MIAMI – Pablo Sandoval struggled in April and May. The rest of the Giants came back to earth in June and early July.
You’d never know it by watching them Saturday night. Sandoval had three hits and started a pair of scoring rallies while boosting his average above .280 for the first time this season, and the Giants once again could claim the NL’s best record after a 5-3 victory at Marlins Park.
Tim Hudson, fresh off his trip to the All-Star Game, had a start worthy of that status while pitching into the eighth inning. The Marlins had trouble matching Hudson because their own efficient right-hander, Henderson Alvarez, got knocked out in the second inning when struck on the shin by Joe Panik’s comebacker.
Hunter Pence hit a two-run single in the fourth inning for the Giants, who will try to pull off their first series sweep since June 6-8, when they leveled the Mets at AT&T Park.
Brandon Belt left the game in the third inning because of dizziness.
[RELATED: Brandon Belt exits game in third inning]
Starting pitching report
When Hudson induces three double-play grounders in the first three innings, it’s a pretty good indication that you’ll get a quality performance from him.
Hudson (8-6) gave up a run on three hits in the first inning but the most dangerous hitter he faced, Giancarlo Stanton, made two outs with one swing. Those were the first two of 14 ground-ball outs that Hudson recorded, and the Marlins did not score off him again.
In fact, the Marlins didn’t advance another runner into scoring position until the seventh, when Marcell Ozuna hit a triple that sailed just beyond Hunter Pence’s reach in right field.
Hudson never threw more than 15 pitches in an inning. He entered with the fewest pitches per inning among all NL starters, in a virtual dead heat with Alvarez. It was an efficient and effective turnaround for Hudson, who had posted a 6.07 ERA while going winless over his previous five starts.
His final line: 7 1/3 innings, one run on eight hits and no walks, and three strikeouts.
Jeremy Affeldt retired his two hitters in the eighth and stranded Hudson’s runner, thus ensuring that Stanton would lead off the next inning. That’s always a good idea, since Bruce Bochy had gotten Sergio Romo loose and Romo already has allowed a career high seven homers this season.
Sure enough, Stanton crushed a no-doubt homer on the first pitch Romo threw in the ninth. It came on an 87 mph fastball, not a slider. When Romo allowed a two-out double to Ozuna, making it a save situation, Bochy took no chances. He relied on closer Santiago Casilla, who allowed an RBI single before Adeiny Hechavarria lined out to end it.
At the plate
The Giants didn’t score first, but they struck back quickly enough. Sandoval and Belt doubled off Alvarez in the second inning, and the Marlins offered some two-ply charity when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia allowed a passed ball before throwing wildly to third base for an error that scored Belt.
Belt was fortunate, since Saltalamacchia’s throw whizzed by his head and narrowly missed him. Something else caused Belt to have a dizzy spell, though, and he was replaced in the bottom of the third.
Alvarez’s day was even shorter. He left in the top of the third after Joe Panik hit a comebacker off his shin.
Sandoval, with 11 hits in his last five games, is seeing every pitcher well these days. He started another rally with a leadoff single in the fourth off Sam Dyson, then Tyler Colvin was hit by a pitch and a ground out advanced both runners.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond employed a curious bit of strategy, at least to anyone who has seen Gregor Blanco swing a bat this season. Redmond ordered an intentional walk, which backfired when Hudson proceeded to draw his own five-pitch walk to collect his first RBI as a Giant.
Hunter Pence completed the rally with a two-run single that gave the Giants a 5-1 lead. It marked his 35th multi-hit game, the most among all NL players.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford quietly had a very solid day, which always helps with Hudson on the mound. He showed impressive range to take a hit away from Ozuna in the fifth inning, then played out of position as the Giants got shifty on Saltalamacchia.
The Marlins announced 24,882 paid, boosted by last-minute support from the New York chapter of the Jordany Valdespin fan club.
The Giants and Marlins complete their three-game series at Marlins Park on Sunday. Tim Lincecum (9-5, 3.66 ERA) takes the mound against Marlins left-hander Brad Hand (0-2, 5.26). First pitch is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. PDT.