"Take the right-field wall out of play, because there’s no other field with that kind of wall," Morse recalled Bonds telling him about AT&T's deep right-center gap. "So why would you change your swing just for the wall?"
Little things like this, Morse said, have helped the Giants to the best record in the majors and helped him get off to a great start, hitting .286 with 13 home runs.
Ask players in the majors what their goal is at the beginning of the season, and they’ll say they want to win the World Series. But the way the Giants talk about accomplishing this goal, you get the feeling they mean it.
"I think all of this is about winning the World Series, so that’s the ultimate goal," Hunter Pence said. "That’s the vision of the end before the beginning. But how to get there doesn’t just happen. There’s a process, and really, the minor goals beyond that are just to go as hard as we possibly can and be as prepared as we can. It’s simple. There’s no words to define it."
With no words available, the 2014 Giants are making a statement on the field. They're 39-21, including 28-11 since April 23. They have a drive to win. They are outspoken and fun. The atmosphere in the clubhouse is electric. They are enjoying the process.
"I always say I’m more of a fan than a player on this team," said Morse, who signed a one-year, $6 million contract after a poor, injury-riddled season with Seattle and Baltimore. "Because I look around this locker room and there are guys that have done so much in their careers, and I think that makes me excited every day to come to the park."
The Giants' standard of excellence starts from players like Pence. To illustrate the point, manager Bruce Bochy joked about how Pence talked about putting him on the DL last year. Bochy recalled Pence crashing into the wall at Coors Field. Bochy raced out to Pence, who was on the ground. The run and concern for Pence made Bochy out of breath.
"I had to run out there and check on him," Bochy said. "It’s a long run to that right-field fence. He was getting up and I said, 'Stay down, Hunter, I need more time.’ He goes, ‘All right, I’ll stay down.'"
Bochy said the way Pence plays the game -- not even crashing into the outfield wall can keep him down -- is an inspiration to the team.
"That’s why we call him Full Throttle," Bochy said. "If he hits a two-hopper to short, he’s going to get down the line the same as a little dribbler where you can smell a base hit. You appreciate that. Fans do.
"I’ve never seen him let up, which is amazing really."
Pence, hitting .290 with eight home runs and a .358 OBP, appeared in all 162 games in 2013 and hasn't missed a game this season.
"I’m still trying to get better," Pence said.
Part of the process, according to Bochy, is holding each other accountable. The 100 percent effort and energy from Pence causes everyone on the team to do things the right way.
The Giants' lineup is not built around just one guy.
"One through nine in our lineup, even with our pitchers, we’ve got a pretty good team," Morse said.
Leadoff hitter Angel Pagan is batting .321 and .364 with runners in scoring position. Shortstop Brandon Crawford is hitting .236, but with seven home runs he's not an easy out. Bochy feels the one area where the team has exceeded expectations coming into the season is home runs. The Giants are fourth in the majors with 68 -- especially impressive considering their home park. The 2012 team that won World Series ranked last in the majors in home runs.
"I thought we would hit a few more [than last season]," Bochy said. "I didn’t think we’d hit as many as we have at this point. I didn’t quite see that coming. Last year, we had a power shortage there. We probably fell a little bit short of our expectations on the power end, but this year it’s been the other way."
Applying what Bonds told him at the beginning of the year, Morse said AT&T Park doesn’t figure into the Giants' approach at the plate. Pence agreed.
"Typically, the ball doesn’t carry at all in our ballpark," Pence said. "But, really, we’re not here to accumulate numbers, or stats, or analysis, or WAR. We’re here to play a game to win. Wherever you are playing, whether you are at home or on the road, both teams are competing with the same circumstances. Our goal is just to win."
Another key element has been Tim Hudson, signed to a two-year, $23 million contract in November. The 38-year-old right-hander is 6-2 and ranks second in the majors with a 1.75 ERA.
"He’s doing what we thought he would do if he came over here," Bochy said. "We were very excited with the fact that he signed with us. This guy’s a pro, good stuff, good movement on the ball. He’s had a tremendous career; he’s won over 200 games. He knows what he’s doing. There’s nothing about what he’s done that has surprised us."
It’s hard for Hudson to pinpoint one thing that’s helped him get off to a great start. Feeling healthy is one (he fractured his ankle last year). He hasn’t changed anything mechanically but is feeling confident. Having a good game plan along with good scouting reports has helped as well.
"Throughout your career, if you’re fortunate enough to play long enough, you’re going to have to reinvent your game a little bit along the way," Hudson said. "For me, I’m at the point now in my career where I rarely need to change speeds. I change locations inside and outside and just mix things up a lot. I don’t have that 95 mph fastball like I did when I was younger. So you have to come up with a really good game plan and execute good pitches."
Hudson said rather than better movement on his pitches it really comes down to better command.
"You trust your stuff a lot more at this point in your career," Hudson said. "You trust that you don’t want to sacrifice location for velocity at this point. If I could reach back for 95 that’s one thing, but I reach back for 90. I really want to locate and stay on the edges but mainly stay down, stay down in the zone across the board and be aggressive."
He says his sinker, which batters are hitting .168 against, has been his best weapon so far.
"The sinker and cutter, my split and changeup have been pretty good too," Hudson said. "Just having to mix all of it in. Honestly, I think it’s one of those things where they all have kind of been complementing each other pretty well so far this year."
Hudson is part of the reason the Giants have the second-best ERA (3.05) in the NL and third overall in the majors. The relievers have a 2.41 ERA, second best in the majors behind the Nationals. The Giants also have the lowest walk rate in the majors.
Matt Cain, talking about his rotation mates, says "all five us are aggressive pitchers. We like to throw strikes and we’re confident in our stuff, that if we get those guys to put it in play, it’s going to be better than walking guys."
"You’re trying to work off your strengths and know the weakness of the hitters and go that way," Cain said. "If you can do that, usually you’re going to succeed. It’s hard to hit, so you just try to be confident in what you’re going to throw and even if it’s a wrong pitch just be confident in throwing it and throw it with good effort and try to let the guy get himself out."
Cain isn't into sabermetrics.
"I haven’t bought into that yet," Cain said of the advanced metrics. "I think it’s just a bunch of stuff on paper. It takes away the feeling of what you see and what really happens. I don’t think it takes that stuff into effect. It’s hard to let a computer crunch a bunch of numbers and say this player is worth this to a team because of the distance he goes."
Their team chemistry
What you can feel (and what the numbers can't evaluate) is the great chemistry in the clubhouse. There’s always this question: Does winning bring good team chemistry or does good team chemistry bring the wins?
"I think we definitely have that team chemistry that a team does need to make it to the playoffs and then go far in the playoffs," said first baseman Brandon Belt, currently on the disabled list with a broken left thumb. "I feel like we had this feeling at the beginning of the season, and it seems like it’s just gotten stronger the deeper and deeper as we get into the season. It’s crazy how everybody’s different personalities just kind of mesh. I think that’s what makes this team so great, though."
"We had great team chemistry in 2012, but I think it’s at least the same if not a little bit better," he said. "I don’t know what it is. We’re comfortable with each other and we know we have a lot of good players so we’re confident in our team."
This confidence has transferred to their play on the field. The Giants also enter a stretch where they could put some more distance between themselves and the second-place Dodgers, with 20 of their next 25 games at home.
"From spring training everybody counted us out and said that the Giants aren’t going to be that good this year," Morse said. "Since I’ve met the guys here, they’ve had one thing on their mind -- and that’s going back to the World Series."
Anna McDonald is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.