Rewind: Giants don't need home runs, just play clean games

Rewind: Giants don't need home runs, just play clean games
May 2, 2014, 9:45 pm
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Michael Morse is batting .311 (28-for90) with seven home runs and 21 RBI this season for the Giants. (USATSI)

The Giants are on pace to hit 200 home runs this season. Okay, 201.103, if accuracy is your thing.

This would not be unprecedented. Just highly, highly unforeseen.

The Giants have 36 homers in 29 games after using two of them, a leadoff shot from Angel Pagan and a tiebreaking shot in the sixth from Michael Morse, to beat the Atlanta Braves 2-1 Friday night at Turner Field.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Morse's solo shot lifts Giants past Braves]

This was the year Pablo Sandoval, on the contract-drive Autobahn, was going to hit 40 homers. He’s on pace for 11. Doesn’t matter. The Giants already have more homers in left field than the five they hit last season. They already have as many home runs at second base than the four they hit last season.

For sure, the Giants are going to hit more than the 107 homers they managed last year. They’ll hit more than the major league low 103 they coaxed in 2012, when they won the World Series anyway.

But they won’t hit 200. They won’t become the first Giants team to reach that mark since 2001, when a certain left fielder hit 73. Morse has seven homers but it’s easy to forget that he had nine on May 1 last year, and he was available as a bargain this winter only because injuries derailed his season. His track record is what it is, and the Giants will be challenged to keep him healthy.

Brandon Belt also has seven homers to match Morse for the team lead, but he’s found out in this past week where swinging for the fences will get him. Look for Belt to start taking more of an up-the-middle approach, especially as teams adjust to all the homers he hit on those down-and-in pitches.

Here’s the good news: The Giants don’t need to hit 200 homers. They just need to play clean games, get quality starts and protect leads when they get them. They did all those things to make two solo shots stand up and win the first game of a 10-game trip.

Tim Lincecum pitched in a lot of traffic but held the Braves to 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Lincecum is holding hitters to a .207 average with RISP this season, after they hit .250 in those situations last year and .286 in 2012. He’s trending in the right direction. The strikeout/walk ratio is trending the right way, too.

Brandon Crawford was the best defensive shortstop on the field Friday, which is saying something since Andrelton Simmons was his counterpart. Simmons won a Gold Glove winner as a rookie, and once you have that reputation, it’s like Quikrete when managers and coaches go to fill out their ballots. Crawford will have to be insanely good, and commit virtually no errors, to unseat Simmons. Maybe he will.

For now, Crawford is simply making plays to win games. He stayed with a bad hop on one play, and he made a spectacular diving stop to take a hit away from Evan Gattis in the ninth.

Sergio Romo had to be grateful for that, and more. He was a strike away from a 1-2-3 inning, then a pitch-away from a walk-off loss. In Turner Field, where he was 0-2 with a 16.88 ERA in five career appearances, not counting that Eric Hinske home run in the 2010 NLDS, it’s never been easy for Romo.

But he continues to evolve as a closer, and it isn’t just the changeup he’s using to defuse lefties. When B.J. Upton coaxed a two-strike, two-out single, and then stole second base, Romo switched up and pitched carefully to Freddie Freeman – the same hitter who was responsible for one of his five blown saves last year. Romo ended up walking Freeman rather than throw a pitch that could beat him.

Now the tying and winning runs were on base, and a hotter hitter, Justin Upton, was at the plate. Upton took too good a cut while fouling off a 2-2 slider. So Romo, after going away all at-bat, threw an inside fastball. He painted it. He’s done this before, as you might recall – to strike out a Triple Crown winner, and clinch a World Series.

Romo shouted and pointed to the sky. So that’s what it must feel like to hit a home run.

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