ARLINGTON, Texas — Hunter Pence sticks to the process as well as any baseball player, never looking back or too far into the future. He believes that you control what you can control, but on Sunday he did find himself looking ahead a bit and thinking big.
Pence, like most who have watched the Giants this season, felt a feeling of inevitability once Martin Perez was removed and the lineup finally started grinding out good at-bats. It seemed this would be yet another comeback win … and then Pence hit into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded and the Giants down by a run.
After the 2-1 loss, Pence called reporters over, ready to answer any questions. The moment wasn’t a failure as much as it was a surprise. The Giants have tended to win these games.
“It definitely felt like it was going to happen again,” he said. “We all think we’re going to win until the last out is made. I definitely don’t feel great about my at-bat, grounding into a double play with a 2-0 count. Give credit to (Rangers reliever Sam) Dyson.”
Pence knew Dyson throws a firm, sinking fastball and he was trying to stay short to the ball. With Nori Aoki at third and Pence running, only a ball that was smashed at an infielder could really harm the Giants. Well, Pence hit it hard. The scorched infield here and the talented Rangers middle infielders did the rest, getting Dyson his first career save.
“He beat me,” Pence said.
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Mike Leake, in his Giants debut, could have said the same of Martin Perez. Leake was good, allowing just two runs while pitching into the seventh, but Perez was nearly historically great. He became the first MLB pitcher in six years to record 25 outs on 80 pitches or less, and he was at just 75 pitches through eight shutout innings. The Giants didn't have a baserunner until the fifth.
“He was a little different than what he’s been throwing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s one of the better games we’ve had pitched against us.”
Perez used to be a top prospect and he was off to an incredible start last season before falling apart. The culprit proved to be his elbow, and Tommy John surgery put him out over a year. The lefty is just finding his form and he was brilliant Sunday, allowing just an infield single until Angel Pagan’s double with one out in the ninth.
That was the play that set off the comeback and surely had Giants fans flashing back to Matt Williams and the NLDS. Rangers manager Jeff Banister pulled Perez after his 80th pitch, eliciting boos from the crowd. After a walk of Aoki, Matt Duffy worked a great at-bat and singled to center to load the bases for Posey.
Posey singled to score one, but Roberto Kelly held Aoki at third. The throw to the plate sailed over the catcher and Dyson wasn’t backing up the play, but Aoki was already headed back to third. Bochy felt Kelly made the right call.
“They’re playing shallow and you don’t know if he’s going to sail the ball or not,” he said. “We’ve got a good hitter coming up.”
Pence is so tough in those situations because he has the speed to beat out any soft grounder and avoid a double play, plus the power to easily break the game open or hit a sacrifice fly.
“I think we all felt it,” Bochy said. “We had the right guys up, Buster and Hunter. He just topped it, that’s all. This infield is so fast, it gets to the infielders fast.”