SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence jogged out to right field and looked in all directions, waving and clapping and patting his glove as he returned to his favorite patch of green. Three hours later, he jogged to the infield for a victory celebration, the 10th in the last 14 games at AT&T Park for the suddenly surging Giants.
This was Pence’s return home, and it went a hell of a lot better than the team’s return in early April. The Giants lost their first five games at home this season, but they’re back to their old ways, pitching and catching and getting the timely hit. Those 10 wins include four straight here over the first-place Dodgers.
“We have a really, really strong all-around unit,” Pence said. “In baseball, you play 162. You see where we end up. Which team is the real team?”
More and more, it’s looking like this group, not the one that was swept by the Rockies and then lost three of four to the Diamondbacks on that first homestand. The Giants are used to what happened Tuesday night. They got a quality start from Tim Hudson, a rally in the third, and then they turned it over to the bullpen.
That’s a formula that has built a dynasty here, and it worked Tuesday in large part because of the finger-wagging right-hander who shut the Dodgers down in the seventh and then took a lead through the eighth, too.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Hudson, Giants blank Dodgers]
Sergio Romo was brought on with the bases loaded and got dangerous No. 3 hitter Howie Kendrick to bounce out harmlessly to the mound. He faced three batters in the eighth in large part because he picked off Scott Van Slyke, who had reached on a fielder’s choice.
“One second he was there, one second he wasn’t,” Romo said. He heard the dugout screaming and stepped off for an easy out.
One second the Dodgers were rallying, the next second they weren’t. When the inning was over, the Giants still held the lead, and right-handers were down to 4 for 33 against Romo, who is as sharp against them as ever.
“He has one of the best sliders in the game, so it’s going to be tough for any right-handed hitter,” Hudson said. “We like our chances when Romo is out there against any right-handed hitter, it doesn’t matter who it is. He’s been great for us. He came in in a huge spot and bailed us out and got us a win.”
Afterward, Romo’s biggest smile came when he was talking about the lefties he faced, not the righties. The inning started with Adrian Gonzalez, who singled but was erased on the fielder’s choice. Yasmani Grandal also made an out against Romo, who has always had much more trouble against hitters in the left-handed batter’s box. He said he drew strength from the fact that manager Bruce Bochy had nobody warming up after the seventh even though Gonzalez was due up first.
“I do appreciate the confidence,” Romo said. “Tonight I was appreciative and grateful.”
The Giants led 1-0 when Romo was given the ball and they would tack on a second run in the bottom of the eighth. That would hold up on a night when the park played big, especially when Gonzalez took Hudson deep to Triples Alley in the sixth. Pence tracked it down about 410 feet from the plate.
“He hit it good,” Hudson said. “Every park in the Major League Baseball that’s probably a homer, except this one. That’s why I came here.”
--- Pence didn’t have a great night at the plate, striking out twice and then grounding out twice. But the second groundout kinda showed why he can be so crucial to this lineup. He fouled off four straight two-strike pitches from Chris Hatcher before putting a ball in play that moved Brandon Belt to third. Belt would score on a wild pitch. This lineup needs that competitiveness, and Pence brings it every night.
“Everybody was excited to see him back in the lineup,” Hudson said. “He’s our mascot. He’s the guy that makes things work for us.”
Pence flashed a big smile when asked about his first game here since the World Series.
“This ballpark is special,” he said. “Coming home in front of our fans, it’s an electric atmosphere. It was pretty special.”
--- Grandal hit it to short three times on a night when Brandon Crawford was often positioned perfectly.
“We’re really no different than the rest of the league,” Bochy said. “We try to position our players where they’re more likely to get hit the ball. It’s as important a part of the game as anything.”
The Giants really embraced the shift last year and they’ve taken it a step further this season. After games like this, you figure bench coach Ron Wotus sleeps pretty well.
--- The Giants have six shutouts overall, the most in the Majors. Five of them have come during a 17-8 stretch that started April 21. They have the best record in the National League since that day.