Angel in the center field

Angel Pagan is batting .421 to start the season. He hit safely in each of the Giants’ first four games in Arizona.

The most pivotal contribution Pagan has made so far? His splendid outfield defense in support of Tim Hudson’s Giants debut Wednesday.

Coming off Tuesday’s loss, and two unimpressive starting pitching outings to start the year by aces Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, the Giants looked to Hudson to perform like he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

He did.

Not only did the three-time All-Star impress. He dazzled en route to career-win No. 206 with the same under-the-radar dominance with which he has always persevered.

But Hudson’s 7 2/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball would not have been if not for the exceptional center field defense of Pagan.

The highlight-reel play came in the fourth inning amid a scoreless tie when Pagan robbed Martin Prado of an RBI single, and denying the Diamondbacks the lead. With Gerardo Parra on second base and two outs, Prado flared an 0-1 offering from Hudson into shallow center. Pagan was shading towards right in the spacious outfield of Chase Field but got a tremendous first step off the crack of the bat. Racing in and to his left, Pagan sprinted into a tumbling catch — losing his hat and showing off the rock-star quaff in the process — to keep Hudson’s gem in tact.

In the eighth, Pagan again preserved the gem by making a less spectacular but equally important running catch. With one out and the speedy Cliff Pennington at first base, A.J. Pollock drove a shot into right-center. Once again, Pagan was shading toward the opposite side of the field but the center fielder got on his horse to make smooth on-the-run grab for the second out of the inning, while keeping Pennington from advancing, at least, into scoring position.

The second of the two catches prompted a reciprocal gem from Giants’ television color commentator Mike Krukow.

“I know one thing,” Krukow said as the replay cued up. “Tim Hudson is in love with Angel Pagan tonight.”

We all are, Kruk. We all are.

What’s not to love? Pagan also had what proved to be the game-winning hitting with an RBI single in the fifth to drive home Ehire Adrianza, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. Thursday, of course, Pagan was 3 for 5 with a dramatic three-run blast in the eighth to give the Giants the lead for the second straight game. The switch-hitting leadoff man is currently 8 for 19 on the season while leading the Giants with six RBIs, despite Brandon Belt’s three home runs over the course of the four-game series.

Thus far, the Giants’ outfield defense has been a game-changer though. Hunter Pence has shown that a player need not necessarily be hot at the plate to impact a game. Despite a 1-for-16 start for Pence at the plate, the right fielder kept the Giants’ opening-day win in check with his arm by gunning down Mark Trumbo at third base in the second inning.

And following Pagan’s defensive heroics Thursday, Giants fans should be reminded that in playing beside one another, Pagan and Pence stand to be one of the best defensive shows in baseball this season.

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