SAN FRANCSICO -- The sun had set by the sixth inning Friday night over AT&T Park. The Giants continued to make hay anyway.
In the midst of 29 straight games against teams that are currently below .500, the Giants beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4, in the opener of a three-game set. Eleven games into their stretch against sub-.500 opponents, the Giants are 10-1.
The stretch, which runs until the Giants play the Red Sox in their second series after the All-Star Break, is a chance to establish some solid footing before a loaded second-half schedule that includes seven games against the Nationals and series against the Orioles, Mets and Cubs -- plus nine meetings with the Dodgers.
With the Dodgers’ loss Friday, the Giants moved a season-high seven games ahead in the N.L. West. They also kept pace with the Cubs for the most wins in the majors, 48, and in their last 40 games are 31-9, the franchise’s best record in a 40-game span since the 1954 Giants also won 31 of 40.
"Wow," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "Honestly I didn’t know that. That’s pretty impressive. And it’s been a lot of fun. I think that comes from the top all the way down. Nobody ever feels like we’re ever out of the game."
Belt’s bases-loaded double Friday keyed a four-run seventh inning for the Giants, who trailed 2-1 at that point. But the Phillies, who had ended a nine-game losing streak on Thursday, did not go quietly.
Philadelphia scored twice in the eighth and loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against Santiago Casilla, who escaped with help from Ramiro Pena. The reserve infielder made a charging play and snap throw to first on Tyler Goeddel’s chopper that -- after a replay review to confirm the bang-bang play -- ended the game.
"Exciting game," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "That game had about everything. You look at Belt’s hit and think OK, that won the game for us. But those guys came back. Last play of the game, it’s hard to make a better play with what’s at stake."
Watching from the clubhouse, Giants starter Jake Peavy said he wasn’t sure in real time whether Pena’s throw had beaten Goeddel to the bag. But he had a good feeling about it when special instructor Will Clark "came out of the coaches’ room, yelling out," having seen the replay.
Sub-.500 record or not, Peavy made a point of complimenting the Phillies, a young team not expected to compete this season which nonetheless started the year 25-19 before their recent slide. Peavy said he "really respected the way they played hard all the way to the final out," ending his session with reporters by yelling, "The ol’ Fightin’ Phils!"
Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin, in his third major-league start, held the Giants to one run in six innings, but was let down by his bullpen in the seventh. Trevor Brown led off with a single and the Phillies brought in left-hander Elvis Araujo to face pinch-hitter Jarrett Parker. Bochy, though, recalled Parker and sent up Buster Posey, who singled. Denard Span bunted the runners up and Joe Panik walked to load the bases for Brandon Belt.
Belt had batted in the fifth inning with the Giants down one, one out and a man on third and popped out harmlessly on the infield. This time, he hammered Araujo’s second pitch into the right-center field gap for a bases-clearing double. Belt scored when, two batters later, Angel Pagan flipped a soft single to center field, giving the Giants a 5-2 lead.
With Belt’s three-run double, the Giants are now batting .407 (24-for-59) this season with the bases loaded, the best average in the majors.
"Honestly, I think for the most part we just try to keep the same approach we have in any other time," Belt said, "and that’s get a good pitch to hit, make them come to us. I think in certain situations it’s good to shorten up and maybe go to that two-strike approach a little early, just get the ball in play. And I think we’ve done a good job of that."
The rally put Peavy in line for a win, thanks in part to a show of confidence from Bochy. Peavy allowed single runs in the fourth and fifth innings and was nearing 100 pitches when Peter Bourjos tripled with one out in the seventh.
Peavy struck out Jimmy Paredes, and Bochy left Peavy in to face leadoff hitter Odubel Herrera. The right-hander induced a harmless fly ball to center with his 102nd and final pitch, pumping his fist as he left the mound.
"It meant the world to me," Peavy said. "Especially the way the season started, I didn’t get much leash, and rightfully so. That being said, you pitch well and give him a reason to leave you out there, he’ll show confidence in you."
Since May 20, when his ERA stood at 8.21, Peavy has posted a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts with the Giants winning five of those games. Friday was the third time this season he has completed seven innings, getting some good defense from catcher Trevor Brown -- who threw out two runners on the bases -- and from Peavy himself, who kick-saved a Bourjos comebacker and made a neat flip to first leading off the third inning.
"Just a gutty effort," Bochy said. "Well-deserved win. It’s nice to get him a win after he battled so hard tonight."
Still, the Phillies weren’t done fighting. In the eighth, Maikel Franco tripled off of Derek Law with one out. Bochy summoned left-hander Josh Osich, who struck out Ryan Howard but walked Cameron Rupp and fell behind Goeddel, leading Bochy to bring in Cory Gearrin in the middle of the at-bat.
Gearrin walked Goeddel -- a walk charged to Osich -- allowed an RBI single by Freddy Galvis and walked Bourjos to force in another run. But with the tying run on third, Gearrin got Andres Blanco to roll over a ground ball to Brandon Belt, ending the inning.
Javier Lopez retired Herrera to open the ninth, but Casilla loaded the bases with a walk, single and a hit batter -- all with two outs. Goeddel then hit a slow chopper to Pena, who had spent most of the game on the bench before pinch-hitting in the eighth, but made the play that Bochy said "saved us."
Before that at-bat, Bochy had jogged out to the mound to talk to Casilla.
"I wanted to check on him," Bochy said. "I just wanted to make sure he was fine, I was behind him, ‘Hey, you’re going to get this guy.’ And he made some big pitches."
Casilla needed 22 pitches to record the final two outs. But he recorded his 17th save and secured the Giants’ 12th win in their last 13 games.
"He had to work hard," Bochy said of Casilla. "He’s off tomorrow, I can tell you that."