SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Panik had a lot of time alone with his thoughts as Don Mattingly walked the Oregon Trail in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“My first reaction was, now I know what NFL kickers feel like when they’re getting iced at the end of a game,” Panik said, smiling. “It felt like a while.”
It was, but Panik kept his cool, and his game plan. With five infielders (including Yasiel Puig), Panik was just looking for something that he could lift deep enough to bring Gregor Blanco racing home from third. The first pitch from J.P. Howell was a sinker right down the middle and he hit it deep to center.
“Up and good,” Panik said. “I guess I hit the field goal right away.”
His sacrifice fly was his first walk-off RBI as a big leaguer, and it’s been so long since Panik had a walk-off at any level that he couldn’t remember the last one. The ninth-inning stretch gave the Giants a 3-2 win over the Dodgers and a series victory that has come thanks to clutch hitting, an issue that sunk the lineup during an ugly stretch last week.
The Giants of the eight-game losing streak would have stranded Joaquin Arias at third in the third inning. But in two games against the Dodgers, the Giants have done the little things. It started when Madison Bumgarner put down a perfect bunt, moving both runners up in the third inning.
“Bunting is not a super hard part of the game,” he said. “It’s something you should be able to do every time. You’ve got to find a way to get it down, and we did.”
You’ve then got to find a way to bring that runner in from third. Again, a week ago, the Giants probably don’t. On Wednesday, Nori Aoki hit a ball deep enough in the hole at short that Arias scored without a throw. Matt Duffy followed with a single that brought Brandon Crawford home.
“Our guys capitalized and didn’t miss those chances,” said Panik, who started the night on the bench. “We scored the two runs when we had the opportunity, (and that’s big) especially against someone like (Clayton) Kershaw.”
Bumgarner couldn’t hold the lead, allowing a pinch-hit, two-run homer to Alex Guerrero. He said it was a fastball that was supposed to be up and in, and Guerrero left no doubt about the landing spot.
That was it for the big lefty, but he had faith as he watched the bullpen pile up zeroes. Watching from the dugout, Bruce Bochy did, too.
“We’ve gotten off to a rough start,” he said. “But I love the fight in these guys.”
The Giants kept the line moving in the ninth, starting with Buster Posey’s single with one out. Justin Maxwell was hit by a pitch and Brandon Belt lined a single to left. After a long delay while Mattingly argued for interference at third, Panik brought home the winning run.
“It’s been a lot better,” Bochy said of the hitting with runners in scoring position. “We had some really good at-bats with runners on. It’s gotten a lot better, the at-bats and the quality of the at-bats. That was a great game, a really great game. The boys played well.
“I thought it would be a tight ballgame. We did the little things, we executed and really that was the difference in the game tonight.”
--- On that call at third, Don Mattingly told Dodgers reporters: "It’s obviously interference, and they missed the call. The ump, Fieldin Culbreth, told a pool reporter: “If (Kelly) doesn’t physically assist him in returning to base, there’s no interference.” Blanco’s take was that he “was stopping at third anyway. I wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t feel like he stopped me at all. I was going to stop anyway … It was kind of weird but at the same time, I was already stopping at third.”
Brandon McCarthy’s take was a bit more humorous, and he does have a point there. I’ve seen two runners miss bags this season and not get called for it. I’m not sure what umpires are watching, but they seem to be looking in the wrong direction a whole lot.
--- Bumgarner had a clean slate going before Guerrero’s homer. He said he felt better mechanically tonight after a couple iffy outings.
“I felt my stuff was good, my command was good,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with it, yeah.”
--- The Giants Community Fund is having another Ring Raffle to benefit the Junior Giants. The raffle goes until June 21, and info can be found at sfgiants.com/ringraffle.
--- Ryan Vogelsong will go for the sweep tomorrow, but however it turns out, the clubhouse is a lot different than it was a few days ago. There’s victory music, for one.
“Hopefully this is something that’ll lift the guys up and just get us on track,” Bochy said.
We’ll know more in a few hours …