NEW YORK — Matt Cain brought a gift back from his rehab assignment in Richmond, a small, red, plastic button featuring a silhouette of Joe Panik.
“Push it,” manager Bruce Bochy urged, smiling.
The button was pressed and Panik’s voice filled the manager’s office.
“This is Joe Panik of the San Francisco Giants,” the voice said. “Have fun and go nuts.”
With that last part, Panik the Giveaway Toy seemed to be summing up the current motto of the Giants lineup. Have fun. Go nuts. Hammer opposing pitchers. Panik was one of three Giants to take Matt Harvey deep on a night the lineup totaled 14 hits in an 8-5 win that was the fourth in five games on this road trip.
The homer was Panik’s sixth, which put him one ahead of fellow young infielder Matt Duffy. The two have had fun with their back-and-forth race, and when Duffy homered on Tuesday he went up to Panik in the dugout and joked that he would take a break from hitting homers so Panik could catch up to him at five. Panik homered the very next inning.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants hammer Harvey, beat Mets 8-5]
Here’s the thing, though, about the race Panik dubbed tortoise vs. tortoise: It’s one of many in the Giants clubhouse right now.
When Panik went deep on an 0-2 pitch from Harvey, he went back to the dugout and informed Brandon Belt that his lead over Panik was down to just one homer. Five innings later, Belt got some breathing room, crushing a Harvey pitch to left to tie Brandon Crawford at eight homers and get within one of Buster Posey’s team lead. Later that inning, Justin Maxwell threw his hat into the Panik-Duffy Race, hitting his fifth of the season.
“It’s a nice competition,” Panik said.
Belt thinks the “everything you can do, I can do better …” mentality is carrying the Giants to new heights. There's no pressure on any one hitter.
“It helps to know there’s not one single person in this lineup that feels he has to carry the load,” he said. “You know that if you don’t get the job done, somebody else will.”
The pitchers know that’s the case, too, and that allowed Tim Hudson to play cheerleader for an inning on a night when he otherwise felt off. Hudson pumped his fist repeatedly in the dugout as the Giants hung five on Harvey in the sixth, turning a 4-2 deficit into Hudson’s fourth win of the season.
“These guys put up a crooked number against a guy who can shut out anybody,” said Hudson, who allowed four runs in five innings. “I don’t think I’ve been on a team where the one through eight guys are hitting .280, .300, .320.”
(This is where we stop and point out that Hudson is in his 17th season.)
“It’s nice, man,” he continued. “It’s good to see … I don’t think you ever expect it, especially with a guy like Harvey on the mound, but it definitely doesn’t surprise anybody.”
As Hudson spoke to reporters, a local Mets writer canvassed the room and asked hitters the same exact question: Did they notice anything different about Harvey on this night, was his stuff off?
"He threw 99 mph with a 90 mph changeup,” Belt said politely. “I think that's pretty good."
Against a lineup that may quietly be the deepest in the league, it wasn’t enough.
“It’s the talent,” Bochy said of his group. “There are not many hitters who are going to handle the pitches they handled tonight.”
It’s talent, but it’s also approach. Panik fouled off a two-strike changeup with a runner on in the first and said he reminded himself to stay on the fastball. Harvey came in at 96 mph and missed his spot by a couple inches, and Panik took him deep.
Belt made poor contact on a changeup in the fourth inning and reached on an infield single against the shift.
“I figured he would throw it again,” Belt said.
Harvey did. Belt hit a two-run shot to left. Maxwell also crushed a changeup, making the Giants the first team to hit three homers in one game off Harvey.
“Against a tough pitcher, our offense really threw out some nice at-bats there,” Bochy said. “That’s what you need sometimes when your pitcher is not quite on top of his game.”
Hudson admitted to being off, yet there he was 20 minutes after the final pitch, waiting for the victory soundtrack to be turned down so he could hear questions from reporters. An organization built on pitching now follows the lead of a relentless lineup. The victory soundtrack has been played a lot lately.
“I’m glad I’m pitching for this team,” Hudson said, “And not against it.”
--- Panik leads NL second basemen with a .875 OPS, and if you take out DJ LeMahieu (who plays half his games at Coors) the lead over the next guy is 61 points. That's an All-Star, but Bochy refuses to answer All-Star questions in early June. Instead he just said this: "I think if you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves."
--- Nori Aoki had four hits to raise his road batting average to .415 and his road on-base percentage to .492. Both lead the league. Can he keep that up? "I plan on it," he said through translator Kosuke Inaji.
Aoki may not need the numbers to make the All-Star team. He's fourth in the voting in the outfield, and he's not far behind Giancarlo Stanton. Asked if he would take Stanton's spot in the Home Run Derby if he beat him out, Aoki smiled. He didn't need a translator for this one. "Of course," he said.
--- Bochy confirmed that a second player is on the way here from Triple-A, but the Giants did not announce a roster move tonight. It seems likely that Player X will replace Hunter Pence on the roster tomorrow morning.
--- The Giants bullpen got 12 outs, nine were strikeouts.
--- Hudson on his night: "I definitely got the no-hitter conversation out of the way early in the first. There wasn't any drama."