SAN DIEGO – Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are so central to the Giants lineup and such mainstays in the clubhouse, it’s easy to forget that neither one of them were on the field for Matt Cain’s perfect game last year.
Pence was still with the Phillies. And Sandoval was in the Giants dugout, replaced at third base in the ninth inning by Joaquin Arias.
But on Saturday night, Pence and Sandoval were right where they needed to be – behind Tim Lincecum, making the two key plays that preserved a draining, uplifting, emotional no-hitter that nobody will soon forget.
[REPLAY: Lincecum no-hits Padres]
Sandoval ranged down the line to glove Jesus Guzman’s hard grounder, then gathered himself and threw a bullet across the field to end the seventh inning. Pence charged, dived and caught Alexi Amarista’s sinking line drive in shallow right field just an inch or two above the grass to end the eighth.
“I thought that was a hit off the bat,” Lincecum said. “Hunter comes flying out of nowhere and makes a Superman catch. And Pablo … I’m going to have to take them out for dinner or something.”
Pence said no rewards were required. This was his first time on the defensive side of a no-hitter. He already felt wealthier.
“The whole game was one of the greatest things to be a part of,” Pence said. “I was grateful he did that and I got to be a part of it. I’m honored.”
Pence once joked that if he had been in right field instead of Gregor Blanco for Cain’s perfect game, “it wouldn’t have been a perfect game.”
But he was worthy of the task when Amarista sent the line drive his way.
“At that point, you’ve gotta have all your chips in,” Pence said. “Any ball I can get close to, I’m going to lay out for. Fortunately I was able to just get there.”
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy: “Everyone contributes to something like this. This is one of those times it’s just a euphoric feeling. I didn’t think he had a chance (to catch it).
“When you throw a no-hitter, it’s a whole club coming together. And they did.”
Sandoval also hit two doubles, marking the first time he’d hit multiple extra-base hits since Game 1 of the World Series. Pence hit a bases-clearing triple, accounting for as many RBIs in one swing as he had in his previous 17 games. He hit a home run and finished with five RBIs, too.
And Pence’s catch might have given Lincecum that last little bit of belief that he’d see the no-hitter through.
“You kind of have t have that mentality that it’s going to be a big moment and not a deflating one,” Lincecum said.
Lincecum and Sandoval have received their share of deflating moments and heard plenty of criticism over the years. At times their work ethic or conditioning have been tested. So perhaps it was fitting that when Lincecum most needed a play, Sandoval was there.
Sandoval likely would have yielded to Arias again Saturday night, but the backup infielder is on the DL after undergoing an appendectomy last week. It resulted in a chance for Sandoval to restore some faith in his defense, which remains a point of pride for him. The Panda said he’s been working with the trainers and coaching staff to improve his first-step quickness. The rest was trusting his ability to react, and taking slow breaths.
That wasn’t easy since he’d never been on the field in the ninth inning of a no-hitter. (Sandoval also was replaced after seven innings in Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter in 2009. Juan Uribe shifted to third and Kevin Frandsen entered at second base.)
“So for me, it’s special to be part of a no-hitter and make that play for him," Sandoval said. "But I didn’t want to get too excited because there were two more innings. I saw Timmy, how calm he was. I just tried to do the same thing. I don’t want him to see me be anything but calm.
“When I threw the ball back to him, I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t even want to say anything.”
Sandoval freaked out for a moment when Gregor Blanco caught the second out in the ninth, and the throw back to the infield got away from Marco Scutaro. Any little thing had the potential to be a jinx or disrupt Lincecum’s timing. Sandoval hoped no harm was done.
It wasn’t. One more fly ball to Blanco, off the bat of Yonder Alonso, and the Giants rallied around their former ace in celebration.
“This is special,” Sandoval said. “This is special for Timmy. I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for us because he’s coming back. It’s exciting for me to see the Timmy I knew when I got to the big leagues in 2009.
“I see a guy who is fighting for everything.”