By Shawn Whelchel
AP photo: San Francisco Giants Joe Panik hits for a double in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game versus the Los Angeles Dodgers
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.-The Giants entered Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers just one home run short of leading the MLB. They used three of them to take three-of-four games from their rivals from down south over the weekend, completing yet another comeback with a 9-6 win.
Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan all went deep for the Giants on Sunday, leading to their fifth come-from-behind victory on the season that showcases the lineups old scrappiness with their newfangled depth throughout the order.
The 2016 are now the first team in franchise history to hit home runs in their first seven games, and the power surge has not gone unnoticed by skipper Bruce Bochy.
“It’s a team that’s gonna hit with more power. That doesn’t always mean home runs but I think if you look at the doubles, that’s gonna pick up, and throughout the lineup we have guys who can drive the ball. We’re not gonna rely on the long-ball but it certainly helps, particularly when you’re down five runs, it’s usually something that you need.”
Starter Johnny Cueto might have wished he was still in the confines of Miller Park after his second outing with his new team didn’t go over nearly as well as his first start of the season.
The quirky right-hander got knocked around for six runs on the day-including five in the first inning alone- but was picked up by his teammate’s at the plate. Despite his early struggles, Bochy kept faith in his new starter, and Cueto would rebound from a torrid start to give up just one more run over the next six innings before leaving with a chance at the win.
Although Bochy noted the tough first inning, the manager was ultimately impressed with Cueto’s resiliency and ability to bounce back after getting knocked around early.
“For him to end up going seven innings says a couple things. How tough he is, he’s a problem and he comes in there and gets a win after that. He was just a different pitcher after the first inning.”
Dodgers starter Scott Kazmir may not have given up runs in a bunch like Cueto, but the southpaw faired no better than Cueto, getting tagged for six runs over just four innings on seven hits. He was the first Dodgers pitcher to give up three home runs to San Francisco since 2004.
The Dodgers bats and the soggy AT&T turf dampened Cueto’s first start at home as a member of the Giants. After holding Los Angeles to 15 runs in eight career starts prior to Sunday’s game, the Dodgers tagged the 30-year old for five in the top of the frame.
Cueto allowed five hits, a walk and plunked one, while also slipping twice in the AT&T grass while attempting to field his position during that span.
But the Giants would showcase the power of their newfangled lineup, as they would erase Cueto’s miscues with the help of the longball.
Posey would kick things off in the third inning with a solo shot high into the left field bleachers to cut the Dodgers lead to just two. Two batters later, the newly-extended Brandon Belt would launch an equalizer of his own in the deep part of the yard, parking one over the center field wall near triples alley to tie the game.
Cueto, who had settled down after his wild first inning, would be tagged again by the Dodgers’ Corey Seager, whose ten game hitting streak would continue with a line drive single to plate Chase Utley in the top of the fourth to regain the lead for his club at 6-5.
The Giants would find an answer again, this time in the form of a blast from Pagan, whose ball would land just over the left field fence in the bottom half of the inning to notch things up again.
San Francisco’s bats stayed hot heading into the sixth, as Angel Pagan and Denard Span would reach base ahead of Joe Panik, whose seventh hit of the year was a two-rbi double that bounced on the center field warning track to give the Giants their first lead of the day at 8-6. Panik would come around to score on a deep sac-fly by Pence two batters leader to extend the margin.
Bochy’s continuing faith in his starter would be rewarded, as Cueto would settle in to strike out three batters while allowing just two hits and one walk over the next three innings. After escaping one last jam with a two-out liner to Pagan, Cueto would exit the game to a loud standing ovation from the AT&T Park crowd.
The Giants bullpen picked up where Cueto left off, with Sergio Romo and Josh Osich working a rather uneventful eighth inning before Santiago Casilla would down the heart of the Dodgers lineup in order to capture his second save on the season, giving his team a 9-6 final.
The win gives San Francisco sole possession of the NL West heading into a stint with the Colorado Rockies next week.