Yusmeiro Petit had come so close to perfection on one September night last season: 26 up, 26 down, before Eric Chavez’s single with two outs in the ninth inning tore history from his grasp.
On the same AT&T Park mound on Thursday, a different though related kind of perfection was within reach for Petit – and the Giants right-hander knew it. Entering his start against Colorado, Petit had retired 38 consecutive batters in his last seven outings, seven shy of the major-league record.
“The other time, obviously I knew what was going on,” Petit said through a translator, “but today I said to myself, ‘This is not going to happen to me again.’ So I concentrated specifically to get there. And that’s what happened.”
While pitching the Giants to a 4-1 win over the Rockies, Petit, the 29-year-old swingman starting Thursday because of the recent struggles of Tim Lincecum, set an MLB record for consecutive batters retired by running his streak to 46 before pitcher Jordan Lyles ended it with a two-out double in the third inning. Petit broke the previous record of 45 set in 2009 by Mark Buehrle and helped the Giants take three of four games in the series from the last-place Rockies.
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“Really incredible when you think about it,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “This game has been played a long time, and that’s quite a record to be proud of. It’s amazing to me, and kind of went unnoticed there for a long time.”
Into Thursday afternoon, even. While Bochy said some people in the Giants’ dugout were discussing the streak in the early innings, catcher Andrew Susac, said he “didn’t even know of the record before the game started.” So he was a little confused when, after Petit struck out Brandon Barnes to end the second and pull within one out of tying Buehrle’s record, Susac tossed the ball into the stands on his way to the dugout – and saw pitching coach Dave Righetti leap for it.
“Guys were like, ‘No! What are you doing?’ ” Susac said. “After that I made sure I held onto the balls.”
Petit tied Buehrle’s record by striking out Rockies catcher Jackson Williams for the first out of the third inning. He then struck out shortstop Charlie Culberson, a former Giants minor leaguer, swinging at a pitch in the dirt for the record-setting out.
As Susac threw the ball to first baseman Buster Posey to complete the out, some in the AT&T Park crowd rose and applauded, aware of what Petit had just accomplished. The ovation grew to encompass the entire stadium as the Giants then announced the feat on the center-field scoreboard.
Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval took off their gloves and joined in the applause. Petit, who’d already mounted the pitching rubber to face his next hitter, stepped off momentarily as the ovation continued but remained stoic, opting not to tip his cap.
“He’s just always very steady Eddie with his demeanor,” Susac said. “That’s just kind of the guy he is. He’s a gamer.”
In a touch of irony, Lyles, the opposing pitcher, promptly slapped a double down the left-field line to end Petit’s streak, and Charlie Blackmon followed with a single that drove in Lyles, cutting the Giants’ lead to 2-1 and providing a reminder that with history achieved, a game remained up for grabs.
And Petit regrouped, retiring D.J. LeMahieu on a pop-out to end the inning and pitching around one-out singles in the next two innings to preserve the one-run lead into the sixth. The Giants made it a 3-1 game in the sixth on a Hunter Pence sacrifice fly, and Petit did not return for the seventh, finishing with nine strikeouts and just 81 pitches.
Still, with his performance, Petit might have earned himself another turn in the rotation. The long man in the Giants’ bullpen for most of this season, Petit, who had compiled a 6.32 ERA in his previous six starts, was asked to start Thursday while Lincecum, who was moved to the bullpen earlier this week, works through mechanical issues that have contributed to his 9.49 ERA in his last six starts.
Bochy has left open how long Lincecum will be out of the rotation. But asked Thursday if Petit did enough to earn another start, he said: “You know, that’s a pretty good effort. These are things we’ll talk about. But it’s hard to change that with the job he did today.”
Petit, who entered the game having not allowed a baserunner since the Phillies’ Marlon Byrd hit a double off him July 22, broke the National League record for consecutive batters retired when Nolan Arenado flew out to deep center leading off the second inning. That mark of 41 had previously been shared by Giants right-hander Jim Barr and Bobby Jenks.
Petit struck out Corey Dickerson and Barnes to finish the second, and the Giants staked him to a two-run lead in the bottom of the inning when Gregor Blanco drove a pitch from Lyles into the arcade seating in right field. It was the second homer in five games for Blanco, who had hit one in 113 games prior to that.
Petit returned to the mound one out from tying the all-time mark, two outs from breaking it. Last year, he’d watched his perfect-game bid against the Arizona Diamondbacks end with Chavez’s soft liner to right field landing inches out of the reach of a sliding Pence. But this time, Petit did not let history elude him. And fittingly, his name now resides next to a mark for perfection.
“I think it’s like a reward for all the work I have put into my pitching,” Petit said. “I think God gave me a second opportunity. And I said to myself, ‘He’s giving me another opportunity. This time, I’m not going to allow myself not to do it.’ ”