The Washington Nationals came into this game riding a 10-game winning streak, with walk-offs in five of their last six. So when Buster Posey threw a little high to second and Joe Panik let the ball bounce off his glove and into shallow center, and the crowd cheered with front-running electricity, the Giants looked like they were in for a tough one — game, series, weekend, whatever.
Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg. We’ll see about the next two, but the Giants vanquished Fister. Then they jumped all over Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler, scoring six runs in the last two innings and sprinting away with a downright shocking 10-3 victory over the game’s hottest team. The man who led the way? The same rookie who dropped that throw to help give the Nats a 1-0 lead. Panik went 4-for-5 with his first home run, a three-run shot about 25 feet to the right of the 402 sign in center. He came a couple feet away from a double in his last at-bat that would’ve given him a five-hit day, too.
No one predicted this. “We’ve played our cards with Panik and Duvall, and God bless them, but they’re not ready to be here,” said Brian Sabean at the beginning of July. He was probably right about Duvall, but Panik is the best hitter on the team right now. Yet it’s tough to blame Sabean for questioning Panik’s readiness at the time, since he spent his first two weeks in the majors looking like Posey’s frightened little brother.
Now look at him.
Panik isn’t big, he has decent speed but nothing special for a middle infielder, and he slugged .403 in the minors. He’s only slugging .383 with the Giants after four hits and a homer tonight. But you look at that screenshot of Panik waiting for the pitch he knocked over the fence, and it suddenly hits you — this guy is a first round pick.
Panik came into this game with the sixth-highest WAR (Fangraphs) among all National League rookie position players. He was at 0.8, and one would have to imagine he’ll bounce up to 0.9 after his four-hit evening, despite the error. Panik played his 40th game tonight, and all the guys ahead of him on that list (Billy Hamilton and some dudes) have all played at least 72 games.
In a very short time, Panik has given the Giants a boost fans (and perhaps some players) were hoping for at the deadline. However, his impact wasn’t felt right after the deadline. It took two games. Panik went 0-for-4 in his first August game, dropping his average to .203. He’s gone 27-for-59 (.458) in the 16 games since.
And that helicopter slide at home, where he avoided the tag and spun around in a complete circle on Travis Ishikawa’s double, was awesome. He really needs to make that a regular part of his game.
— Tim Hudson’s performance gets lost in a game where the Giants scored 10 runs for the first time since May 14, especially since he only lasted 5.1 innings. But Hudson was solid. Besides the pitch Jayson Werth hit out to left, no egregious mistakes against a tough lineup.
— The one negative came in the ninth, when something weird happened to Angel Pagan as he rounded third on Posey’s double. He looked like he either pulled a muscle in his leg or didn’t gauge the distance to third base correctly, and it looked like he talked to Dave Groeschner after reaching the dugout. Pagan didn’t play in the bottom of the ninth, but neither did Posey — I guess the beat writers will let us know if anything is wrong in the next hour or two, or tomorrow.
Update: calf tightness.
— Hey, Posey hit another home run today. Since the broadcast was focusing on Matt Williams’ impression of Babe Ruth a few minutes earlier, I decided to put this photo in black and white.
— Got this text during the game from my friend, Ben (unedited):
“I’m watching this giants game but can’t stop staring at that “nothing but natitude” sign and it’s making me angrier and angrier. It’s worse than Bryce harper’s goddamned hair.”
— Bruce Bochy was as happy as I’ve seen him since Oct. 31, 2012 after Panik hit that three-run homer.