ARLINGTON, Texas -- They say everything is bigger in Texas. For the Giants, that includes the comebacks.
A two-out rally wiped out a three-run deficit in the eighth and Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt hit solo homers in the 11th as the Giants beat the Rangers 9-7 on Saturday. They had been 1-37 when trailing after seven innings, but they stormed back once Cole Hamels exited his Rangers debut. Afterward, manager Bruce Bochy had no interest in downplaying the significance of the comeback.
"The last thing you want to do is lose the first two games of a road trip," he said. "What a great comeback. It was a hard-fought game on both sides, a wild game. The boys kept fighting."
Bochy has a relentless lineup, one that might be the best Giants group in years, and that at times allows him to manage with a sense of urgency, knowing any close game is one his offense can ultimately win. He pulled Chris Heston in the fifth and then burned five relievers before the start of the ninth, including both his long guys. The churning led to Matt Cain and Jake Peavy running to the bullpen in extra innings -- just in case -- but Pence made sure the starters never saw emergency duty.
The right fielder spent 66 games on the DL watching young Giants come of age. He enjoyed following the growth, and after Saturday’s game Pence heaped credit on young infielders Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford. Now, he’s just another big bat in a powerful lineup.
“We feel good about what we’ve got right now,” Pence said. “Duffy has transformed our team and our lineup, and the same with Panik. It just feels like a really good balance with this lineup.”
Pence grew up about 15 minutes from Globe Life Park and played college ball in the area, but he has been in the league long enough that these hometown games are no longer a big deal to family and friends. The same couldn’t be said for Brandon Belt, who grew up about three hours away in Nacogdoches and left 25 tickets on the pass list.
Belt went through a similar experience when the Giants played in Houston earlier this year, and he hoped to get his first homer of the season there but fell short. He had no regrets, though.
“I had amazing BP in Houston,” Belt said, smiling. “I gave them something to watch.”
The 25 Belt supporters got a better show Saturday. Belt took Cole Hamels deep in the third and then hit one out off Sam Freeman in the 11th. He had zero homers against lefties before the two Saturday, but in recent weeks Belt has been having much better at-bats against them.
“I know he’s been wanting to stay in there against lefties,” Bochy said. “He has a history of doing a pretty good job against them. It looks like he’s staying in there better.”
Bochy wants to start Belt every day, but there was a point -- when Belt’s average against lefties was well below .200 -- that coaches talked about sitting him against tough left-handers. Belt said he knew he would come around eventually.
“The more I see them, the more in a groove I get,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty good track record against lefties. Sometimes you don’t start out great against people and I didn’t this year. I knew it was going to come back. The main thing now is to realize it can go away, too, so you’ve got to keep working hard to see the ball well.”
Belt’s homer in the third helped wipe out the night’s first deficit and Buster Posey kept the Giants close with a solo shot in the seventh. In the eighth, Panik, Duffy and Posey doubled ahead of Pence, who hit a flare to right that tied the game. All of the hits came with two outs.
“I feel like this is the best (two-out) big league team I’ve been on,” Belt said. “I think we feel like the inning is never over.”
Bochy surely felt the same way while the Rangers tore through some of his relievers, but Hunter Strickland settled the night with two big innings and Santiago Casilla closed it out after Pence and Belt went deep.
The finishing push spoiled Hamels’ debut in Arlington and left a sour taste with the nearly 9,000 fans who bought tickets to this game immediately after the Rangers traded for the former Phillies ace. The Giants thrashed Hamels last month when he came to AT&T Park, and they have continued their trend of hitting some of the league’s toughest starters.
“They fight,” Bochy said. “I’ve got a good group that fights against good pitching.”