. He’s done a lot of stuff, and he’s one of the most mentally-tough people that I’ve ever been around and played with. If he wants to keep playing, I think he can keep playing.”
Bochy said that Pence will lead off and start each of the final four games at AT&T Park, and will play right field for likely all of them, though he may play left for one game.
Giants starter Chris Stratton isn’t having such a good home stretch. He turned in his second poor start in a row — not something a pitcher with a career ERA north of 4.40 needed in his final start before a new regime takes over. He walked five and allowed six hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“He was just a little off,” Bochy said. “He wasn’t quite as sharp with his command, his finish pitches. We talked about that. He didn’t execute those quite as well as he normally does.”
After allowing a pair of singles to start the third, Stratton got a would-be double play grounder to short, but the turn wasn’t in time to get Wil Myers at first. A Franmil Reyes walk loaded the bases, and Eric Hosmer went down to get a sinking fastball to line a single to center. The ball scooted under Hernandez’s mitt in center, and two runs scored.
Hunter Renfroe then sent a missile back up the middle off the glove of rookie Abiatal Avelino to drive in another run, and despite the difficulty of the play, it was ruled an error, peeling an earned run off of Stratton’s line.
San Francisco looked to have a chance to even things up, if not take the lead, in the bottom of the frame. After a Crawford flare single to center eluded the diving Travis Jankowski, Nick Hundley checked in with a pop-fly single to shallow left to put two on with no outs for Garcia. He struck out, Hernandez popped out and Avelino rolled out to second.
Pence rocked a 0-1 fastball over the left field fence for a solo shot in the fifth to draw the Giants closer, bringing the crowd to its feet.
In the bottom of the seventh, Hernandez snuck a grounder off the toe of Wil Myers’s mitt at third and steamed into second, putting the tying run in scoring position. He was thrown out trying to steal third.
Pence and Panik then hit back-to-back singles, and they both rode home on a Blanco RBI double tucked just inside the left field line, with Pence scoring from first and smiling the whole way.
“That was a big moment,” Pence said. “We went from down to up. That’s exciting. When people come through in the clutch like that, that sparks a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of fun, for everybody.”
The lead was short-lived, as closer Will Smith allowed a one-out double to Myers in the ninth, followed by a line-drive RBI single to right by Reyes to tie things up. Before Hernandez made up for his gaffe with his 12th-inning triple, 13 Giants in a row had been retired.
“I know he feels awful,” Bochy said of Hernandez. “But, he ended up getting a big hit to help us win that ballgame, so it was nice to see him put that behind him.”
“It was a fun night for the whole team,” Pence said. “This whole group has been fun all year, and [we] really, really have a tremendous group, and we have a lot of fun playing. We’re going to continue to play our hearts out every game.”
— Longoria left the game before the top of the seventh after fouling a ball off the inside of his left knee. Bochy said he suffered some swelling, and he’s day-to-day.
— Bumgarner’s game-winner was the first by a pitcher as a pinch hitter since JonLester did it on July 31, 2016.
— The last time a Giants pitcher had a walk-off hit was Don Robinson on July 31, 1990, in a 3-2 win over the Houston Astros in the ninth inning.