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SAN FRANCISCO -– Buster Posey had a choice Friday night: A crack at a sixth hit, or the cold tub.
The soak won.
“I mean, at this point of the year, you can come up here and get in the cold tub, and it’s already a three-hour game…” said Posey, after he went single-single-single-triple-single in just six innings of a 13-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. “I want to be in there as much as I can the rest of the way.”
There’s still time to join Mike Benjamin and Jesus Alou in the Giants’ exclusive and rather eclectic six-hit club.
Posey will be wearing the uniform for a gob of summers yet. And it's starting to become a strong possibility he’ll be spending those summers watching Joe Panik’s at-bats from the on-deck circle.
Panik, moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, had four hits of his own, matching a career high. His average is up to .312. And the way manager Bruce Bochy raves about him, there might not be much of a spring training competition in Scottsdale for the second base job.
“His whole game,” said Bochy, asked what he likes about Panik. “I like the way he turns the double play and how he handles the bat. We tweaked it a little to keep from having all those left-handed bats down there in the back end of the order. I do like him there, and (Hunter) Pence hitting fifth helps stretch out the lineup.”
In other words, this is a lineup configuration that could stick into September, and possibly well beyond that.
“Joe’s done a real nice job,” Bochy said. “He’s a tough kid and he plays the game the way you like to see it played.”
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The Giants raced to a 42-21 record because of pitching and surprising power hitting. But an offense reliant on home runs just doesn’t work consistently at AT&T Park – at least not anymore, when random specimens are being collected. The best kind of offense here involves pure, whole-field hitting and smart baserunning.
Led by nine hits from their 2-3 hitters, the Giants combined to pepper the Brewers staff for 19 hits – their second most ever in a game at AT&T Park, and one away from matching the record of 20 set Aug. 14, 2001, against the Florida Marlins.
Hunter Pence extended his hit streak to 11 games with three hits and three RBIs yet probably had the fifth best night in the Giants lineup. Besides Posey and Panik, Gregor Blanco posted a Barry Bonds line (walk, walk, walk, home run) and Angel Pagan finished a homer short of the cycle.
The toughest part for Ryan Vogelsong, who had received zero runs of support in his five previous home starts, was avoiding deep vein thrombosis in the home half as Brewers 15-game winner Wily Peralta and right-hander Marco Estrada threw 154 pitches over the first five innings.
“I saw how the guys kept fighting, and things usually come around,” said Vogelsong, explaining why his confidence in the offense never wavered.
Confidence is the operative word, isn’t it? Posey was batting a lukewarm .278 just nine games ago before a 20-for-40 scorcher lifted him to .297. But he has an NL MVP trophy to assuage any doubts. Panik has … what? An MVP trophy from the short-season Northwest League, when he hit .341 for Salem-Keizer three years ago?
It’s infinitely harder for a rookie to carry himself the same way through a slow start. Even when Panik was hitting .203 through 24 games, though, he said he didn’t lose hope.
But did he really believe he could walk into the big leagues and hit .300?
“Honestly, yeah,” he said, still sounding self-aware. “Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve always believed I can be a good hitter and nothing has changed since I got here. I got off to a slow start but I’ve always believed in myself. There’s a month left in the season but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.”
Said Posey: “You talk about confidence. It seems the last three or four weeks, every time he comes to bat he gets a hit. It’s just a real nice, simple approach and a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. If you can do that, you’ll have success.”
Panik said while in the minor leagues, he would watch Posey whenever he could. He’d get excited if San Jose or Fresno were playing a night game and the Giants had a businessman’s special. It meant a chance to turn on the TV and try to learn something.
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“I mean, whoa,” Panik said. “It’s impressive. He’s such an impressive hitter. You can learn a lot from him and right now he’s hot and he’s one of the best hitters in baseball for a reason.”
Panik hits from the left side. Posey has a smooth right-handed stroke. But in terms of approach and confidence, there are similarities – even in what they choose to admire about each other.
“Just how simple he keeps it,” Posey said. “He doesn’t have a lot of movement. He’s in a good position to hit.”
Said Panik: “Just approach, how he uses the whole field. How many hits went the other way? Three or four? That’s why he’s a .300 hitter. He’s comfortable up there. He’s an MVP.”
The rotation is on a roll (Vogelsong has allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts), Posey has the lineup slung over his back and now others are starting to contribute. No wonder the Giants have won seven of nine at home. Prior to that, they won just seven of 29 here.
They are just 3 ½ games behind the Dodgers and now lead the NL wild card standings, a half-game better than the Cardinals and a game ahead of the Braves.
Posey’s choice aside, they have the look of a team that has sat in the cold tub quite long enough, thank you.