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LOS ANGELES – Michael Morse’s eyes grew wide as a bleacher bum’s with a home run ball screaming his way.
“Really?” said Morse, informed that the Giants hit the fewest homers in the majors in 2012, when they won the World Series. “If that’s true, I guess we need to slow the pace down.”
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The Giants’ new left fielder does sarcasm as well as he hits souvenirs. That’s a comforting thought. The entirety of their 7-2 win at Dodger Stadium was a comforting thought, really.
This wasn’t a victory built on a big inning that included a sun ball, a bloop and a two-out sand wedge single from the pitcher, like the first inning Friday. This was three no-doubt homers, lots of traffic on the basepaths and some patience to go along with the power, too. The Giants drew six walks and worked tough at-bats throughout the afternoon.
The nine home runs in six games are what catch your attention. The Giants needed 16 games to hit that many last season. And maybe they can’t count on so much trotting when they return home to AT&T Park, where there’s a snap in the air and a 25-foot brick wall.
Although they figure to do more damage on the road, the Giants have a lineup where you don’t have to squint to envision five different guys hitting 25 home runs. Wherever they play, they’re certainly a much more threatening group against a left-handed pitcher like Paul Maholm, who got chased in the fourth inning by Pablo Sandoval’s three-run shot.
“Oh, I agree,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Morse adds another dimension and (Brandon) Hicks, you look at him, and then you’ve got Pablo’s improvement, and I think (Brandon … again) Belt is handling lefties pretty good. I’m much more comfortable against left-handers with this offense we have right now.”
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The Giants were 24-31 against left-handed starters last season – a major dropoff from their overwhelming 40-19 record against them in 2012.
In addition to the names Bochy mentioned, a healthy and productive Angel Pagan, who has eight RBIs in six games from the leadoff spot, makes a difference as well.
Sandoval might be the biggest key. His right-handed swing was lethal when he first arrived in the big leagues, but it became the first hubcap to come loose when he began to put on weight. He couldn’t clear his hips or stay back on pitches.
Last year, he hit one home run in 148 at-bats from the right side.
“I’ve got one already,” he said, smiling. “I think I’m going to be ready for this year. I worked hard at it.”
And, as I wrote in spring training, he had the best right-handed hitter in the game as his personal coach in Venezuela. Miguel Cabrera, who had down time after undergoing groin surgery, worked intently with Sandoval to shorten up his right-handed swing and simplify his approach.
Bochy said it’s rare to see a switch-hitter who maintains two different swings. But it’s working for Sandoval thus far.
“If anything you see he shortened things up,” Bochy said. “He’s not overswinging from the right side. It’s a little different swing but it works. It’s a shorter swing and he’s so strong that if he hits it good, it’s going out.”
Said Sandoval: “I’m happy but I’m not satisfied because the season just started. I’m maintaining the goals I have in mind and that’s to support this pitching staff.”
He did that with a diving stop that saved a run for Madison Bumgarner. And he did it with a home run.
In the visiting manager’s office at Dodger Stadium, the wall behind the desk is covered with portraits of managerial greats. As Bochy sat at his desk, going over a scouting report, Earl Weaver hovered over his left shoulder.
Weaver was 5-foot-7 in his spikes. Bochy is a beanstalk dweller by comparison. But the two skippers share a common love: the three-run homer.
Bochy lobbied hard for Morse, and got him. Now some of his other power threats are growing up, too. One more fact that can’t be overlooked: A stronger and fresher Buster Posey hit his second homer of the trip – equaling the number he hit after the All-Star break last year.
“It’s hard enough to score runs in this game,” Bochy said. “When you can do it with one swing of the bat, it makes it all the easier.”
There is much more to a winning team than hitting home runs, though. It’s the teams that live by the homer that often end up dying by them. Better to have an offense that keeps the line moving, as Bochy would say.
Or, as Hunter Pence downplayed the Giants’ NL-best 38 runs in six games: “You definitely can’t control hitting home runs every day, but our goal is to go as hard as any team has ever gone.”
The 2012 team might have led the league in that regard, and it certainly took them places.