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SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants held meetings. They tweaked the lineup. They dipped into the minor leagues. They held more meetings.
All along, they knew: there was just one way to hoist themselves back to respectability, and it was playing nine clean innings.
The Giants did that, mostly, to beat baseball’s winingest team Wednesday night. Matt Cain threw six solid innings, the bullpen did not wobble once the rest of the way and while a struggling offense might have lacked the put-away hit, they created enough traffic to ruin Jason Hammel’s Oakland debut in a 5-2 victory Wednesday night.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants break through, beat A's 5-2]
Hunter Pence even christened the center field garden by hitting the inaugural home run there. It was a tater among the rutabagas. Or, more likely, a kale patch.
“That’s the first one? That’s awesome,” said Pence, who also had an RBI single and stole a base. “I was there to open the kale garden and I’m the first to say hello.
“As long as it goes over the fence, I don’t care if it’s in a kale patch or a glove or a kid’s hand. As long as it helps us win.”
Cain won for just the second time in his 15 starts, although by all rights he should be on a three-start winning streak. He even picked himself up after committing the Giants’ only error of the night, when he threw a ball into center field in the fifth inning.
“All I was going to think about was, 'OK, I messed up. Now let’s get it done,’” Cain said. “I knew Hammel was going to bunt and (Coco) Crisp would be next. So just concentrate and get him out.”
Cain went to the stretch with runners on second and third, and he did. Crisp grounded out, Cain pitched one more inning and while he isn’t thrilled about taking two wins into the All-Star break, it’s better than one.
“Especially as well as we’ve played, you’d like to participate more,” said Cain, who had DL stints for a cut finger and a hamstring pull. “I’ll definitely try to do that more in the second half.”
In a way, Cain’s fifth inning mirrored the Giants’ slide as they gave back every bit of a 9 ½-game lead in the NL West. OK, they messed up. Now let’s get it done.
They have a chance to split a four-game series with the rampaging A’s. And they’re back in first place too, percentage points ahead of the Dodgers.
“Well, you look at how things have gone, you may find that amazing,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “But that’s due to all the good work that was done before. There’s a long road ahead of us but they’re fighting.”
In their two losses at the Coliseum, the Giants went 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts with runners in scoring position. They were just 2 for 10 Wednesday night, and left eight on base.
But they ran the bases well to score the game’s first run. Gregor Blanco walked in the second inning, started running with the pitch to Joe Panik and sprinted home when Yoenis Cespedes let the ball clank off his glove for an error. Pence’s RBI single in the sixth game after Cain failed to get a bunt down.
They picked each other up, and they had contributions from up and down the lineup. Panik and Crawford had two hits apiece from the Nos. 7-8 spots in the lineup, which has had the worst success turning itself over in recent weeks.
Panik singled and Crawford squibbed a bunt hit against lefty Eric O’Flaherty in the two-run sixth.
“It seems when we’re at our best, it’s when we’re getting contributions all the way through the lineup,” said Buster Posey, who hit .362 with 10 doubles in June but was mostly a one-man act. “Panik is swinging better, and it’s good to see Craw getting some hits. Earlier in the season, that’s what we were doing. It’s not one person who’s extremely hot but just everybody being consistent.”
If anyone has been consistent through the Giants’ nose-breaking ups and downs, it’s Pence. He ranks third in the NL in both hits (110) and runs (65), he is a deserving All-Star and he could remain relentlessly positive with sharks circling his inflatable pool chair.
“Every win is a successful day,” Pence said.
And if your home runs happen to result in some bonus rototilling?
“Maybe some of the other guys should go out there and walk around the garden, see what it looks like,” he said, smiling. “Maybe the plants had more to do with it than me.”