Buster Posey ends longest homer drought of career, powers Giants to win

Buster Posey ends longest homer drought of career, powers Giants to win

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't the lack of power that was so concerning to some longtime Giants employees, or that Buster Posey was swinging at an unusual number of pitches outside of the zone and hitting just about everything to the right side when he did make contact. 

What was so jarring for some was the fact that Posey's smile seemed to be missing, which certainly was connected to the numbers on the scoreboard. 

The game isn't very fun when you're batting .210 with no homers and two RBI, even if you're a face of the franchise, a former MVP who has accomplished just about everything you could ever want. It seemed to be weighing heavily on Posey. 

That's what made the fifth inning so important on Sunday. Sure, the blast to dead center was nice, and needed for both Posey and the lineup. It provided all the offense in a 3-2 win over the Pirates. But as coaches and teammates watched Posey peel his equipment off and drop his bat off in the rack, they surely took just as much joy out of the smile that he couldn't wipe off his face. 

"It obviously felt good," Posey said. "I've been trying to just stay positive and know that this is a process and come to the field every day with the attitude to keep on going and hopefully things are where my expectations are."

The blast was Posey's first in 237 at-bats, a career-long streak that extended back to last June 19 and included struggles on both sides of serious hip surgery. With two on and one out in the fifth, and the Giants trailing by a pair, Posey got a 93 mph fastball down the middle of the plate from Chris Archer. 

He did what a middle-of-the-order hitter is supposed to do with that pitch, lining it to dead center, where it landed just over the wall 409 feet away. At 107 mph, the ball was Posey's hardest-hit homer in three years. 

"He couldn't have picked a better time to hit his first one. We needed it," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I'm sure, even for Buster, that some weight is off his shoulders. I really thought he took some really good swings today, was really aggressive, with a double and a home run."

Bochy has been firmly in Posey's corner throughout the slowest start of his career. Asked repeatedly about the slump in recent weeks, he stuck with the same answer: "He'll come around." 

"They're trying," Bochy said Sunday. "I know there's a lot of attention on our offense and our struggles, especially early in games. But they have a lot of pride. I know that was huge for him."

[RELATED: Watch Posey end homer drought with three-run dinger]

Posey tried to downplay the significance, saying it just felt good to contribute to a win. But the homer didn't just give the Giants a happy flight to Toronto, it crossed another team off Posey's checklist. He had 58 previous hits against the Pirates but none that cleared the fence. He now has a homer against every other National League team. 

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

No matter how you feel about interleague play, it's hard to find much fault with the yearly home-and-home series between the Giants and A's. 

Fans from both sides pack the ballparks, particularly in Oakland. For years, when Oracle Park sold out every night, that was the best chance that Giants fans in the East Bay had of seeing their team up close, and it remains a much closer trip. There's a lot more media for those games, and I can say from personal experience that I've always loved having the opportunity to watch someone like Matt Chapman in person for three days. 

The games are generally good, too. Two of last year's four games were decided by a run, and a third game saw the Giants score five runs in the eighth to claw back, only to watch the A's pull away with two more in the top of the ninth. A year earlier, three of the six meetings were one-run games, including a pair of walk-offs. 

The Bay Bridge Series now includes an art show and a trophy, and it even gave us one of the best GIFs in franchise history:

The 2020 season was halted a couple of weeks before the Giants and A's were to return home for their yearly exhibition series that gets both sides ready for the season, and it's hard to tell what the plan will be when the sport returns. The original proposal from MLB called for the Giants to play just the NL West and AL West this season, so they expected to see a lot of the A's. If MLB decides to play just 50 games or so, that would drastically change the schedule, and perhaps the Giants would just play games within their division.

We don't know when the Bay Bridge Series will resume, but on NBC Sports Bay Area, a version will air tonight. We've been simulating the whole season and tonight's matchup is the Giants and the A's, with Kruk and Kuip on the call at 5 p.m. 

[RELATED: How 2019 Giants would've looked in shortened MLB season]

Hopefully it's a close game, and history tells us it will be. If you extend the sample beyond the two seasons mentioned above, you find a remarkably close back-and-forth. Since the A's swept the 1989 World Series, the two Bay Area franchises have squared off 124 times in the regular season, with Oakland holding a 64-60 edge. The A's have outscored the Giants by 14 total runs over the last 30 years. 

You might think the last decade would be different given the three titles and all the success the Giants have had, but it's been even closer in recent years. They've played 50 times since the start of 2010 and won 25 games each. The Giants have outscored the A's 225-224 in their interleague matchups over the past decade. It's a matchup that's as close as it gets, and hopefully it's one we're watching again soon. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele was a shortstop at Santa Clara University as the Giants were taking over the even years, and he took advantage of his school's location. Viele and friends would hop on Caltrain a few times every year and head straight to Oracle Park, the home of his future employer. 

The ballpark will look different when Viele finally walks through as the co-hitting coach. The fences are coming in, a boost not just to the hitters but to the men -- Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind -- tasked with getting the most out of them. That's not their focus, though. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Viele said the focus remains on what hitters can control. The ballpark is still going to heavily favor pitchers, and the new staff will continue to preach having a proper swing and controlling the strike zone. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"If the ball doesn't carry but we hit it really hard, in the expected numbers that really looks good," he said. "It doesn't look good in the batting average, but the expected numbers look good because you're hitting the ball hard. That's really what we can control. Swing at the right pitches and hit the ball hard."

The hope is that a solid approach leads to more success over time, and even if the Giants get Oracle'd, they still hope to hammer teams offensively on the road. They were much improved last season, but over this three-year dip, they rank 23rd in runs scored away from home, 27th in road homers, and 28th in road wRC+. The new staff is trying to teach a better approach, and Viele summed it up neatly. 

"We like to break it up into three different bullet points," he said. "It's (first), how well are you moving. That's so many things. Some people say it's dancing with the pitcher, it's the timing, how you pick up your leg, how you move forward, all these different things. Do you have a big swipe act? Do you have a big jump forward? Are you controlled? All these different things, but ultimately it's how well are you moving. Can we make you move better?"

The second focus is on the bat and what it's doing as it comes through the zone. 

[RELATED: Justin Viele recalls Yaz calling his shot]

"How adjustable is your path, are you able to get on plane with multiple pitches," Viele said. 

Finally, what are you swinging at?

"How prepared are you to face that certain pitcher, how is he going to attack you and how are you going to beat him. How is he going to win," Viele said. "It's understanding those three things: How well you're moving, the bat path, and then the game-planning portion of it."