CHICAGO – When you wait until two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning of getaway day to hit your first home run of the series, it can be hazardous to your health.
Especially when it’s Hunter Pence who hits it.
“I’m sorry,” said Pence, earnestly, when asked if he’s ever injured a player while delivering one of his berserk high fives. “I get excited. I do a lot of things I wish I didn’t do when I get excited.”
“Is Belt OK?”
Yes, Brandon Belt can bend all five fingers. And the Giants can unclench just a little more on their bus ride to Milwaukee after a ridiculous 10-7, 10-inning victory Sunday at Wrigley Field.
In a series that featured four one-run games and more zany comedy than a Second City performance, the Giants emerged with three wins. And they limped away the victors Sunday only because Pence connected on a two-strike, two-out slider from Shawn Camp that found the bleachers and tied the game.
[Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 10, Cubs 7]
“That’s our only hope at that point and he knew it, the way he was swinging,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He can hit. That’s his track record. He’s doing things we know he can do.”
Lincecum, a spectator for most of the game, nearly hit his head on the ceiling as he watched from the clubhouse.
“I was up here going crazy,” he said.
It was crazier in the dugout, where Pence descended the stairs in a controlled rage.
“I cannot describe it,” he said. “It is a great feeling. That’s what we’re here for – moments like that. We’re out here battling for each other.”
Pence’s home run wasn’t just the first for the Giants in this series. It was their first since Tuesday’s game against the Rockies at AT&T Park – a span of 219 plate appearances over 46 innings.
And it came on the 31st pitch that Pence saw in his five trips Sunday. He was told that the sabermetrics set appreciates stuff like that.
“Yeah, I haven’t been a good sabermetrics person in awhile,” he said. “Hopefully they want me on their team.”
The Giants will take him. Pence also singled twice, walked and stole his third base of the year in three tries (“Stop writing that I’m fast,” he said. “They keep throwing over.”
It’s quite a change from the hitter the Giants saw last year, who often got himself out on sliders in the other batter’s box.
“It’s evident he’s seeing the ball better,” Bochy said. “He’s getting better pitched to hit and he’s laying off pitches. That goes with swinging the bat well. When you’re struggling, when you’re expanding the zone, you’re not going to see as many good pitches.”
Said Pence, on his approach in the ninth: “Until two strikes, I kind of was (trying to go deep.) Then with two strikes, I was just trying to protect. You know he’s got that sneaky sinker. Just tried to get low and see it as hard as I could.”
Afterward, it was all wild eyes and high fives.
“We’ve gotta back off a little,” Bochy said, only half smiling. “I tell you, we’re excited to have him. He plays the game the way you want everybody to play the game. He’s got such a passion for it. It can be a sandlot game and he’ll be at full throttle. That’s what we call him.”
The Giants nearly burned out the clutch behind Jeremy Affeldt in the eighth inning, when the Cubs scored twice to push ahead. Affeldt made a poor decision on a sacrifice bunt and walked in the tying run, but those missteps were out of mind by the time Pence was going all Bill Bixby in the dugout an inning later.
No, the Giants did not play spotless baseball in the Friendly Confines. But the Cubs were messier than a 2-year-old eating spaghetti.
They became the first club in the history of this grand game to throw five wild pitches in one inning, and mixed in four walks, too, as the Giants rallied back to take the lead in the sixth. Credit the Giants for taking advantage with some clutch hitting (Nick Noonan’s two-run pinch single) and baserunning (Brandon Crawford’s alertness) while scoring four runs.
That positioned Tim Lincecum to be the winning pitcher even though he trailed 4-1 before recording his second out of the afternoon.
By the time it was done and the Giants moved ahead on a balk (yes, a balk) in the 10th inning, Lincecum’s hang ‘em bang ‘em first inning seemed like it happened a lifetime earlier.
“I was there,” Bochy said. “I don’t know if I can recall anything. Really, every game could’ve gone either way. I think we all need a day off after this series.”