SAN FRANCISCO – You’ll hear it every so often from broadcasters and you’ll see it from time to time on the scouting reports.
“Watch out for that lineup. That is a fastball-hitting lineup.”
Well, guess what, ladies, gentlemen and seagulls: The Giants have themselves an honest-to-goodness fastball-hitting lineup.
Michael Morse took a 99 mph fastball from Nate Eovaldi and nestled it into the right field arcade for a two-run home run. Buster Posey took 95 mph and drove it to the deepest part of right-center, meeting grass in front of the 421-foot marker. Those were the hits that gave the Giants life and completed their comeback in a 6-4 victory over the Miami Marlins Thursday at AT&T Park.
Matt Cain surrendered two home runs and trailed 4-1 after the top of the third yet found a way to crimp the hose, and wouldn’t you know, the Giants made a winner of him for the first time in 11 starts dating to last season.
He knew if he just gave them a chance, that lineup might pull off the club’s 12th comeback victory of the season. They’re fastball hitters, after all.
“Yeah, they are, but I feel these guys are good breaking ball hitters, too,” Cain said. “If you hang one to Morse or Panda or Pence or Posey, they’re all guys with pop and they can hit mistakes.
“That’s when you get in trouble as a pitcher, when you think about not hanging a breaking ball. It’s a different thought in your head when they could hit a single or a double on a mistake. Hang one and it can be a lot more dangerous than that.”
Cain didn’t mention Brandon Hicks, but he’s tagged several hanging curves for home runs this season – including one big one from Clayton Kershaw last weekend at Dodger Stadium.
Pence has seven hits in his last two games. Sandoval has a six-game hitting streak and is making louder outs. Tyler Colvin quietly had a pair of doubles, too. And Morse became the first Giant since Barry Bonds in 2007 to reach 10 home runs in the club’s first 42 games.
“I thought about it and he’s supplying the power,” Morse said of Eovaldi’s 99 mph fastball. “If it’s going to go out (to that location), it’s going to be that one. I just tried to touch it, have an easy and short swing.”
Said Sergio Romo, who only trails Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez after recording his 14th save in 15 tries: “I mean, oppo in this ballpark? Wow! It’s just fun to see everybody happy. That’s the biggest thing.”
The home run celebrations are getting happier and more frenzied with the Yes-Yes-Yes chants sweeping the dugout – even if Ryan Vogelsong got unintentionally and comically stiffed by Morse when he just stuck out his hand for the standard high-five.
It’s becoming clear: The Giants probably have the most dangerous fastball-hitting lineup since the 2002 team that won the NL pennant. But Morse doesn’t feel that’s a full description.
“I’d say yeah but we’ve got Pablo, who can hit any offspeed pitch there is,” Morse said. “So I’d say we have a lineup of guys that can give you quality at-bats. Buster is a professional hitter, Hunter can hit everything and Angel is the one who gets everything started. I’d say everyone -- one through nine, if Bum’s pitching -- we can put up quality at-bats.”
The Giants were a good home team in 2010 and 2012 because they had the rotation and bullpen to pull out 2-1 and 3-2 victories, often in torturous fashion. But maybe they won’t have to win that way as often this season.
A day earlier, they rallied back and knocked the ball around the park to make a winner of a rusty Madison Bumgarner and take a series victory against the Braves. This time, the lineup did plenty to rescue Cain – they could’ve done more damage, since they were 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine – and get themselves off to a good start as they try to win a sixth consecutive home series.
It would be rewarding if they could hang three or four losses on the Marlins, a team that has bossed the Giants at AT&T Park regardless of where they finished in the standings. They were 9-1 over the previous three seasons here.
The Giants got one huge break, though, amid their three-run rally in the fifth. Pence hit a chopper down the first base line and the ball struck his foot in fair territory, which should be an automatic out and a dead ball. But umpires told Marlins manager Mike Redmond that they did not see the ball hit Pence and assumed it had spun foul.
Under the league’s replay policy, fair/foul plays are not reviewable in front of the first base umpire’s position, mostly because the league wanted the umpire to have discretion on a line drive over the bag. Unless you had a camera angle that was plumb to the chalk line, any replay could be deceptive on those plays.
As a result, the way the replay policy is written, you can’t go back and challenge or review whether the ball hit Pence in fair territory. Redmond had no recourse. So chalk this up as one more obvious revision that the rules committee will be apt to make either later this year or after the season.
“They called it foul, so I wasn’t going to argue,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Of course, as the baseball gods usually demand, Pence followed with a single and scored the tiebreaking run on Posey’s double.
But perhaps the universe owed that bit of good fortune to Cain (1-3), who hadn’t won since Aug. 17 of last season – coincidentally, when he beat Miami at Marlins Park.
“Yeah,” he said with a half-laugh and half-snort, when asked if it felt like his last win was a long time coming. “I mean, if you end the season with a zero on the front, that’s not very good. The biggest thing is that we win together.”
Cain made an interesting point. He said even though pitcher wins don’t matter much, it can instill confidence in hitters when they look at a pitcher’s record and note that he hasn’t won a game. So in terms of pure psychology, perhaps he and the Giants gained a little something extra Thursday night.
They already held one mental edge: the same one that all fastball-hitting lineups enjoy.