SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy said a few days ago he thought his team falling out of first place for the first time since May might be what they needed to jolt them out of a second-half slump.
Their time in second place lasted three days. The Giants regained the top spot in the N.L. West on Friday night with a Dodgers loss and an 8-1 win over the New York Mets, their second emphatic victory in as many nights.
The Giants rapped out 15 hits a night after totaling 17 and won back-to-back games for the first time in August. Johnny Cueto allowed one run in seven innings and won for the first time since July 6. The game was still tied, though, when Cueto threw his final pitch, before a strategic move by Bochy helped the Giants’ offense break out.
With two on and two out in the seventh, Bochy sent Gregor Blanco to pinch-hit against Mets starter Seth Lugo knowing a left-hander was up in the visiting bullpen. When Mets manager Terry Collins brought in Jerry Blevins, Bochy pulled Blanco back and sent up switch-hitter Ehire Adrianza.
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"If they did make a change I was covered with AD from the right side," Bochy said. "I think he’s been swinging the bat well from the right side."
The move paid off as Adrianza lined a single to right field and Eduardo Nunez scored from second base as the go-ahead run. Denard Span then slapped a single to left, giving the Giants a 3-1 lead.
"That’s a tough situation you put a young hitter in," Bochy said of Adrianza. "But he has no fear, I’ll say that about him. He wants to be up there and he’s ready and threw out a great at-bat there."
Blevins had stranded 39 of 43 inherited runners this season before Friday. Adrianza said he knew he might be called on to pinch-hit as soon as he saw a left-hander in the bullpen.
"Everybody knows I had this problem last year, I wasn’t able to deliver in the clutch," Adrianza said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "But that’s in the past. This year, I came to spring training mentally ready to be a role player, to take advantage of the situations."
Bochy doubled down on his move the next inning. Before announcing Blanco as a pinch-hitter, he’d had Conor Gillaspie in the on-deck circle as a decoy. Bochy did use Gillaspie in the eighth, and Gillaspie hit a two-run homer that capped a five-run inning aided by a two-run error by Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
"Wins certainly help your personality a little bit," Bochy said. "You can’t stop believing. You know these guys are going to come around. Sure, there’s moments, tough streaks … It can drain you if you let it. You’ve just got to come here every day and believe we’re coming out of this now and hope the guys feel like that. I need to feel like that."
Cueto had gone six starts without feeling like a winner, but held the Mets to only a Curtis Granderson homer in the second inning that splashed into McCovey Cove. Cueto got help in the seventh inning, with Hunter Pence making a sprawling catch in right-center field and Nunez a diving backhanded play at third to end the inning. Both times, Cueto showed a burst of emotion.
"Just one of those balls that you get to run as far as you can, and Denard wasn’t close so I could just lay out and was free to go chase it," Pence said of his catch. "So that was fun."
It was the first time since June 30 and July 1 that the Giants have won consecutive starts by co-aces Madison Bumgarner and Cueto. The next time those two pitch will be next week in Los Angeles, in the first two games of what Bochy acknowledged Friday will be an important series.
"This is where we’re going to see what kind of team we have," Cueto said of the season entering its final stretch. "This is where all the hitters come together, the pitching. This is where we have to grind it out ’til the end of the year."
With the Giants’ entire second half feeling like a grind, Bochy was finally able to relax a little in the late innings the past two nights. The Giants scored their lone run through six innings Friday on a third-inning single by Span, who had four hits, and they squandered chances in three innings by hitting into double plays.
But in their final two at-bats they seized a lead and then added to it -- something that has proved elusive. That allowed Bochy to rest most of his key relievers. Santiago Casilla was warming up in the bottom of the eighth for a potential save situation, but sat down after the Giants went ahead by four and watched the rest of a decisive win.
"I certainly believe that these two wins are so important for us," Bochy said. "Hopefully you get on a little roll. We’re playing a good club, we’re facing good pitching. These are good wins at this point just for the psyche of the ballclub.
"When you get in a rut like this, it can shake your confidence. But this is a tough group, and I felt like they’d come out of it."