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SAN FRANCISCO – Lineup protection might be one of those overblown baseball myths. It might not stand up to deep statistical analysis. It might be more mind than matter, more perception than proof.
But if you were standing 60 feet away from someone hurtling projectiles at 90 mph in your general direction, wouldn’t you feel better knowing Michael Morse has your back?
Buster Posey’s slump stands at 3-for-38, and that is winch-and-horsepower territory. He was hitless again in the Giants’ homestand-opening 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians Friday night. He’s been pitched tough in recent weeks, getting first-pitch breaking balls and 2-0 breaking balls and 3-2 breaking balls.
Perhaps Morse can change that by doing more of what he did on a damp and chilly Friday night: extending those long arms, uncoiling that forceful swing and watching a baseball disappear over the furthest reaches of the fence in right-center field. Morse’s solo home run in the fourth inning was hit, quite simply, where right-handed hitters just do not hit them at AT&T Park. He also hit a sacrifice fly to give him a club-high 17 RBIs.
His six home runs in 69 at-bats was one more than all Giants left fielders hit in 599 at-bats last season.
For the first time since Barry Bonds, the Giants have a player whose power is not compromised by his home ballpark.
“One thing Barry told me in spring training was just try to get your hits,” Morse said. “Your hits and your home runs are the product of a good swing.”
Morse thought he hit his sacrifice fly in the first inning well. It didn’t even get to the warning track. So when he connected in the fourth …
“I ran,” he said. “You really don’t know.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy did.
“For a guy to hit a ball where he hit it, a man has to do that,” Bochy said. “It was a no doubter. I guess that’s why he’s got the nickname `The Beast.’ They haven’t found a ballpark that can contain him. If he squares it, it’ll go out anywhere.”
Morse wasn’t the only key on this night. He probably wasn’t the biggest one. The Giants are 9-1 when they score first and a suddenly rejuvenated Angel Pagan, his bum right knee looking fit and fine again, singled and scored on Hunter Pence’s triple to give the Giants a quick lead. Pagan singled, stole second base and scored on another Pence single in the third inning.
The RBI hits were huge for Pence, who entered having come to bat with 50 runners on base and had knocked in just two of them. Pablo Sandoval’s triple in the seventh inning might have been a watershed kind of hit, too.
“It’s got to be,” Bochy said. “I was trying to get him to relax in the dugout, get back to playing the game like he did when he was young. That had to really take a load off him.”
But this offense won’t sustain much consistency until Posey gets out of the ditch – and if Morse can influence a more fastball-friendly diet, that can only help.
When you see a bouncer grab an unruly bar patron by his ear and toss him in the alley … well, you’re less likely to stir up trouble.
Morse doesn’t think of himself as Posey’s blue-line enforcer. But he does relish the experience of hitting behind him.
“I really do,” he said. “His approach is kind of similar to mine. He thinks about staying up the middle and the other way. Pitchers try to pitch him kind of the same way they pitch me. So it’s cool to watch him.”
Morse reacted with surprise when told of Posey’s current hitting numbers.
“They still walk him in certain situations,” he said. “He’s such a good hitter, man. I would have never known that. The way he goes about his work every day, having good at-bats, seeing a lot of pitches – I mean, he’s one of the best hitters in the game and I get the privilege to hit behind him."
The Giants have to consider it a privilege that Morse signed with them. As much as their lineup has struggled, can you imagine where their lineup would be without his power? And can you imagine where the rotation would be without Tim Hudson, who has pitched at least seven innings in each of his first five starts?
The club’s two free-agent signings this past winter are probably its hitting and pitching MVPs for April.
As for defense … well, can anything top that Duane Kuiper retrospective video they showed on the scoreboard?
I asked Morse: Can any part of him identify with a player who hit one home run in 12 major league seasons?
“That video, that was pretty awesome,” he said. “To play that way as good as he did, and basically to stay in that role the way he did, that’s awesome. And to get a bobblehead and hit one home run is pretty cool. I mean, that’s unheard of.”