The San Francisco Giants walked off victorious 12 times in 2013, which is a lot considering they only won 42 games at AT&T Park. It was a day full of standing ovations for the home team. Here are all the ones I could remember from the 7-6 win over San Diego that put the Giants in a tie for third place in the National League West.
1. As the players took the field to start the game, Hunter Pence ran across the length of the outfield to take his position in right, and the crowd erupted. There are five years for the tide to turn in terms of the region’s feelings on Pence’s $90 million extension (the Giants held a press conference to celebrate the pact before the game), but the fans here appreciate everything Pence brings and the willingness of both parties to get this done before free agency.
2. The Giants featured Bryan Stow on the videoboard in center between innings early on, which led to an ovation that both lingered and appeared to make Stow quite emotional. We’ve heard a lot of bad news about Stow’s condition and his insurance situation over the past several months, but the fact that Stow has the ability to show emotions at all, plus the fact that he’s still a figure people remember, says a lot about modern medical care, the fans in attendance and Stow himself.
3. In the bottom of the seventh with the Padres leading 6-3, Pence came up with the bases loaded and two outs and hit a single to left to drive in two. It seemed pretty obvious that the fans enjoyed seeing Pence start to “earn” his new contract.
4. Six pitchers made appearances for the Giants, but the shortest outing was undoubtedly the most memorable. Barry Zito got one last chance to pitch in a Giants uniform and made the most of it, striking out Mark Kotsay on four pitches. Zito actually received three ovations, once when he headed to the bullpen to start warming up, another when he came in to replace Heath Hembree with two outs in the eighth, and the last (and loudest) as he walked off the field after retiring Kotsay.
5. Here’s the sad ovation: Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco collided in left-center, even though Blanco appeared to see danger coming and tried to hold up and avoid contact. Pagan rolled up on Blanco’s ankle, and Blanco stayed on the ground for a few minutes before getting helped off by two members of the Giants’ training staff (that’s when the crowd stood and cheered, by the way). The good news: Blanco’s x-rays came back negative. He’ll get an MRI tomorrow, but at first glance Blanco looked like he might have suffered a compound fracture.
6. After Huston Street (who looked awful from the start) intentionally walked Buster Posey to load the bases, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-2 before getting the job done once again with a fly ball to center that the Padres had no chance of getting to. Let the walk-off celebration begin …
The Giants had a pretty awful year: 76-86. But two World Series wins in three years buys a team all this love even at the end of such a down year. If they come out next year and play the same as they did throughout 2013 — poor defense, mental mistakes by the truckload and so many squandered opportunities with guys on base — the fans may not be so full of love and forgiveness. But with Pence sticking around and Zito leaving with no hard feelings, there’s nothing wrong with 40,000 fans enjoying their last time for a while with this team.
— Brandon Belt finished the year with a higher slugging percentage (.481) than Buster Posey (.450). Pence led the team in slugging (.483).
— Pence is a unique individual in so many ways that it makes sense he’d respond so well to signing a big contract in the immediate aftermath. Instead of pressure, the money and years made Pence feel wanted, which in his mind helped him succeed over the last two days.
“It definitely lifted my spirits a lot that they have the faith in me to give me a five-year contract. Coming out I wanted to, I know it’s only two games, but have a good couple games. My goal going into this offseason, it’s kind of a lifted spirit. It’s like I want to earn every bit of it and give them everything I have and continue to get better,” Pence said.
“It’s just a positive feeling within. They believe in me, and I’m going to show them why. Not to say you can do that and succeed, but it definitely helped me. Not only the contract, but also the fan support I’ve had the last couple days. Their passion, the way they’re screaming at me and thanking me and the excitement. If definitely lifts your spirits and it gives you a positive mentality, so it helped me a lot.”
— I asked Pence what his whirlwind weekend was like, and predictably he changed the subject to Zito (the guy hates talking about himself):
— Pence also mentioned helping other players on the team during this morning’s press conference, so I asked him if he and the team might get together to train this offseason. He didn’t say anything concrete, but I’m guessing one of the reasons why the Giants were so willing to give Pence that kind of money was his commitment to fitness. After so many players this season either came into camp out of shape (Pablo Sandoval, Jeremy Affeldt) or got hurt during the season, the Giants would surely love to get a bunch of kale-munching, workout-fiending players into Scottsdale next Spring, all following Pence’s lead.
— Zito joked afterward about today’s battle with Kotsay leading to a career change: “I was telling the boys when I got to the dugout, ‘Better watch out, I’m making a name for myself. Lefty specialist.'”
— I asked Zito about that last pitch and walking off the mound to that previously mentioned ovation: “I’ll never forget that. That was so special. The 84 sneaky fastball.”