After Ty Blach had thrown his final pitch Saturday afternoon, a high fastball past the bat of Kiké Hernandez for strike three, and hopped off the mound and jogged briskly into the Giants’ dugout, the left-hander leaned against the railing, a wide smile on his face, and listened to Jake Peavy.
Peavy has won 152 games in the majors. He had just watched Blach win his first in the unlikeliest of ways. Making his second major-league start, in a game with huge playoff implications for his team, Blach outpitched Clayton Kershaw, confounding the Dodgers for eight scoreless innings in a 3-0 Giants win at AT&T Park.
“We were just reflecting on all the bullpens, all the hard work, and what it takes to get ready and get to that moment,” Peavy said. “And then to go out and deliver the way he did … it was awesome.”
Chosen to start the penultimate game of the season, Blach held the Dodgers to three hits, all singles, in eight innings. He allowed just two other balls out of the infield while becoming the fourth Giants rookie to throw eight or more scoreless innings in a win over the Dodgers and the first since Dennis Cook in 1988.
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The win sent the Giants into Sunday’s finale with control over their postseason fate. A win or Cardinals loss will secure them the second N.L. wild-card spot and a trip to New York on Wednesday to play the Mets. Even if the Giants lose and the Cardinals win, they are assured a tiebreaker game Monday in St. Louis to determine the second wild-card entrant.
Asked if he had ever seen a young pitcher perform so well in such a critical game, catcher Buster Posey immediately answered: “Bumgarner,” referring to the Giants’ ace.
Blach, making his fourth overall appearance since being called up from the River Cats in early September, was working with Posey for the first time Saturday. It was also his first time throwing off the mound at AT&T Park. He said he spent time in recent weeks visualizing what it would be like to finally pitch in a home game.
“I’m sure there were some nerves,” Posey said. “But there’s not much more that excites me than a young player in a big moment who … seizes the opportunity. That’s what it’s about, right there. What he just went out and did, that’s why you play the game, is to be a part of stuff like that.”
Opposing the pitcher widely considered to be the game’s best, Blach matched Kershaw in the early innings both in results and tempo. Kershaw allowed just one hit through the first four innings on 35 pitches. Blach pitched around a single and walk in the second inning by inducing a double play and stranded Yasiel Puig after a two-out single in the fourth.
In the fifth, Kershaw blinked. Angel Pagan led off the inning with a home run to left field that barely cleared the wall. Two innings later, Pagan singled off Kershaw to start a two-run rally aided by a Justin Turner throwing error. Pagan raced home on that play, his impact Saturday as forceful as the body-slam he laid on a fan who ran onto the field Friday night.
“I don’t know what was more impressive,” second baseman Joe Panik said, “the tackle last night or the home run.”
Blach, meanwhile, needed five pitches to retire the side in the fifth. He threw just eight more in a perfect sixth. He’d retired 11 in a row when Joc Pederson singled with one out in the eighth. With the Giants’ bullpen working, Blach got Chase Utley to ground into a fielder’s choice, then threw five straight fastballs to Hernandez, the last notching his sixth strikeout on his 99th pitch.
Manager Bruce Bochy had said before the game that he had a host of relievers ready behind Blach. He needed only one, Sergio Romo, who pitched a perfect ninth.
“I was thinking it’s one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen,” said Bochy, who had chosen Blach to start over more veteran options Albert Suarez and Matt Cain.
“With this kid having a month in the major leagues, what stage he was on, what was at stake, who he was going against, he just had great focus and great command.”
Along with his first win, Blach recorded his first big-league hits, rapping a pair of singles off Kershaw. Blach became the second pitcher with two hits in one game against Kershaw, the other Craig Stammen in 2010 with the Nationals.
“I think he’s just trying to get quick outs and got a couple pitches over the plate,” Blach said. “And I was just able to put good swings on them.”
Blach said he found out Friday night that he would start Saturday, calling it “an awesome opportunity.” He and Posey talked briefly before the game about what pitches he likes to throw. But Blach said he left pitch-calling to Posey, not shaking off the catcher once. He picked apart the Dodgers by throwing 67 of 99 pitches for strikes, spotting a fastball that hovered around 92 mph and mixing in three off-speed pitches.
“I thought one of the better things he did was keep a great tempo,” Posey said. “There was no hesitation: Get the ball, throw it. That type of energy, we can feel it, the other team can feel it, when a guy on the mound is confident in what they’re doing.”
Dwight Bernard saw that confidence build throughout the season as the pitching coach at in Sacramento, where Blach had a 2.01 ERA over his final 11 starts. Bernard said he told Blach after Saturday’s game that he’d fulfilled every aspect of the reports Bernard sent to the Giants’ coaching staff when Blach was called up.
“He’s competitive, and you just don’t let up,” Bernard said. “He really made a name for himself. Every Giants fan knows who Ty Blach is right now.”
After throwing his last fastball by Hernandez, Blach pumped his fist and ran back to the dugout, something he said he has done all his life. He leaned on the railing and listened to Peavy, which he called a “special moment.”
Later, as Peavy left the clubhouse, the veteran ducked his head into Bochy’s office, and it wasn’t hard to guess whom he was referring to with his parting words.
“I think he’s going to be just fine,” Peavy said.