San Francisco Giants Take Fascinating, Gut-Wrenching Path To Tie for First Place
Where were we?
Oh, right, nothing about yesterday's game matters once today's game starts.
Then on Friday night, the Giants squeaked out a gut-wrenching and fascinating 1-0 win over the Padres to move into a tie for the NL West lead.
San Francisco SP Jonathan Sanchez pieced together the five most maddening shutout innings that one could imagine. Five scoreless innings despite seven walks prove that even big league hitters aren't crazy comfortable hitting against a guy with nasty stuff but no idea where the ball's going.
San Diego's Clayton Richard, an All-American sort who looks like he fell off the front of a Wheaties box, was breezing through the same Giants who crushed four home runs Thursday night. If he did not make quick work of the Giants, Sanchez and his search for the strike zone might have resulted in the top of the utterly intriguing seventh inning starting somewhere around midnight.
Truly, the top of the seventh might have been the most intriguing half inning a Giants fan has witnessed all year.
Richard hit Huff with a pitch to start the sixth. The lefty was cruising, but his first pitch was a ball to right-hand hitting Pat Burrell. It was Richard's 85th pitch of the game. It was also his last. Manager Bud Black replaced Richard with righty Luke Gregerson. Richard was wavering and Black, understandably, didn't want the next misplaced pitch to float out over the middle of the plate to Burrell.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy, in contrast, let Sanchez work through his walk on the wild side, figuring the lefty had pitched two wonderful games and that the Padres hadn't solved him through five.
Still, once Sanchez escaped a jam in the fifth with a double play ground ball, Bochy pulled Sanchez with his shutout still in tact. There have been times in his tenure with the Giants where Bochy might have stuck with Sanchez as long as the game was scoreless. Credit him for calling the pitcher down from the tight rope and giving the game to the bullpen in an important game on Friday. (Also, remember the move when the pitcher bats for himself to start the sixth inning of a scoreless tie in April. All games are not created equal.)
Bochy deserves credit for sending Huff as Burrell struck out. The knock on the manager has been that he's unwilling to put baserunners in motion or try to create runs. When he put Huff in motion, the first baseman stole his sixth base of the season.
Jose Guillen hit the ball hard into the hole at shortstop. Baseball rules dictate that a ball hit in front of a runner, like Huff, at second base requires the runner to stay put. Huff, however, broke at the crack of the bat because he thought the ball was going to scoot past Miguel Tejada into left field. (Don't believe the talk of aggressive baserunning. Huff's a veteran and breaking for third there means he misread the ball off the bat.)
Two things happened that didn't have to happen and both benefited the Giants.
Tejada could've thrown out Guillen easily at first base, leaving Gregersen to deal with slumping Juan Uribe with Huff at third and two out. Instead, Tejada threw to third base where Huff should've been out.
However, third baseman Chase Headley was oddly positioned on the outfield side of the bag and had to take the throw with only Huff's bent right trail leg to tag. Huff's left foot reached the bag first. Headley was guilty of anticipating, rather than simply covering third base, straddling it so that a simple tag would've nailed Huff.
Now, Nate Schierholtz won't go down as one of the Giants' all-time playoff stretch heroes, but his takeout slide that kept Padres second baseman David Eckstein from doubling up Uribe on a bouncer to third allowed Huff to score.
Inside baseball note: Eckstein didn't position himself with his left foot on the outside of the base to protect himself from Schierholtz, who has shown a few times his best position might be fullback. If Eckstein had been more on the left field side of the bag, Schierholtz would've needed to slide after he reached the base, but Eckstein would have still been able to get Uribe. Instead, Schierholtz had time to reach and take Eckstein's legs out from under him.
Fans will long remember the home run barrage on Thursday night, but that seventh inning sequence that plated the lone run will go down as a wonderful example of why true baseball fans simply love the game. Headley was just slightly out of position. Huff read base hit to left. Tejada made the right play, but it turned out to be the wrong play.
Then, the Giants bullpen kept the door closed for four innings on what has been a resourceful San Diego offense.
Bochy, again, showed that fans who groan that he isn't suited to manage this Giants team are wrong. His willingness to let Sanchez work in and out of jams proved that sometimes the best thing a manager can do is be patient and do nothing. Then, when he does something, do it quickly and don't look back.
Everything starts new with the first pitch on Saturday.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at email@example.com.
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