The Giants lead the majors in wins, notching their 36th on Friday with a 9-4 victory in St. Louis. One of the reasons why is they've scored more runs with two outs than any other team. All seven they hung on Adam Wainwright's shockingly bad pitching line came with two down, but their second inning rally on Friday night may have been their most impressive of the season, considering how it started.
After Gregor Blanco popped up and Brandon Crawford struck out, Brandon Hicks came up with the bases empty and quickly fell behind 0-2. That usually means a quick demise against Wainwright, who led the world in ERA before the Giants came to town. But Hicks took a curveball out of the zone, fought a pitch off, took two more balls, then fouled away three more before taking a sinker for ball four.
No big deal for a guy like Wainwright, especially with the opposing pitcher hitting next. But Madison Bumgarner turned on a sinker for a single to left, and Angel Pagan followed with a first-pitch single to center on a curveball.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants clobber Cardinals, win 9-4]
The 10-pitch at-bat to Hicks was enormous. The single from Bumgarner was unexpected. The single by Pagan may have been the blow that sunk Wainwright's spirits.
"That's not a good feeling when you're out there and you give up two-out runs," Bumgarner told reporters.
"Especially when you've got nobody on and two outs and you end up giving up a run or two. That makes it where you feel like you're in for a rough night."
Bumgarner makes a good point – after Pagan's single, it took about a minute for Wainwright's night to go from below average to catastrophic.
The Cardinals ace might have the best curveball of any active right-handed pitcher, and he threw two in a row to Hunter Pence. Pence watched the first one fall in for a strike. Then he sent the next one 447 feet, deep into the "Land" named after a fast food burger with two patties and a three-part bun.
Back to that marathon plate appearance for Hicks, who saw 30 pitches in four trips to the plate. Collecting two-out RBIs at the frequency the Giants have enjoyed over their first 55 games may not be sustainable; only time will tell. What they can control is their approach, and besides the team's power surge their mastery of those situations could be the biggest difference between this year's squad and the 2013 Giants.
"Give them credit. They're the ones up there fighting throughout the entire at-bat, trying to extend it," Bochy said. "That's what we felt we need to do a better job of and we've been doing it this year."
The first two games of this series have to feel like a role-reversal of sorts for the Cardinals, who seemed to be figuring things out after playing .500 baseball through May 11.
"In the past we've had trouble with that. Now we've been on a good roll with those big two-out hits," Bochy said.
"Of course the club we're playing, they know all about them. They were unbelievable (with two outs last season)."
Bochy refused to admit that this series between the two teams that have combined for each of the last four National League pennants meant anything extra. His players didn't follow suit.
"This is a big series," Bumgarner said. "This is a good team and they've got just as good a chance as anybody to be in the postseason and probably will be. That's good to play teams like that so you get a little experience."
Pence, who's second in the league in runs with 42, sounded like a man who knows how rare it is to drop a seven-spot against this battery.
"It is pretty special because, let's be honest, Wainwright and Yadi (Molina) are two of the best ever," Pence said. "When it's all said and done, there's a really good chance both of them are in the Hall of Fame."