Giants' new outfield trio a hit, especially with staff

Giants' new outfield trio a hit, especially with staff

Giants' new outfield trio a hit, especially with staff
Matt Cain jokingly asked Gregor Blanco after his June 13 perfect game whether he wanted a car or a watch, but perhaps the pitcher should be reserving gifts for the Giants' front office.

Earlier that night, Cain had been the beneficiary of the Giants' offseason initiative of infusing more speed and athleticism into the outfield, watching as Blanco made a diving catch in the seventh inning to help preserve Cain's run at the historic feat.

"We have a lot of speed and we're really aggressive -- it's fun," Blanco said.

The play -- which prompted hundreds of text messages, dozens of phone calls and hours of airtime on ESPN's SportsCenter for Blanco -- has been one of several crowd-pleasing and often game-changing ones made by the new outfield, coming to the aid of a fly-ball-heavy rotation this season.

The offseason acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Blanco and Angel Pagan have paid off for the Giants at the plate, with Cabrera leading the National League in batting average, Blanco providing a stable, steady presence at the leadoff spot and Pagan setting the Giants franchise record with a 28-game home hitting streak.

But for the pitching staff, the newcomers' biggest impact has been in the outfield.

"There's nothing better than knowing you have three guys with tremendous speed in the outfield to be able to run down any fly ball that goes up in the air," Cain said after his perfect game. "If it's in the air long enough, you know that those guys are going to have a good chance of running it down."

All three have primarily played center field in their careers, but only Pagan has taken on that regular duty for the Giants this season, with Cabrera playing in left and Blanco roaming right field and Triples Alley when the Giants are at home.

"I've played with some great outfields in the past in Chicago and New York, but it's not every day that you can play with three center fielders, guys with so much speed," Pagan said.

Cabrera and Pagan arrived through offseason trades, while the journeyman Blanco was signed to a Minor League deal in November and added to the Opening Day roster in April.

"You could tell right away, just by watching these guys, that, 'Man, we've got a lot of speed,'" Pagan said.

The early days of Spring Training provided the initial glimpses of the new athletic outfield, as well as the chance to adapt to each other's defensive tendencies.

"When you get there, every single day you do work," Pagan said. "You try and get familiar with the voices and how they play, how aggressive they are. That's something you learn every day and then get better at. It's never perfect, but we're willing to do anything to make it better."

Blanco pointed to the off-field relationships formed by the three, as well as reserve outfielder Nate Schierholtz, as having a direct on-field impact.

"Communication is the most important part to playing the outfield, and center fielders are usually the ones that really have to communicate," Blanco said. "We are all good friends now and get along, it's fun to play with these guys. Communication with each other comes easy for us."

In 1951, Giants fans watched as the first all African-American outfield in league history showcased the similar defensive speed and athleticism, as Willie Mays, Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin teamed to lead the team to the National League pennant.

More than half a century later, the Giants are hoping that the big league's only starting outfield comprised of all players born in Latin America will result in similar success (The White Sox starting trio of Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios is the only other all-Hispanic starting outfield).

"We talk a lot together, and we're playing very well," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "I'm very happy to have three Latin players out there in the outfield."

And communication with one another, Pagan said, is that much more important with the aggressive outfield play that comes with the trio's speed.

"When you have three center fielders, you know how much range you'll have out there, especially in a big ballpark like this," Pagan said. "The best way to play an outfield is to have a lot of speed. And we've got a lot of speed.

"That's the type of outfield you want, and that's the type of outfield we have. You want to be aggressive, go up for every ball. We're going to do everything possible for these pitchers. They have the confidence in us, and they'll pitch much better."

Blanco said he doesn't plan on taking Cain up on his offer for an expensive gift, settling to fondly remember their exchange in the dugout after the top of the seventh.

"He gave me a hug and just asked, 'How did you do that?'" Blanco said. "I just told him that's what we're here for. We're here for the pitchers. We need to make sure they know that we're here to support them.

"That's what great teams do, and that's what we're trying to do."

Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.