WASHINGTON D.C. -- By the time Bruce Bochy and Dave Groeschner got to the plate in the second inning Saturday night, Hunter Pence's right cheek was already black, blue and rising away from the rest of his face.
Groeschner gave Pence a brief concussion test. Bochy thought about potential lineup moves. Pence thought of just one possibility.
“Oh my, what a warrior,” Bochy said. “He was adamant he wasn’t coming out.”
Pence is an inspirational leader for the Giants, but as 24 guys watched him shake off a foul tip to the face and stay in the game, Pence followed the lead of someone else. He wasn’t all that keen on talking about his bruised face after the game, but his eyes lit up when Eduardo Nuñez came up.
“He definitely ignited those innings,” Pence said of the new third baseman. “His speed, his at-bats, his swing — he was a tremendous spark. We know that’s the player he is and that’s why we’re so excited to have him here. His talent is going to take over, and once he plays his game you’re going to get a lot of what we got tonight.”
The Giants hope to see a lot more of this up and down the roster. For seemingly the first time in the second half, guys fed off each other, everyone doing their part for a clean 7-1 win over the Nationals that was the best Giants victory since Madison Bumgarner flirted with a no-hitter on the final day before the All-Star break.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Cain, Nunez fuel Giants' win over Nationals]
Pence provided the inspiration and Nuñez chipped in two triples, a double and a single. Brandon Belt had two doubles and a homer. Brandon Crawford had two hits and a leaping grab at short. Buster Posey drove in two runs and gunned Trea Turner down in the first with an elite pop time of 1.83, per first base coach Billy Hayes. The bullpen contributed four strong innings in place of Matt Cain, who shut the Nationals down over five innings for the second time in a week.
The Nationals got a good look at Cain last Sunday at AT&T Park and they couldn’t manage a hit. This time they got just five, with Cain working in and out of trouble with a firm fastball and slider that was as tight as it’s been all year. Bochy said Cain’s stuff was even better Saturday than it was last week.
“It’s just a matter of limiting mistakes and staying focused on that," Cain said.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of forcing mistakes. Nuñez doubled in his first at-bat and then hit a triple off the wall in the fourth, easily racing to third as Ben Revere chased the ball down in center. The Nationals seemed stunned by the daring speed of Nuñez, and he took third again in the fifth inning. The Giants scored two runs in each of the frames.
“HIs speed is a game-changer,” Belt said. “Both triples, I thought they would be doubles. To get that extra base and get on third, you’re one base away from the heart of the order, and that was huge.”
Belt had two doubles on this night, but he too is a member of the two-triple club. He did it last year.
“I’m in there,” he said of the small club. “I might be the President. I don’t know.”
What Belt and others saw from Nuñez is exactly what the Giants wanted when they made a deal for the All-Star utility man. Nuñez struggled after coming over from the Twins, but Bochy called him into his office in Philadelphia and told him to relax and try not to do too much. No matter what, Bochy said, he was going to keep running Nuñez out there.
“He wanted to make sure my mind was right, and I appreciate that,” Nuñez said. “It was a very tough week for me.”
It’s been a tough three weeks for the Giants, but they’ll try to end on a high note. Pence said his face will be fine, but he was already scheduled to be off Sunday. Without him, the Giants will try to get their first series win of the second half. They beat Stephen Strasburg on Saturday, and now they’ll line up behind Bumgarner, who might end up battling Strasburg for the Cy Young.
“We definitely needed that one,” Cain said. “We’ve got Madison going tomorrow, so we’re feeling good.”