SAN FRANCISCO -- Before leaving the mound with two outs in the eighth inning on Saturday night, Jake Peavy had some words for the Giants infielders as they gathered around him on the AT&T Park mound.
"I just told them, ‘Great job,’ and encouraged them to finish this game out," Peavy said. "We still had four outs to get."
The defense, especially two sparking plays by shortstop Brandon Crawford, had helped Peavy carry a no-hitter through 7 1/3 innings -- the longest bid of his career -- before a broken-bat flare to right by Mark Reynolds ended it with one out in the eighth. Instead, Peavy settled for a scoreless outing and a win as the Giants beat the Brewers, 3-1, with two significant results.
First, they’ve already taken this series from the Brewers with a chance to sweep Sunday -- the first time the Giants have won a series against a winning team since May 29-June 1, when they took three of four from the St. Louis Cardinals.
And moments after the final out on Saturday, the center-field scoreboard showed Alexi Amarista’s walk-off hit as the Padres beat the Dodgers, resulting in the Giants being just 2 ½ games out of first place in the West for the first time since Aug. 6.
"I want to win, and to be thrust into the position that we’re in, fighting for our lives every day, having a chance at this division and also the wild card, it’s exciting," Peavy said. "It’s exciting to come to work today. Whereas if you’re on a team that you know you’re probably not going to make the playoffs, it gets to be a grind."
That’s the situation Peavy was in for the better part of this season in Boston. Peavy made 20 starts for the last-place Red Sox before coming to San Francisco and went 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA. In seven starts since the Giants traded for him to replace Matt Cain, Peavy has a 2.66 ERA and is 3-4.
"I didn’t try any harder or any less over there, things just seemed to not go our way," said Peavy. "I’ve found a groove over here (This coaching staff) has seen me when I was young and been able to throw some of those remarks and coaching tips back at me, and we found some kind of rhythm here."
Peavy said establishing a rhythm early Saturday was key. When he faced the Brewers on Aug. 7 in Milwaukee, they jumped to a 1-0 lead against him in the first inning en route to a 3-1 Giants, and Peavy said, "You really have to set the tone against that team with the energy they play with You let them on base early and it makes for a long night."
Saturday, Peavy retired the first nine hitters before Carlos Gomez’s leadoff walk in the fourth. Gomez promptly tried to steal second in a game still tied 0-0, but Buster Posey threw him out. Peavy allowed just two more walks and a hit batter until Reynolds put an end to his no-hit bid with one out in the eighth.
Peavy said he was trying to go up and in with a fastball to Reynolds, who broke his bat but got enough of the ball to dump it over Travis Ishikawa’s head into shallow right field. The crowd of 41,397 groaned and then gave a loud ovation for Peavy -- who said to that point he hadn’t really allowed himself to think about the possibility of a no-hitter.
"It was fun while it lasted," Peavy said. "If the game was 8-0 or so, it might’ve been a different feeling. But every one of these games matter so much for us, when you’re in a (close) game against a team like the Brewers, I really didn’t have much time to think about any of that.
"I knew (Reynolds) didn’t hit the ball hard. I got him to hit it to where we felt like we wanted him to hit it. But it’s so difficult to get all the balls hit at somebody. But Mark’s a great guy, good friend. So if anybody’s got to break it up, I’d rather it be him."
Peavy followed by striking out Jean Segura for his final batter before giving way to the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt allowed a single to pinch hitter Rickie Weeks, but Sergio Romo struck out Gomez to end the eighth, and Santiago Casilla gave up an RBI single to Ryan Braun in the ninth but recorded the final three outs for the save.
"Anytime you beat a team that’s in first place and as good as the Brewers," Peavy said, "you feel good about your night."
* Crawford, who has been battling shoulder soreness and had a huge ice pack on his right shoulder after the game, has been in a funk offensively, batting .153 in his previous 23 games before Saturday. But he had an RBI single in the Giants’ three-run fourth inning and made two outstanding defensive plays that at the time preserved Peavy’s no-hitter.
The first was a backhand play on an Aramis Ramirez chopper in the hole in the fifth, on which Crawford threw across his body with his momentum carrying him away from first base and still beat Ramirez by a step with the throw.
