The Giants have found it very difficult to win at Coors Field this year.
But on Wednesday evening, they proved it wasn’t impossible.
After losing the first nine games they played against the Colorado Rockies in Denver this season, San Francisco finally experienced what it’s like when the mountains are blue, earning a refreshing taste of victory in an 11-3 blowout.
Wednesday’s win offered the Giants their first ‘W’ in Denver since September 6, 2016, which created a year-long gap that highlights how drastic the Giants’ collapse has become. That collapse is ongoing, as San Francisco must win eight of its final 20 contests to avoid losing 100 games for the second time in franchise history.
Despite all of the Giants’ struggles this season, at Coors Field and elsewhere, Bruce Bochy’s club was golden on Wednesday evening thanks to the right arm of Johnny Cueto and the sweet swing of Joe Panik.
Panik stole the show on Wednesday with a 5-for-6 outing that helped him average four hits per game during the series against Colorado. Panik had at least three hits in all three games of the series, and his 12 hits are the most by ever by a Giants player in a three-game set. After Jeff Samardzija earned National League Player of the Week honors last week, Panik has as strong of a chance as any player to bring the award home this week given the torrid pace that helped him raise his batting average 18 points over three games.
Pitching for the second time since returning from the disabled list on September 1, Cueto logged five innings of one-run ball against a Rockies club that’s teed off on San Francisco’s staff for much of the year. The 31-year-old right-hander will make a maximum of four more starts this season, and could be limited to three given the Giants’ six-man rotation, their glut of September off days, and the possibility of Matt Cain earning a farewell tour outing at the end of the year, so every opportunity is paramount for Cueto as he hopes to finish off a season he’d rather forget about on a high note.
For much of the night, Cueto found the form he’s been searching for this season, as he struck out seven Rockies’ hitters, all of whom went down swinging. He was buoyed by a Giants’ offense that broke into Colorado’s bullpen early for the second night in a row, as San Francisco chased left-hander Kyle Freeland after just 3.1 innings.
By the time Panik had produced his first RBI, a fourth inning double that knocked in Gorkys Hernandez, the Giants already held a 4-0 lead. San Francisco jumped out to an early advantage thanks to a first inning two-out single from rookie left fielder Austin Slater, who crushed a pitch from Freeland right back up the box to give the Giants a 2-0 edge. Slater’s hit came in his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list on Tuesday, and nearly two months to the date from when he tore his adductor muscle off the bone in his hip.
The Giants doubled that lead in the fourth inning on a two-run single from Hernandez that was laced off the glove of Rockies’ sure-handed third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Though the Rockies cut into their deficit, another Panik RBI double and towering home runs from pinch hitter Mac Williamson and catcher Nick Hundley helped San Francisco to one of its easiest wins of the season.
Hundley’s 445-foot moonshot in the top of the eighth inning put an exclamation point on the Giants’ win, and once again proved his value to the club. Even in a dreadful season, Hundley continues to build a convincing case for San Francisco to keep him as Buster Posey’s backup in 2018. Speaking of Posey, he sat out Wednesday’s game after taking a foul tip off of his bare hand on Tuesday night, but he’s reportedly expected to rejoin San Francisco’s lineup over the weekend in Chicago.
Even though San Francisco’s blowout win was a welcome sight for the club, the Giants finished the season just 1-9 at Coors Field, and face a road back to relevance that’s steeper than the Rocky Mountains. At least for one night, though, they moved back ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies, whose 6-3 loss to the New York Mets forced the franchise back into Major League Baseball’s cellar.
Next for San Francisco? A trip to Chicago, where the Giants will take on the White Sox, perhaps the only other club outside of Philadelphia with a legitimate shot at earning the No. 1 pick in next year’s MLB Draft. Of course, that’s a fate San Francisco hopes to avoid, and if it wants to steer clear of 100 losses, the team would be best served playing better baseball this weekend.