San Francisco Giants

Discipline pays off for Nori Aoki in critical at-bat

San Francisco Giants' Nori Aoki, of Japan, waits to hit during their baseball game against the Miami Marlins Sunday, May 10, 2015, in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants' Nori Aoki, of Japan, waits to hit during their baseball game against the Miami Marlins Sunday, May 10, 2015, in San Francisco. AP

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he thought his team put together "some great at-bats" in the ninth inning of a 3-2 win over the Marlins on Sunday, perhaps none more important than the one that came before Matt Duffy’s walk-off single.

With the Giants still down by a run, two outs and the bases loaded, Nori Aoki fell behind Marlins closer Steve Cishek, 1-2. But against the difficult arm angle of the right-hander Cishek, Aoki took two pitches to work the count full, and then laid off a slider down and away to draw a walk and force in the tying run.

It was an impressive show of discipline from the Giants’ leadoff hitter, and an at-bat that Bochy said he thought "just lifted the club."

"He’s a tough out," Bochy said of Aoki. "He’s aggressive, yet he sees a lot of pitches. It’s such a big moment, a lot of hitters get really aggressive there and they sometimes can get themselves out. But the pressure’s on the pitcher there. He just fought his way to that walk and he saved us."

Indeed, the walk seemed to deflate Cishek, who after ball four bent over and swung his right arm in disgust. It was Cishek’s 32nd pitch of the inning, already a season-high, and two pitches later Duffy won the game with a single to left field.

Duffy, who had never faced Cishek before, gave some of the credit for his game-winning hit to Aoki. Duffy was on-deck for Aoki’s six-pitch at-bat, and so had a good angle from which to study Cishek’s release point and the movement on his fastball and slider.

"He’s a very patient hitter," Duffy said of Aoki. "You guys have seen it, he hits the ball out of the catcher’s mitt with two strikes battling. He gives himself a good chance to, at the very least, put a ball in play and battle. You knew he wasn’t going to be an easy out by any means for Cishek, even how good he is."

Catcher Andrew Susac, who had started the ninth-inning rally with a single off Cishek, said what impressed him the most about Aoki’s at-bat was that he seemed to be "sitting dead-red" on a slider on the full-count pitch -- especially after Cishek had just struck out Angel Pagan on a two-strike fastball.

"I’m pretty sold out on a fastball there, 3-2, bases loaded," Susac said. "But he’s got great plate discipline. I think he walked four times in a game in Colorado. So he’s got a pretty good idea of what he wants to swing at."

Aoki also picked up two hits, raising his average to .282, scored a run and stole his team-leading ninth base Sunday. But it was an at-bat in which his decisions not to swing that might have made the biggest impact.

* Sunday’s "unsung hero," in Bochy’s eyes, was starter Ryan Vogelsong, who held the Marlins to one run over seven innings in his second strong start in a row. After holding the Padres scoreless for seven innings his last time out, Vogelsong allowed four hits in seven innings Sunday and departed in a 1-1 tie.

Vogelsong has lowered his season ERA over his last two outings from 9.31 to 5.67. He said he made some adjustments before his start against the Padres to get his release point higher, "so I can get some better angle on the ball, a little more deception." He said that has particularly helped his curveball, being "able to get some tilt on it."

"He had a really good breaking ball I thought today," Bochy said. "Used his fastball well in and out. He kept us in the game."

Of course, the other big change Vogelsong made before that start against San Diego was shaving off his beard. Could that be the secret?

"Maybe," Vogelsong said. "We’ll go with it."

* Sunday’s walk-off hero, Duffy, was starting in place of Brandon Crawford, who got a day off to combat some general soreness. Buster Posey and Angel Pagan were also not in the lineup (though all three regulars pinch-hit during the game). And still, the Giants eked out a 3-2 win. Vogelsong that can do wonders for team confidence.

"It’s going to take all of us to get where we want to go," Vogelsong said. "And we know that. We can’t just throw everything on Pagan and Posey and expect them to carry us the whole season … So to not have them in the lineup and to come back and battle the way we did and win this game, it’s good for the guys that don’t get to play every day."

Bochy did admit before the game that although he’ll have to give those regulars a day off here and there, he’d prefer to stagger them. It just worked out Sunday that Pagan, Posey and Crawford all needed a day, which nearly worked out to two consecutive days off with the travel day Monday.

Said Susac, one of the replacements: "It’s just good to win."

* The Giants might have tied the game before Aoki’s walk, on the ninth-inning double by Gregor Blanco, if not for some Oscar-worthy acting by Miami right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. With pinch-runner Joaquin Arias on first base Blanco hit a ball off the wall in right-center field -- only Suzuki pretended he was camping under the ball, holding Arias temporarily between first and second base.

"He did a nice deke," Bochy said. "I was yelling, ‘Go, Arias!’ He might have been the only one he deked, I think."

Not quite -- from the quiet reaction, it seemed like most of the crowd of 41,889 at AT&T Park was fooled, too. Bochy said he was kicking himself for not putting Arias in motion, but the Giants had been burned multiple times by strikeout-throwout double plays in the series and with Posey on deck to pinch-hit Bochy didn’t want to risk running into another such double play to end the game. It all ended up not costing the Giants, as Arias scored on Aoki’s walk and Blanco on Duffy’s single.

"Ichiro got me, for sure," Arias said.

* Bochy threw one last credit toward right fielder Justin Maxwell, who prevented Miami from padding its lead in the ninth. Michael Morse blooped a single to right that Maxwell dove for and knocked down. With Christian Yelich trying to score from second, Maxwell hopped up, retrieved the ball and threw it to Susac, who prevented Yelich from touching the plate on his first try. Yelich was then ruled out of the baseline trying to dance around Susac, and the Giants avoided a 3-1 deficit going into the bottom of the ninth.

"Susac did a nice job, he made the runner go wide there," Bochy said. "Really I don’t know how (Maxwell) kept the ball in front of him. I thought the runner was going to score easily."

* Bochy called it a "huge win." The Giants won the first five games of this homestand, but had lost three of four going into Sunday. Now they take a .500 overall record and the vibes from their fourth walk-off win into the off-day and a six-game road trip to Houston and Cincinnati.

"It makes for a really nice homestand," Bochy said. "If we lose that one then it’s so-so, after the start we had. It’s good for the boys to hit the road on that note."

It’s a short two-game series in Houston. The pitching probables:

Tuesday: RHP Chris Heston (2-3, 3.38) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.23)

Wednesday: RHP Tim Hudson (1-3, 4.50) vs. LHP Brett Oberholtzer (N/A)

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