DENVER – Hunter Pence is beyond sheepish whenever his oratory skills get praised by others. He doesn’t say or do anything special, he’ll insist.
But don’t tell that to Brandon Belt. Every time the Giants launch one of these comeback wins, and their 8-6 victory Thursday night at Coors Field was the biggest of their dozen thus far, the first baseman is quick to credit Pence for providing the spark.
“It was Hunter saying, `synergy, synergy! You gotta believe!’” Belt said. “I hadn’t heard that from him for four or five games. He’s a magician, I’m telling you. It’s unbelievable.
“I’m still waiting for the ‘synergy’ T-shirt, by the way.”
It’s a nice buzzword, sure. But if you really examine the grains of pixie dust that seem to settle on the Giants in these come-from-behind victories, you’ll see they’re made mostly of two-out, two-strike hits.
There was Brandon Crawford, ready to react to anything when Jhoulys Chacin threw him a 2-2 curveball with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. There was Angel Pagan, who didn’t let a borderline call jar his focus on an 0-2 pitch with the tiebreaking runner in scoring position in the sixth.
I asked Pagan about his two-strike approach, especially when it’s in his head that he has to protect a bigger zone.
“I don’t choke up, but I get more compact, you could say,” he said. “With two strikes, I almost treat it like a hit-and-run play. You just try to see the pitch and put it in play. In my career I feel I’ve been a good two-strike hitter. Any time I get deep in a count, I think it makes me better in those situations.”
Should the Rockies have tantalized the Giants a bit more by burying pitches or getting them to chase high heat? Sure. They made mistakes when ahead in the count, which will always make a pitcher stare at the ceiling a little longer.
But the Giants had to hit them. Crawford’s three-run double made it a game again, and Pagan’s single put Matt Cain in position to win on a night the right-hander essentially landed a 747 with two engines out, a flat tire and a fire in the cockpit.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind we’d come back, especially here,” Belt said. “We don’t give up. … It’s another one of those times we went out there with a plan. We were looking for a pitch to drive and we didn’t give in. As a result, we got some runs out of it.”
Come to think of it, “HAVE A PLAN” would make a pretty good T-shirt, too. Or at least one of those motivational posters. Maybe put a cat on it doing something clever, or something.
Hey Belt, did you realize that the 6-9 hitters drove in all of your first six runs?
“Yeah,” he said. “We’re awesome.”
It dawned on me sometime after Brandon Crawford made a terrific barehand play … we are seeing two very, very talented shortstops in this series, and they’re both from the Bay Area.
Crawford went to Foothill High in Pleasanton, then onto UCLA. Tulowitzki went to Fremont High, and then to Long Beach State. But they are three years apart in age. So even though they both played high school and travel ball in the Bay Area, then went to college in Southern California, they didn’t really cross paths until they were in the big leagues.
I’ll bet it really steams Tulowitzki that the Rockies have lost 10 consecutive to the Giants. Talking to him in the past, he always seemed to take special pride in beating them. He grew up an A’s fan, remember.
Maybe the streak against the Rockies wasn’t such a big deal last year, when their pitching was a mess and they were at the bottom of the NL West. But they were 21-19 entering Thursday’s game, and mostly formidable at Coors Field again. So this one-sidedness is very much relevant now.
I asked Crawford what he made of it:
“It’s kind of weird because, I mean, they’re a good team,” he said. “They have a lot of good arms and bats. To win 10 straight is a pretty good accomplishment for our team. They’ve played everybody tough this year, right?”
How did Crawford make that barehanded play on Charlie Blackmon in the sixth inning?
“Off the bat I was trying to catch it,” he said of the jam-shot floater that bounced in front of him. “By the time I broke down, I had to react to whatever hop it gave me. It’s typical for a ball spinning like that to bounce right. So that’s what I looked for.”
Anticipation, improvisation and athleticism – those are the hallmarks of any great, playmaking shortstop. Crawford is gifted in all three.
One more Crawford quote, when asked if it felt especially good to come through with a big night after the game he had in Toronto.
“Which night?” he said, trying his best to deadpan.
Well, you did have a four-strikeout game...
“I already forgot about it,” he said. “You get a hit like that and get us back into the game, it doesn’t matter how the last game went or what happened. It always feels good.”
Long day for your beat crew. My alarm went off at 2 a.m. Pacific so I could leave extra time for immigration and customs before boarding a morning flight from Toronto to Denver.
As it happened, I ran into a familiar face wheeling his Blue Jays bat bags through immigration. It was former Giant Rajai Davis, who is on the DL with an oblique strain and heading to a minor league rehab assignment.
“Going to try to get better,” he said.
And now I'm going to try to get some sleep.