PHOENIX – The Giants boarded their chartered jet to Los Angeles and an NL West banner raising that will be held in front of their faces at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
But it was not an angst-fueled flight. Far from it.
Not when Angel Pagan was 8 for 19 with a couple of huge catches in center field over the course of winning three of four games in a season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. His concussive three-run home run Thursday afternoon ensured that the Giants’ first getaway day flight would be a happy one, indeed.
Pagan’s tiebreaking shot capped a five run eighth inning as the Giants rallied for an 8-5 victory and a series win that showcased their improved hitting depth, and maybe, an uptick in tenacity.
“We were just trying to have a happy flight and win a ball game,” said a smiling Pagan, using one of his favorite sayings. “It’s been great. We’re just trying to be consistent and not panicking when we’re behind on the scoreboard. It’s been working. Everybody feels good about where we are.”
The Giants rallied for two of their three victories here, but Thursday’s getaway win was the most impressive because they began it with two of their biggest offensive weapons, Buster Posey and Michael Morse, on the bench.
The Giants might not have the frontline position player depth in the minor leagues to survive injuries to key personnel. But there’s little doubt their big league roster is deeper, healthier and better than a year ago.
That explains why Giants manager Bruce Bochy could rest Posey in a day game after a night game without wedging the cleanup hitter’s bat into the lineup at first base. Brandon Belt, who might have landed on the bench on a day like this in previous seasons, instead got the start and hit his third home run in four games.
Backup catcher Hector Sanchez played a fine game in which he showed improved defensive skills, hit a deep sacrifice fly and rattled the double into the right field corner that truly started their five-run eighth inning down the ski run.
And the Giants’ suddenly firm bench saw four different players score a run for the first time in a game since 2009. Posey drew a pinch intentional walk, Morse became separated from his helmet while hitting a tying pinch single that scored pinch runner Juan Perez and Pagan cleared the very next pitch for takeoff to turn an excitable visiting dugout into a jubilant one.
An inning earlier, Brandon Hicks his first career pinch homer -- a second-deck job -- in his first official at-bat as a Giant.
“It was just a matter of how I’d use them, whether I’d hit Morse or Buster first,” said Bochy, who knew the walk might come but felt good about Morse hitting with two on. “I wanted to make sure I got his bat up there and if they walked him, there was a good chance what could happen would happen.
“It’s pretty nice to have those weapons. Now, out of all those, who’d think Hicks would hit the furthest ball?”
The Giants hit six home runs in the four-game series, which probably won’t happen too often at AT&T Park. Along with the rotation, that might be their great unknown this season: how an offense with lots of power potential will translate to those wide and chilly expanses on the shores of McCovey Cove. But on the road, at least, the Giants are confident they will score more runs.
They were able to take Tim Lincecum off the hook after his six mostly solid, walk-free innings were blemished by two-run home runs on pitches to Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning and Mark Trumbo in the sixth.
“Yeah, you tell me,” said Lincecum, asked if there’s any weakness he can find within the scouting reports on Goldschmidt, who is 12 for 23 with six homers against him. “I’m going to try throwing underhand to him, or something. It’s a game of adjustments and he’s constantly making them against me.
“I really want to get him out.”
The Diamondbacks probably feel the same way about Pagan, who missed 82 games following left hamstring surgery last season and even surprised himself with how well he played last September.
“I wanted to prove something, prove to them that I’m still the same after surgery on my leg,” said Pagan, who drove in six runs over the series.
Pagan typically defers to the team when asked about himself, but he acknowledged the 8 for 19 start, plus those big catches behind Tim Hudson on Wednesday, meant a lot to him.
“It’s good to get off to this start because I feel great,” he said. “My leg is 100 percent. I’m seeing the ball better than the previous year and I’m confident because I put in the work, so I can’t be surprised.
“Dude, my left leg feels better than my right. When you put in the right work, and you’re positive, everything goes your way. I’m always positive and I wanted to be back there with my teammates so bad, and that was the motivation for me.”
The Giants are downplaying any motivation they might receive from Friday’s banner raising, when the Dodgers open their home schedule amid World Series expectations in which many prognosticators see the rest of the NL West as a speed bump.
Hunter Pence said the Dodgers are no different from any other team. That’s a cliché, of course. But he put some proof behind it.
“I think last year we beat the Dodgers more times than they beat us,” said Pence, correctly referring to their 11-8 record in the season series.
Pence didn’t need to point out that the Giants finished 16 games behind L.A.
“So that tells you that you’ve got to take care of business every day, against whoever you’re playing,” Pence said. “Morse calls it the horse race mentality. It’s just looking straight ahead, all the time.”
Except for those happy flights, maybe. That’s relaxation time.
“I’m looking to break all the home run records,” joked Belt, when told he joined Willie Mays, Kevin Mitchell and Barry Bonds – three NL MVPs – as the only Giants to hit three home runs in the first four games of a season. “I said coming into the season I was looking to hit 74 home runs, so we’ll see what happens. I might have to make it 100.”