SAN FRANCISCO – Baseball has the richest sample size. It is a statistician’s black dirt. It is a farm of data, and the corn is always tallest in late summer.
But you do not need a degree in applied mathematics, or even an active SABR membership card, to appreciate four data points that popped out from the Giants’ 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night.
The first number is two. That’s how many home runs Buster Posey hit after the All-Star break last year. It’s the reason he reported to spring training two weeks early, why he ramped up his offseason conditioning. If you’re going to put a team on your back in August and September, you’d better have the quads and core strength for it.
The second number is five. That’s how many home runs Posey has in his last seven games after harvesting Juan Nicasio’s 93 mph fastball above the belt in the ninth. The two-run shot was the second game-ending homer of his career, and it’s only fair. Buster gets to receive a hug every now and then, right?
The third number is 2,000. That’s how many strikeouts Tim Hudson reached when he fanned Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales in the sixth inning. He finished with eight of them on the night, a season high, got away with his mistakes and allowed just a run on four hits in eight innings. The only thing that eluded him was the victory, after Santiago Casilla blew a save following a hit batter and a double in the ninth.
The fourth and final number is 1,600. Thanks to Posey and Hudson, that’s how many regular-season wins Bruce Bochy owns in 20 seasons as a major league manager. In case 1,600 strikes you as an arbitrary number, know that it ranks 19th all-time and leads all active skippers. It’s also the most wins of any NL West manager since the leagues expanded in 1969.
Still yawning? Well, Tommy Lasorda won 1,599.
There. That should do it.
“It means I’m very fortunate, it really does,” Bochy said. “I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing up here. It’s a tremendous ride and it’s a number. I don’t know what it means, but I guess ride Tommy a little.”
The coaches held a champagne toast (with paper cups) in Bochy’s office. No meatballs or marinara.
It would’ve been a much different scene in the manager’s office had Casilla not managed to strand Morneau or had Posey not settled matters with one swing in the ninth. Bochy took out Hudson with just 87 pitches, and the crowd voiced its dissatisfaction when the Rockies tied it just four pitches into the ninth.
There was some dread commingling with that dissatisfaction, too, and for good reason. Here’s a fifth data point for you: the Rockies were 3-67 when trailing after eight innings, and all three comeback wins had come against the Giants.
Posey ensured there wouldn’t be a fourth.
“He’s feeling pretty good up there and it’s fun to see,” Hudson said. “He’s really started to see the ball well. We need to jump on his shoulders and get through this last month and make it interesting here.”
That’s what Posey anticipated. That’s why he vowed never to let another second half weigh him down. He agreed, though, that his struggles last season, when he hit just .244 after the break, had a mental component as well. He had played on winning teams his whole life. Even in 2011, when the Giants whimpered out of contention in August, Posey had just graduated from crutches to a walking boot following the home-plate collision in May that obliterated his ankle.
That’s why, when Posey was asked to reflect on Bochy’s 1,600 wins, he didn’t make reference to the World Series years in 2010 or ’12.
“Last year, when we were struggling, he kept pushing us, kept pushing,” Posey said. “Even though we were out of it that last month, he has us out there trying to win.”
There were times Posey needed to be pushed last season, along with everyone else. This year, for all the victories they’ve given back in the standings, they are still in the thick of two playoff races. The Dodgers lead them by five games but there are six head-to-head matchups remaining. And if the season ended today, the Giants would be flying to St. Louis for a wild card knockout game.
So it isn’t just his physical preparation that has Posey fresher now than at this time a year ago.
“I mean, it’s night and day coming to the park as opposed to last year,” said Posey, who is hitting .484 (15 for 31) over his last seven games, with five home runs and 10 RBIs.
“There’s really no way around it. It’s just a better feeling. You feel we have something to play for. Not that we didn’t have something to play for last year, but you work all offseason and spring training to get to this point so you can make that push to get in the playoffs.
“A lot of us know what this team is capable of doing if we do get into the playoffs. So this is the fun time of year.”
It is what Hudson is playing for, too. He has played on six postseason teams and never escaped the best-of-5 Division Series. Nobody on this club is better cast to be this year’s Edgar Renteria, stand in front of the group and say, “Just get me there. I just want to experience being there one time.”
In the meantime, when you are 39 years old and have combed enough beaches, you’re bound to have some seaglass in your pockets.
“That’s awesome. I struck out the pitcher,” said Hudson, as self-deprecating as ever while describing his 2,000th strikeout. “Pretty cool. I worked on my repertoire there.”
Hudson said he wasn’t even aware of the milestone until Bochy shook his hand in the dugout after the inning.
“He shook my hand like he was going to take me out,” Hudson said. “I thought, `I guess that’s it. What is it? The fifth inning?’”
Suddenly, it made sense to Hudson why Posey had thrown the third strike to Morales out of play.
Maybe the best part of the milestone is that Hudson can brag that he beat Jake Peavy to it. These two right-handers, from opposite ends of Alabama, will be a pair of dueling banjos on the active strikeouts list for the rest of the season. Peavy has 1,997 strikeouts. He’s likely to join the 2,000 club in his next start. Tim Lincecum, currently on a path to self-discovery by way of the bullpen, has 1,640 strikeouts.
It takes a decade in the major leagues, or superhuman stuff, to strike out as many as 1,500 batters. Matt Cain reached that mark this season, shortly before the briar patch in his elbow made it impossible to continue. It is noteworthy, and maybe a little more than that, to consider that Cain ranks fourth on the Giants staff.
“You know what? It just says I’ve been playing a long time,” Hudsom said. “I’m not really labeled a strikeout guy. I’m just glad I can still go out and give the team a chance.”
He stopped to consider a night of numerology, made luminous when Posey dotted a black sky with a white ball.
“A 1,600th win?” Hudson said. “That’s a little more impressive than 2,000 strikeouts, actually.”