As the bottom of the 13th inning unfolded Saturday, Albert Suarez toed a mound in the Giants’ bullpen at AT&T Park, warming up his right arm.
The Giants had just pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot in their lineup and Suarez, a 26-year-old from Venezuela called up from Triple A the day before, was the last pitcher left in their bullpen. If the game continued to the 14th, Suarez would make his major-league debut.
Instead, with two outs, third baseman Matt Duffy hit a line drive over the head of Rockies left fielder Gerardo Parra, scoring Conor Gillaspie from second base. And rather than jogging in from the bullpen to the mound to pitch, Suarez ran to a spot on the infield just inside of second base, joining the Giants’ jubilant mobbing of Duffy as they celebrated a 2-1 walk-off win.
“I was ready to go,” Suarez said later. “But I’m happy because we won the game.”
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It was a combined effort by seven Giants pitchers, beginning with starter Johnny Cueto, who hurled 8 1/3 scoreless innings, and finishing with reliever Derek Law, who earned his first major-league win. Cueto matched zeroes with Colorado starter Jon Gray, who allowed one hit over seven innings, with neither offense pushing a runner past second base through the first nine.
The Rockies broke through in the 10th when D.J. LeMahieu tripled off of Cory Gearrin and Tony Wolters yanked a ground ball just inside the first-base line and past a diving Brandon Belt for a run-scoring double. But Belt tripled leading off the bottom of the 10th against Rockies closer Jake McGee and scored when Brandon Crawford hit a soft liner over shortstop Trevor Story, creating a 1-1 tie that lasted until the 13th.
The Giants’ first highlight of the inning came on defense. With Nolan Arenado on first base and two outs, Parra hit a chopper back up the middle that second baseman Joe Panik stopped on a backhand dive. Still sliding face-down on the wet outfield grass, Panik got the ball to shortstop Crawford covering second with an over-the-head flip.
“I didn’t even think he was going to be able to get a throw off, let alone an out,” Duffy said. “It’s one of the better plays I’ve ever seen, especially in person.”
Panik memorably started a key double play in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series with a similar backhand dive and a glove-flip to Crawford. He said Saturday’s play was more difficult because he had to flip the ball a longer distance to Crawford – and he did so without looking.
“The only shot I had was to try and get rid of it and do a little Kareem hook shot,” said Panik, who was making his second start after missing six games with a groin injury.
Arenado was originally ruled safe. But the call was overturned after a Giants challenge and umpires’ review, ending the inning.
“That play really pumped some life back into us and the stadium,” Duffy said. “That was huge.”
It was manager Bruce Bochy’s second successful challenge of the day, as the Giants also got Arenado called out on a steal attempt in the fifth inning. That helped Cueto dodge trouble on a day he allowed eight hits and a walk but faced just three batters over the minimum through eight innings and now has not allowed a run at home in 20 1/3 innings.
Cueto’s outing included an odd moment in the sixth when Wolters appeared to dive into his legs as he covered first base on a ground ball.
“I really don’t know what the catcher was trying to do,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “I think he was just trying to get me out of my game.”
Though Cueto appeared to be stretching out his leg after the play, he said any stiffness was gone after the game.
In the 13th, Gillaspie and Denard Span drew one-out walks from Rockies reliever Justin Miller, and after Panik struck out Duffy turned on a 1-0 pitch for his second career walk-off hit.
“It’s hard to get a bigger hit than Duffy did today,” Bochy said. “We’re down to our last (reliever), and he’s the last man standing.”
That was Suarez, who, under the circumstances, accepted the postponement of his major-league debut.
“My first walk-off here, I’m looking at it like, this is the big leagues, this is real,” Suarez said. “This was a cool experience.”