SAN FRANCISCO – Buster Posey has a .154 average in this World Series. All of his 15 hits this postseason are singles. The Giants are facing a left-handed pitcher, Jason Vargas, in Game 4 of the World Series, with extraordinary pressure to dent him early.
Hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens has a clipboard and a smile.
“I expect him to do something great for us before it’s all over,” Meulens said of Posey. “Great players rise to the occasion and he’s always done it for us. I won’t be surprised if he does it again. But we need everybody. It’s not just all on him, either.”
The Giants struggled as a team against left-handers this season, finishing 30-30 in games started by southpaws. Posey always has fared well against them, though, and his 19 extra-base hits against left-handers ranked second in the NL. Only teammate Michael Morse, with 20, had more.
Morse is not in the lineup, though. Giants manager Bruce Bochy deemed it too much to ask Morse to play left field or first base when his entire defensive experience since the end of August was six or seven innings on an instructional league field in Arizona.
So it’s Juan Perez, who lined out while coming off the bench in Game 2, who will start in left field in place of Travis Ishikawa. Bochy gets one more right-handed bat in the lineup that way, plus a premium defender on a night when “the wind is howling out there,” the manager said.
Bochy spent very little time contemplating a swap of Morse for Brandon Belt at first base.
“We’ll go with our stronger defense,” Bochy said.
The coaching staff and front office spent more time debating the merits of starting Madison Bumgarner on three days of rest, which would’ve allowed them the option to bring him back on three days’ rest again for a potential Game 7. They turned over the decision in their hands, but never came close to justifying it. For one, they would send a bad message to Ryan Vogelsong, who would be needed to start Game 5 of he didn’t go in Game 4. And Tim Hudson pitched well enough in Game 3 to firm up faith that he’d be competitive should this series extend to a winner-take-all game.
More than anything, these were baseball men stimulated by all angles of a fascinating baseball debate. It’s over now, Bumgarner debunked a report that he demanded the ball on short rest, and the Giants will have Yusmeiro Petit ready in case Vogelsong wobbles.
A strong pitching performance is always key, but for the Giants to even up this series, the most important factor will be this: Can they score early on Vargas and keep a padlock on the back end of that Royals bullpen, which has held them to 1-for-24 with 10 strikeouts thus far?
How do the Giants avoid squeezing the bat in the first five innings as if they’re down a run in the ninth?
“We haven’t changed anything,” Meulens said intently. “You can’t. It’s too late for that. We have our approach for the starter and we have our approach for whoever comes after that. It worked fine in the first game. If it doesn’t work out that way, then it’s a battle. Everybody knows what they have at the back end. If it comes to that, we’ve just got to shorten up and battle.
“The way we take it, we’re the ones that can pressure them to make plays. And so far, they’ve made them. We’ve got to keep doing the same thing. You know our record when we score first. That’s the same no matter who we’re playing. They’re pitching great and you can’t take that away. But Morse almost hit a home run. Buster had a great at-bat off a guy throwing 100 to drive in a run (in Game 3).”
Do the Giants need more than RBI ground outs, though, from their best hitter? Can they win if Buster doesn’t bust out?
Meulens dismissed the question.
“Even great hitters go into slumps, but I don’t think he’s in a slump,” he said, pointing out that Posey came within inches of two hits in Game 3. “You need a little luck, too, and you need a ball to find a hole sometimes.
“He’s still going to be big for us if we’re going to win this thing. That’s what’s so special about this game. Great players need only one or two at-bats to shine. You saw it in Cincinnati, off Mat Latos. One swing of the bat changes everything."