LOS ANGELES — About 30 minutes before every game he starts, Nick Hundley goes out onto the field by himself, his uniform already on underneath a black hoodie. He walks out to the nearest foul line and then takes off on a dead sprint, legs and arms pumping as he heads towards the center field wall.
It’s Hundley’s way of getting the juices flowing, getting his muscles and mind ready for the night ahead. He’s locking in, transforming from the mild-mannered, humorous, humble teammate into the man who will control most of the action.
On the surface, Hundley is just about the last Giant you would ever expect to get into an on-field altercation. But watch him sprint towards the wall and you’ll see the intensity that has carried him this deep into his career. It takes a special breed to be a catcher, and in the seventh inning Tuesday, Hundley showed that fire that’s so tucked away before and after starts.
Yasiel Puig fouled a pitch off that he felt he should have crushed. As he does, Puig reacted angrily. He flipped the bat in the air and grabbed it emphatically, showing all 46,000 at Dodger Stadium that he felt he should have tied the game. Hundley wasn’t pleased, and let Puig know that he should dig back into the box. The two came face-to-face, and then shoves were exchanged. This rivalry had another heated chapter, with both benches and bullpens clearing and Puig getting in one open-handed shot to Hundley’s mask before order was restored.
Afterward, in a clubhouse buzzing over the mini-brawl and 2-1 win over the Dodgers, Hundley was as calm as could be. He said it was a good game between rivals, one chasing the other in the standings. He said it was not a big deal. He would not say what he said to set Puig off.
"That's stuff that's said on the field and that'll be left out there,” Hundley said.
Here, once again, Puig disagreed with the Giants. It was not hard to see that Hundley took offense to Puig’s reaction to missing a Tony Watson pitch down the middle. Puig confirmed it.
“I knew that was the best pitch that Watson was going to throw me, so I was a little upset,” he told reporters. “He told me to stop complaining and get back in the box. When I got in his face, he told me to get out of his face, so that’s when I got upset with him. I didn’t like that he was telling me what to do, and then he said some words to me in English that I really can’t repeat.”
This is not the first time the Giants and Puig have gotten into it. It likely won’t be the last. But this disagreement came with a twist. Puig and Hundley were ejected, setting off a chain of events that helped the Giants win the game after Sam Dyson gave a run back in the eighth.
Buster Posey moved from first to catcher to replace Hundley. Brandon Belt, fresh off the disabled list, took Posey’s spot at first. Two innings later, Belt singled off Kenta Maeda and came around on Alen Hanson’s single, scoring the winning run.
Fifty-five minutes after Puig shoved Hundley, the Giants streamed out onto the field for handshakes. A few minutes later, they were celebrating in the clubhouse. This was as loud as it’s been after a game all season long for a team that improved to 61-60, got within three of the Dodgers, and stayed five back of the Diamondbacks.
“That should bring us even closer together,” Hundley said. “This is a tight-knit group. We’ll feed off that. What a great win.”
It started with six strong innings from rookie Andrew Suarez. When the field cleared and Hundley and Puig headed back to their respective clubhouses, the Dodgers rallied and tied it on Manny Machado’s single. For a second straight night, the Giants beat a Dodgers reliever in the ninth. This time it was Kenta Maeda, supposedly the solution for the Dodgers’ woes. Hanson smoked a single up the middle and Belt, who just missed 17 games with a hyperextended knee, rumbled home. Kiké Hernandez has a strong arm in center, and Hanson admitted later that he was worried when he saw Hernandez scoop the ball on one bounce.
“I noticed Belt rounding third when the throw was coming in,” Hanson said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “Luckily for us, he made a bad throw.”
The throw was high and Yasmani Grandal couldn’t glove it. Belt slid in safely. He said later that he felt like he was running underwater in his first game back. He also insisted that his knee feels fine.
“I wasn’t moving fast enough to make it hurt anyway,” Belt said.
With that, he headed for the bus. The clubhouse was still energetic and players smiled as they walked past Hundley’s locker. The Giants came here with a very realistic shot of being permanently banished from the NL West race. Instead, they’re right back within striking distance, and they got to get their juices flowing, too.
“Two very good games, great games, to come in here and get a couple of wins,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”