Panik finds grass in extra innings, leads Giants to win in return to KC

Panik finds grass in extra innings, leads Giants to win in return to KC

KANSAS CITY — Just as he did after Game 7 of the World Series, Joe Panik found Shawon Dunston and Chad Chop after a win to thank them for a decision to review a missed call. 

“First game back here, it’s me, Craw, Belt, Dunston and Chop,” he said Tuesday night. “Again, it was four to six to three to replay.”

Some things haven’t changed three years later. The Giants again got a big double play that was boosted by a review. Poor Eric Hosmer was again on the back end of it, showing that against the Giants, he can’t win regardless of how he goes into the bag. The pitching was outstanding in big spots, just as it was the last time the Giants played at Kauffman Stadium.

But there was one key difference: Three years after he made Giants hitters miserable, Lorenzo Cain came up inches short on the game-deciding play. Cain was all over the field Tuesday, but Panik’s single in the top of the 11th snuck under his glove to drive Nick Hundley home and give the Giants a 2-1 win. 

Panik was on that 2014 team that couldn’t figure out a way past Cain, Alex Gordon and the rest of the Royals outfield. He had flashbacks as he approached first. 

“It was mixed emotions,” he said. “You see the trajectory of the ball and the outfielders and you see a lot of green. But running to first, you see Lorenzo running and you have bad thoughts running through your head. Fortunately, that one caught some grass.”

It ended up being the game-winner on a night when both teams struggled in the clutch. The Giants left 10 on base but that was nothing compared to a 1-for-11 performance from the Royals with runners in scoring position. 

Panik and others credited Giants relievers for buckling down when situations got tight late. Steven Okert and Derek Law got through some iffy spots in the eighth, ninth and tenth to get the ball to Mark Melancon, who stranded two.

Hours earlier, Matt Cain had put the staff in gear with seven sharp innings. 

“He was outstanding,” interim manager Ron Wotus said. “Really, really good.”

Wotus, managing because Bruce Bochy had a minor heart procedure, was particularly encouraged by Cain’s effort against left-handed hitters. After Gordon’s leadoff double, Cain kept Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer mostly in check. He has two straight solid outings, lowering his ERA to 3.31. 

“It was a good day,” Cain said. “That was nice.”

Cain said he has benefited from a decision to keep him on track. The Giants could have skipped their No. 5 starter — and at one time it looked like a lock — but Cain got the nod in a city he didn’t pitch in three years ago because of an injury. 

“It was good to get back in a rhythm,” he said. “It’s nice to get back on the same page.”

Will it continue? Cain’s next start would come Monday against the Dodgers, and at times Bochy has hinted that Ty Blach could sneak back into the rotation to face a lineup that has massive issues against lefties. Asked about Cain on Tuesday, Wotus smiled and said Bochy will have all the answers when he returns to the club Friday. 

With Bochy back, Wotus will go back to being the bench coach and working tirelessly with the roster’s infielders. They have paid him back when given the chance. A year ago, Brandon Crawford picked up seven hits to help Wotus win a 14-inning game as interim manager. This time it was Panik.

“You get all the statistics today and matchups and everything and all the information that you look at, but the guy plays baseball,” Wotus said. “He’s in the moment and wants to be the guy.”

Panik found his moment in the 11th. The Giants are 2-0 the last two years without their manager, who was said to be watching from his home in San Diego. The games have lasted 25 combined innings. 

“He has a knack for knowing what games to take off,” Wotus said, smiling.

 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made. 

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Clutch, late-game hitting by Hunter Pence has propelled him to the three hole as the Giants look to bounce back vs the Braves. Bruce Bochy has released the rest of his lineup for Game 2 of the series...

San Francisco Giants:
1. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 3B
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Hunter Pence (R) RF
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Austin Slater (R) LF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Nick Hundley (R) C
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Cain (R) P

Atlanta Braves:
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
8. Johan Camargo (S) 3B
9. Jaime Garcia (L) P