The San Diego Padres play three more series against the Giants this season, which means three more chances of facing right-hander Johnny Cueto. They cannot be thrilled at this idea.
Cueto threw his third complete game of the season against the Padres on Monday night, this one a two-hit shutout, and the Giants made him a 1-0 winner with one of the zaniest walk-off victories you’re likely to see.
With two outs and Brandon Belt on first base in the ninth, Hunter Pence hit a fly ball to shallow right-center that fell between Padres second baseman Alexi Amarista and right fielder Matt Kemp, who dove and kicked the ball away as Belt sprinted around third base with the winning run.
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“Euphoria,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the reaction in the Giants’ dugout. “We had some (scoring) chances early and couldn’t quite get it done. And to get Johnny a win after that effort, that’s what they were all happy about. What a great game he threw.”
Cueto has three one-run wins over the Padres this season, in which he has allowed 13 total hits and struck out 25 batters in 27 innings. Cueto, 7-1, lowered his ERA to 2.38. The Giants have won nine of his first 10 starts in orange and black.
Cueto is the first Giants pitcher to throw three complete games against one opponent in a season since Atlee Hammaker did it against the Cubs in 1983, according to the Giants, and the first since 1978 with three complete-game wins against the same team.
“What can I tell you?” Cueto said through an interpreter when asked about his numbers against the Padres. “They’re a major-league team, they’re a good team. I just have to make sure I throw strikes and keep the ball down.”
Cueto retired 27 of 30 batters he faced Monday night, allowing singles to Kemp and Amarista and missing high and inside with a pitch that struck Alexei Ramirez. Still, it took a wild finish for the Giants to get the right-hander a win.
Pence had been held out of the lineup for the third consecutive game with a sore hamstring, and had felt discomfort before the game while testing it in batting practice, cutting his session short after only a few swings.
“I knew I could handle some swings, but I didn’t feel like taking a bunch of BP swings when I could feel pain,” Pence said afterward. “I wanted to get healed so I could play.”
During the game, Pence said, he kept heat on the hamstring and periodically ducked into the batting cage to watch pitches off a machine – without swinging – to help his timing.
“I wasn’t planning on using him, to be honest,” Bochy said. “But he was pretty adamant he felt better and could give us some swings there, so we put him out there.”
Belt led off the ninth with a bloop single, and after Padres reliever Brad Hand retired the next two hitters, Pence pinch-hit for Cueto. As he skied Hand’s pitch into shallow right-center, Pence flung his bat to the ground, shaking his head, as if convinced the game was headed to extra innings.
“There’s always a chance,” said Belt, who was running hard from first base. “That’s why you keep going in the first place. You see so many balls like that, you see them caught so many times, that it seems routine. But you never know in a game like this.”
The roar of the crowd told Belt what had happened, and as he rounded third base, coach Roberto Kelly “was slinging the arm, so I went home.” Pence went from miffed to mobbed by his Giants teammates, credited with a game-winning double.
“That definitely was a bloop, well-placed hit for the time,” Pence said. “Looking back at it, Kemp was playing no-doubles (deep) and it’s kind of a long run, and it’s windy out there. So obviously you never know. I haven’t had too many of those yet this year. It was a good time for it right there with Johnny pitching such a good game.”
Cueto retired his first 11 batters before Kemp lined a single to right-center in the fourth inning. He set down the next 12 Padres before hitting Ramirez on the wrist with two out in the eighth. Cueto then allowed a single to Amarista, but with Ramirez on third Cueto painted the inside corner with a full-count fastball to Yangervis Solarte and bounded off the mound with the shutout still intact.
“I sweated a little bit,” Cueto said of the at-bat. “(Solarte) took two pitches and I was like, ‘What is he waiting on? These are really good pitches.’ But I finally got him.”
The Giants put a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the inning when Matt Duffy doubled to right with two outs but failed to score him, part of an 0-for-7 night with men in scoring position. Angel Pagan grounded out to end the inning and looked to aggravate his sore hamstring while running to first base, leaving the game after the half-inning.
Bochy said after the game Pagan will have an MRI on Tuesday and that “there is some concern,” given it’s the same left hamstring that has troubled Pagan in the past.
“We may have to make a move, I don’t know,” Bochy said. “But hopefully we get good news (Tuesday).”