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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City’s impregnable outfield was lavished with praise but it was the Joe Panik and the Giants’ defense that made all the difference in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Well, that and that Bumgarner guy.
Though the unit nearly gave a critical run back on Gregor Blanco’s two-base error in the ninth inning, the double-play combo of Panik and Brandon Crawford slowed the Royals in the middle innings and Juan Perez stopped a fifth-inning rally with a big grab as the Giants became the first team to win Game 7 on the road since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.
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“We have a team full of guys that find ways to get it done,” Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson said. “Nobody gave us a chance to do this and that’s what we savor, that underdog role. Our guys make plays. We’ve got a great defense. We’ve got a great infield defense, great bullpen. It don’t matter, we find ways to get it done.”
Panik gets it done more than any other second baseman in the majors, per ESPN.com. In the regular season, the rookie converted 78.7 percent of his 61 double play chances, tops in the big leagues.
So it’s not as if Panik’s diving stab of Eric Hosmer’s grounder in the third inning off Jeremy Affeldt -- one that started an instant-replay double play -- should come as a surprise. But there’s no doubt the Royals, who scored twice the inning before off Hudson, expected to have two men aboard until Panik stopped the ball with a stretch and flipped it to Crawford, whose relay throw to first beat Hosmer by centimeters.
“For Joe to make that play, it was unbelievable,” Crawford said. “It slowed their momentum, and for us to get two was even better.”
The replay, courtesy of manager Bruce Bochy’s challenge, gave Panik a critical respite as he used the 2 minutes, 57 seconds to head to the dugout and replace his belt, which broke when he dove.
“That’s not exactly a play that you practice,” Panik said. “I’ve flipped with my glove before, but never from my stomach like that. Doing that backhand flip, that’s not something you work on. There just wasn’t enough time to even think about anything. It was get it out as quick as you can, its just instincts taking over right there. Never made a play like that before.
“I was like ‘Please, replay it. I need to go inside.’”
An inning later, Panik and his new strap erased another leadoff man who had reached base. After Affeldt hit Alex Gordon with a curveball, Panik started an easy 4-6-3 double play on Salvador Perez’s grounder.
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Panik was involved in eight of the nine double plays turned by the Giants in the World Series. Kansas City turned three.
“Panik’s been making plays this whole postseason, especially against us,” said Gordon, a three-time Gold Glove winner. “For a rookie to do what he’s done this postseason, he didn’t look like a rookie. He’s gonna be something special.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s special touch on personnel decisions continued to pay dividends for his team. After converted-left fielder Travis Ishikawa struggled at times defensively in this series, Bochy opted to start Perez instead for the finale. Perez made two early grabs look routine and then made his manager look wise when he shut down a Kansas City rally in the fifth.
“(Bochy) always seems to get those little moves right,” Crawford said. “You can never doubt him.”
With slap hitter Norichika Aoki at bat, one out and the tying run on second, Perez raced over near the foul line and hauled in a liner that initially appeared destined for extra bases.
Bench coach Ron Wotus credited first base/outfield coach Roberto Kelly for adjusting Perez’s positioning after he watched several of Aoki’s swings against Bumgarner.
“Roberto kept moving him over and over and that was a huge out in the game,” Wotus said. “Defense was outstanding. Crawford and Panic work as hard as two middle infielders I’ve had here and it showed up in the game. They turned some big double plays, diving plays.”