Rewind: Crawford, Giants slug their way back into first place

Rewind: Crawford, Giants slug their way back into first place
July 18, 2014, 8:15 pm
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Brandon Crawford went 1-for-2 at the plate with three RBI on Friday. (AP)

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MIAMI –- The way Madison Bumgarner viewed it Friday night, the Giants must’ve come out of the All-Star break hungry.

It was that, or just a desire to put a different taste in their mouths. You can only lick your wounds for so long.

The Giants landed in South Florida and did not look like the forlorn group that had gone 10-22 entering the break while throwing away a 9 1/2 –game lead in the NL West.

They did not appear to pine for what they had lost.

They simply reacted to what was in front of them in a 9-1 victory at Marlins Park, and nobody applied that concept better than Brandon Crawford. He fouled off a curve –- the fifth two-strike foul in an 11-pitch at-bat -– and yet stayed ready to turn around a 96 mph fastball from Nathan Eovaldi.

If the break didn’t serve as a reset button, Crawford’s two-run home run in the second inning certainly did.

[RELATED: Instant Replay: Giants rout Marlins 9-1 to open second half]

An inning later, the Giants had three consecutive two-out hits to extend their lead. Then Pablo Sandoval swatted a fastball just under his chin for a three-run shot, and the Giants found themselves in a rare spot. It was garbage time, and they weren’t the ones swimming in the dumpster. They ended the night back in first place, too, percentage points ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West.

The Giants rediscovered the wonder of the two-out, RBI hit. They dusted off the put-away hit. It was all so hazily familiar.

“This is who we were the first 60-plus games,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “The first half, it was a tale of two teams. We had some good at-bats today, some two-outs hits. And Pablo, I don’t know how he hit that pitch.”

But first, Crawford had to hit his.

“He does have four good pitches,” Crawford said of Eovaldi. “But with anybody who throws that hard, you have to look fastball and adjust off that. That’s what I was thinking.”

Crawford entered the break hitting .135 in 52 at-bats since his last extra-base hit on June 25. So his first at-bat of the unofficial second half was the best possible thing he could’ve done. And it wasn’t just the home run swing that gave him a boost.

“I was looking fastball even when I fouled off the curve,” he said. “That’s good. That almost locks me in. (It tells me) that I was balanced, I wasn’t drifting too far forward. I took a changeup in that at-bat, too, and felt pretty balanced.”

That’s the point, isn’t it?

Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. But don’t get caught looking at the past, either. For the first time in weeks, the Giants appear to crave the taste of something fresh.

The top five hitters in the lineup went 11-for-22, and No. 6 hitter Brandon Belt made two outs on the warning track. Hunter Pence nearly scaled the wall down the right field line while making a catch, too.

[RELATED: Giants notes: Considering Uggla, Scutaro's health, etc.]

“It definitely looked like we came out hungry today,” said Bumgarner, who held the Marlins to one very loud run –- a 466-foot home run off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat -– in six innings. “That’s good. That’s what we’ll need to do to be in the mix of things in September and October.”

They’ll also need health, of course. A rare laugher gave Bochy the opportunity to rest half his starters, including Crawford, who bruised his knee diving for the ball and would’ve stayed in a close game.

Bochy has acknowledged he might have allowed Crawford to wear down in the first half. Given the road-heavy schedule and trips to hot-weather cities, he plans to give more regular rest to Crawford and some other regulars. (That’ll be a lot easier to do if GM Brian Sabean can upgrade the bench via trade at some point this month.)

Bumgarner threw just 84 pitches but he received a lighter load as well since he was pitching on his regular four days of rest. Besides, either emboldened by his grand slam Sunday or the Home Run Derby in Minnesota, Bumgarner’s swing got awfully big as he went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. Bochy wasn’t going to let the big lefty take a Golden Sombrero for the first time in his career.

Even Stanton’s massive shot that cleared the Timothy Leary-inspired monolith in center field here felt more like an extension of the Derby -- an exhibition, nothing more -- than a run that mattered.

“He just missed that one a touch,” Bumgarner said, with the easy sarcasm that can only come from a winning clubhouse. “I think he got it off the end of the bat.”