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SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Panik pulled a bright pink bat out of his locker on Sunday morning and then looked down at his pink, metallic spikes. He wondered aloud what would happen if he picked up five hits in the Mother’s Day gear. Would he have to keep wearing the pink?
Ballplayers are superstitious types, but hours later, Matt Duffy didn’t need long to think about what he would do with a custom bat that drove the game-winning single into left field on Sunday and gave Duffy his first career walk-off hit.
“It’s going to mom,” he said. “Especially on Mother’s Day, to do that is pretty cool. You do it for mom — that’s pretty cool.”
Duffy always sticks a Duffman decal to the knob of his bat and he got a special shipment on Sunday, a decal featuring the “Simpsons” character wearing all pink. The young infielder has considered using a different Dufffman decal for every holiday this season, and maybe he now will after the way this experiment went.
With the game tied at 2-2 in the ninth, Duffy smoked a Steve Cishek pitch to send 40,000 home happy and clinch a 7-3 homestand. Manager Bruce Bochy would not say if this week — which included back-to-back two-hit games in place of Casey McGehee — will get Duffy more playing time, but he sure was impressed with the approach Duffy took on a day he filled in for team RBI leader Brandon Crawford.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants rally in ninth, beat Marlins on walk-off]
“He’s a good hitter, he battles up there,” Bochy said. “That’s a tough matchup for a righty (against Cishek). The thing I liked was that he was aggressive. He got his pitch to hit and he let it go.”
Bochy later called Duffy a “super-utility guy,” one capable of starting for Crawford or Panik. If McGehee keeps struggling at third, Duffy very well could find himself getting an everyday shot there in the near future. For now, Bochy will try to keep him involved.
“When he’s not playing, it’s a nice weapon we have on the bench,” Bochy said. “He can pinch-run, pinch-hit … we saw what he did last year. You can really use him in critical situations because he’s such a tough-nosed ballplayer and he wants to be up there with the game on the line.”
Bochy had no choice but to go with The Replacements today since three of his best players needed a day off, but all three players inserted into the lineup came through. Duffy’s first contribution actually came long before the walk off; he showed a mature approach in the sixth inning when he moved Nori Aoki over despite falling behind 0-2. Aoki scored a batter later on a hard single to left.
“That’s one of my things, especially in the two-hole,” Duffy said. “The job isn’t necessarily to bring the guy in. You want to, but once you get two strikes, just don’t give in. Get him over for the three-hole hitter, and more often than not they’ll get the job done.”
Andrew Susac started in place of Buster Posey and it was the young catcher who sparked the Giants in the ninth, when they were facing a pitch (Cishek) they had not scored an earned run on in 13 previous tries. Susac’s single to right got the park stirring, and in the dugout Duffy started to do the math. He knew the Giants could tie the game and load the bases ahead of him.
“I knew that was the only possible way I could get up that inning,” he said. “Obviously you want them to win it before that.”
The Giants didn’t, but Gregor Blanco — playing for Angel Pagan — got them a big step closer with a smash off the right-field wall. After an intentional walk of Posey, Pagan struck out to get the Marlins an out away from a series victory. Aoki stepped in and worked a tough walk, and Duffy watched closely from the on-deck circle.
“With how many pitches Nori saw, that gave me a chance to see all his pitches,” he said. “The fact that his at-bat went so long definitely helped me.”
Duffy didn’t wait around long. He went up to the box looking for something elevated and the second pitch was a fastball that was right over the plate. Duffy smacked it into left field, and then the player who worked so hard over the offseason to bulk up tried to make himself small again. A beating was coming.
“Joe was like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry … I was the one punching you in the ribs,’” Duffy said, smiling. “Honestly, I didn’t feel a thing.”
--- The most bizarre sight today was a crowd of Japanese reporters rushing into the clubhouse and surrounding a stunned Joaquin Arias. The infielder had been inserted as a pinch-runner when Susac singled and he held up when Ichiro Suzuki deked the ballpark on Blanco’s drive off the wall. I’ll be honest: It looked like a homer off the bat, and then I saw Ichiro just standing there … and I was fooled too. They weren’t fooled in the dugout, though.
“I was yelling, ‘Go, Arias!,’” Bochy said. “He might have been the only one he deked, I think.”
(Nope. Not even close. Ichiro got most of the ballpark and maybe a broadcaster or two.)
Bochy said he was going to put Arias in motion but he was afraid of killing the inning if he got caught stealing and Blanco struck out.
“I was shooting myself because he didn’t score,” Bochy said. “But Ichiro did a nice job there.”
Arias will seemingly be in the headlines in Japan tomorrow given how many reporters were here to cover Aoki vs. Ichiro. He took it in stride.
“I was looking for the ball and I saw Ichiro trying to catch the ball,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “It’s OK. He got me for sure. He got me. I’ve never seen a play like that.”
Because the Giants came back to win, they were able to have fun with it. Blanco walked up to Arias shortly after the play.
“I was joking with Joaquin, like, 'Man, you didn’t see how hard I hit that ball?'” he said.
--- Ryan Vogelsong has a 1.64 ERA in four home starts this season and allowed just one run in 14 innings on this homestand. Possibly because he shaved his beard?
“Maybe,” he said. “We’ll go with it.”
In all seriousness, Vogelsong said Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner made some tweaks during a bullpen session that allow Vogelsong to get his arm up a bit and get more tilt on his breaking ball. His curveball has been more of a weapon the last two starts than it was in Los Angeles, and Vogelsong certainly needs all his pitches at this stage of his career. He has given the Giants all they could hope for the last two times out after giving the quite the scare in April.
“It’s a little bit easier to relax this week coming off a good one, but it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “I’m definitely not going to let my guard down, for sure.”
--- Vogelsong crossed the 1,000-inning mark today. He’s now at 1,006 in the big leagues.
--- Brandon Belt is 14 for 29 over his last eight games, with five runs and seven extra-base hits. It’ll be pretty surprising if he doesn’t come away from Houston and Cincinnati with that first homer.
--- The Giants have four walk-off wins and nine one-run victories, the most in the Majors. Today’s win gave them a 7-3 homestand. It’s amazing how much better that felt in the clubhouse than 6-4 would have.
“That’s a great win,” Bochy said. “It makes for a really nice homestand. If we lose that one, it’s a so-so one after the start we had. It’s good for the boys to hit the road on that note.”