PHOENIX — Johnny Cueto has displayed many quirks that have delighted teammates, including a tendency to put it into a much higher gear when he has a shot at an infield hit. In the third inning Saturday, the Giants learned Cueto can be just as entertaining when he sniffs an RBI.
Cueto lined a single into right with the bases loaded and halfway down the line he started dramatically windmilling his arms, trying to will Hunter Pence home from second. Pence was held up, and Cueto playfully waved at third-base coach Roberto Kelly. He would have to settle for the one RBI, but with the way Pence is going, Cueto knew it was only a matter of time.
Pence scored four more runs Saturday, giving him eight in two days at Chase Field. He joined Cueto in carrying the Giants to an 11-3 win that gave them back-to-back road victories for the first time since the first day of June. It has been an astounding run of inconsistency, but Pence never let it get him down. He has been a persistent cheerleader, and on Saturday the Reverend explained why.
“Your perspective is very important,” Pence said. “When you’re having tough games, you’ve got to remind yourself of the ultimate goal and not just get caught up with how it happens. Keep pushing and enjoy the baseball. You can control your mindset and attitude and embrace the moment.”
Pence said he learned that from Lance Berkman, his former Astros teammate. Berkman used to teach Pence about Andy Pettitte, who was relentlessly positive even if the team was seven or eight back.
“Keep pushing, keep pushing,” Pettitte would say.
Pence noted that the left-hander had tremendous postseason success during his career. Pence has a long October record, too, and he feels another chapter is waiting to be written. On Saturday, it was a bit easier to picture the opportunity.
For all that has gone wrong for the Giants in the second half, players have consistently noted that they will have a big advantage in one respect if they make the postseason. Along with Madison Bumgarner, the Giants now have Cueto, a workhorse who looks to be getting stronger as the weeks go on. Cueto sprinkled in a few 94 mph fastballs late in his seven-inning start, as if to show that there’s still plenty left in reserve. He gave up two runs on three hits.
“He’s got such a great delivery and he doesn’t put a lot of effort in,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s pitching out there. He doesn’t try to bull his way through the lineup. But when he needs it, he’s got some left in the tank.”
A team with Bumgarner and Cueto does not need a dominant offense, just a functional one. The Giants were more than that Saturday, knocking Archie Bradley out early and piling up 19 hits. Pence did the majority of the damage.
The right fielder became the second Giant all-time and first big leaguer in 11 years to score four runs in back-to-back games. With another game left this weekend, he has already tied the franchise record by scoring eight times in a series.
Pence said this is about as good as he’s felt over a two-day span in his career. He noted that his timing was fine when he returned from a hamstring injury, but a foul ball off the eye in August set him back. Pence was vague with details about whether his vision might have been affected, but it’s clear that injury made life at the plate considerably more difficult. He finally looks like the player the Giants have grown to love.
“It’s a lot of ground-attack infield hits and then balls find a hole,” Pence said.
There’s more to it. He hit a homer to right as part of a three-hit day, and he also has two doubles in the series. Pence has reached base 10 times in 11 at-bats.
“You start with the talent and the way he’s swinging the bat,” Bochy said. “But, just the energy he brings (is big). I talk about it so many times, but he brings it every day.”
Bochy said Pence has been a force in the clubhouse during this second half slide.
“You watch him and you think we’ve won 10 in a row,” Bochy said.
The Giants are at two straight. Saturday’s win allowed them to keep pace with the Dodgers, who are four up in the NL West, and the Cardinals, who are just behind in the Wild Card standings. Bochy and his team did pick up a game on the Mets in the race for the postseason. Pence can see the light at the end of that tunnel.
“There’s a long way to go and a lot of cool stuff in front of us,” he said. “The story has yet to be written, and that’s the beauty of it.”