After Peavy hit Ramirez with one out in the seventh, Scooter Gennett hit a sharp ground ball up the middle that Crawford speared on a dive, then glove-flipped to Joe Panik to start a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play.
"Both of those plays were tremendous," Peavy said.
Crawford said of the diving play: "I was just happy I got there. I knew if I got there we would have a play at second, even if we don’t turn the double play. More important at that time was just keeping the ball in the infield."
Whereas Crawford said he didn’t realize at the time that his play on Ramirez’s grounder had preserved a no-hitter, he was aware of the situation in the seventh. "The double play, I knew," he said, "so I was a little more fired up after that one."
As was Peavy, who appeared to yell something at Crawford as the Giants left the field. What was it? "Probably something a little crazy," Crawford said. "He gets fired up out there."
Even when Crawford is struggling with the bat, manager Bruce Bochy said, it’s difficult to take him out of the lineup because of his defense. Saturday night, Crawford made big contributions on both fronts. "Hopefully it makes for some good momentum," Peavy said. "And it was awesome for him to really be a crucial part of tonight’s win."
* The defense didn’t stop there. Pablo Sandoval made a backhand play and throw from nearly foul ground behind third base on Khris Davis’ chopper in the eighth. Sandoval also dove to take away a hit from Ramirez after Braun’s RBI single in the ninth and turn it into an out at second base. Sandoval’s throw took Panik off the base, but Panik made an athletic move to kick the bag with his right foot and secure the out.
"You make great plays out there, I can’t tell you how much confidence that makes for the pitcher," Bochy said. "You just want to keep pounding the strike zone, knowing that the defense is playing as well as it is."
* Had Peavy kept on with the no-hitter, it might have made for a stressful ninth inning for Bochy, who had relievers warming up even before Reynolds’ hit with Peavy’s pitch count climbing. Peavy’s season high is 117 pitches, and he was at 113 when Bochy came out to relieve him with two outs in the eighth.
Bochy said he thought Peavy could go to about 125 pitches, and that he likely could have returned for the ninth if the no-hitter was intact. Still, Bochy said: "Jake, he’s not a kid anymore. You’ve got to think of the long term and his next start, so that’s why when they sent up a pinch hitter (in the eighth), I went out and got him."
* Speaking of not being a kid, the 33-year-old Peavy reached a career milestone with his 2,000th strikeout when he fanned Ramirez for the first out of the second inning. He now sits at 2,005 after his eight strikeouts in the game, one of five active pitchers to reach that mark, including teammate and locker neighbor Tim Hudson.
Hudson recorded his 2,000th strikeout just last week, and before somebody remarked to Peavy that he too was closing in on the number, Peavy said he wasn’t aware.
"I guess that’ll be special maybe someday," Peavy said. "You’ll look back on some of those numbers. It’s hard to get caught up in them right now, but yeah, it’s special for sure. Very, very blessed and fortunate."
* Romo threw only three pitches to strike out Gomez for the third out in the eighth, and Bochy said he would have come back out for the ninth, but for the fact the ninth spot in the order came up in the bottom of the inning with the bases loaded. As a result, Bochy had to pinch-hit for Romo, and Casilla pitched ninth instead.
Still, Bochy acknowledged Casilla does not have a strong hold on the closer job. He said that for the rest of the season, he’ll "try to ham and egg it" with Romo and Casilla in the ninth inning.
* Buster Posey took a couple shots on foul balls, including one off his right arm on the first batter of the game, and Bochy said he planned to talk with Posey about whether he needs a day off or at least out from behind the plate in the series finale Sunday. Posey’s been hitting so well that it’s hard to not play him, but Sunday is a day game and then the Giants fly straight to Colorado, where Monday they’ll finish their suspended game from May 22 before playing their regularly scheduled game against the Rockies.
* A last note on Peavy: He credited Posey with calling a good game and said it probably helps that Peavy pitches a day after Ryan Vogelsong, since, "I do a lot of the same things Ryan does."
Giants starters pitchers overall in the six games of this homestand: 44 2/3 innings, a 1.01 ERA, 50 strikeouts, six walks. It wraps up Sunday with the Giants handing the ball to Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 3.02). He’ll be opposed by Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse (12-7, 3.42). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.