SAN FRANCISCO -- Yusmeiro Petit’s career numbers are not those of a pitcher destined for a lofty place in baseball lore. Entering his start Thursday with the Giants, the 29-year-old right-hander had a 17-24 record across seven major-league seasons, with a 4.84 ERA and more games pitched in relief (63) than started (50). He has played for five different MLB organizations, and pitched in 2011 in the Mexican League.
And yet, after his start Thursday in the Giants’ 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies, Petit now owns a remarkable distinction in major-league history. When Petit struck out Charlie Culberson for the second out of the third inning, it was the 46th consecutive batter Petit had retired. No other MLB pitcher has ever retired as many hitters in a row.
"Really incredible when you think about it," manager Bruce Bochy said. "This game has been played a long time … I mean, what a roll to get on, to have that kind of record."
The game story hits all the particulars of Petit’s record-setting day, but it’s worth noting that while not all the Giants were aware Petit was on the brink of history going into his start Thursday, Petit certainly was. He entered the game having retired 38 batters in a row and seven away from the major-league record set by Mark Buehrle in 2009. And in the early innings, he was counting down the outs.
Petit, of course, had nearly achieved perfection before. Last Sept. 6, on the same AT&T Park mound, Petit came within one out of a perfect game against the Diamondbacks only to see Eric Chavez drop a two-strike single into right field, just out of the reach of Hunter Pence. As he inched toward Buehrle’s mark, that memory steeled his resolve.
"I was more relaxed today" than in the perfect game bid, 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."
Petit, who entered having not allowed a baserunner since the Phillies’ Marlon Byrd hit a double off him July 22, broke the National League record of 41 consecutive outs (shared by Jim Barr and Bobby Jenks) when Nolan Arenado flew out to deep center leading off the second. He then struck out Corey Dickerson and Brandon Barnes to finish the inning and come within one out of tying Buehrle.
Petit tied the mark by striking out Jackson Williams to start the third, then got Culberson swinging on a pitch in the dirt to break it, with Andrew Susac throwing to first baseman Buster Posey to complete the out. The Giants announced on the scoreboard that Petit had just set the record, and those in the crowd not already aware and applauding gave him a standing ovation. Several players, including Posey and Pablo Sandoval, joined in.
"It’s awesome," said Susac. "To be a part of history, it’s pretty cool."
"It’s unbelievable to be able to retire 46 guys in a row," said left fielder Gregor Blanco. "That’s amazing."
A reminder of just how amazing came right away. Petit’s streak ended on a double by the very next batter -- the opposing pitcher, Jordan Lyles. Petit said the pitch simply "slid a little bit where I didn’t want it to, and that’s why the pitcher hit a double. It’s not because I was nervous."
Indeed, while the fans were giving Petit a standing ovation after striking out Culberson, he had already stepped onto the pitching rubber to face Lyles. Petit stepped off briefly in observance of the moment, but did not so much as tip his cap before stepping back on.
"He’s just always very steady Eddie with his demeanor," Susac said. "That’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s a gamer. And he’s fun to catch, put it that way, because you can do so many things with his repertoire as far as keeping hitters off-balance."
That and Petit’s flexibility when it comes to his role have made him an invaluable piece of the Giants’ bullpen for most of the season. He has saved the Giants’ relief corps on a few occasions with extended relief outings, and Bochy said Petit has "done a great job of eating up important innings … not just eating up innings, but quality innings. He’s really been a shot in the arm, I think, for the pen all year."
It can be an undecorated job. Long relievers often go for long stretches without getting into games, and have to stay fresh and prepared through bullpen sessions. When they are called upon to spot-start, the change in preparation can be difficult -- something likely reflected in Petit’s 6.32 ERA in six starts this season before Thursday, compared to his 1.84 ERA in relief.
Petit, though, said Thursday that he likes his current job. "I know it’s not easy to every pitcher," he said. "But I try to make it easy for myself. I try to keep ready to start or to relieve, because I know I help my team with this versatility to be able to do both."
The question now is, what will his role be going forward? Petit was tapped Thursday to start in place of Tim Lincecum, who was moved to the bullpen while he works through mechanical issues. Even with his performance -- six innings, four hits, one run -- Bochy did not commit after the game to Petit getting another start, though he acknowledged: "That’s a pretty good effort … It’s hard to change that with the job he did today."
Petit was asked about possibly earning another start and said: "That’s the manager’s decision." He has operated most of this season under relative uncertainty, not knowing when or in what situation he’ll be called into a game. Thursday, though, one thing was sure: Petit, so close to achieving perfection a year ago, has a place in the record books.
"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 to not do it.’"
* Once history had been achieved, the Giants still had a game to win. And they did, with Jean Machi, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combining to record the final nine outs in relief of Petit and Blanco, Pence and Susac contributing clutch at-bats to drive in runs.
Blanco staked Machi to a lead with a two-run homer to right field off Lyles in the second inning. It was the second homer in the last five games for Blanco, who had one in his 113 previous games this season. It was also the first home run at AT&T Park for Blanco since he hit one during Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012.
Blanco has said he gets into trouble when he tries to hit for power and his swing gets long -- that he has flashed some power lately, he said, is just a result of better timing since the All-Star Break. In the second half, Blanco said, "I’ve been trying to hit the ball more in front … and I think it’s a lot better and been a little bit more consistent."
* After giving up a one-run lead in the ninth Wednesday night, Casilla got another chance at a save Thursday and nailed it down. But after he walked D.J. LeMahieu leading off the inning, Jeremy Affeldt did start to warm up in the bullpen, an indication that Casilla does not have a vice-like grip on the closer role.
Bochy acknowledged as much afterward, saying he intends to "mix it up" with Casilla and Romo to get the last six outs, with Affeldt and Javier Lopez also contributing. The way the Rockies were lined up in the eighth, Bochy explained, he preferred using Romo there Thursday against a series of right-handers, but he said: "Both of them are fine with whatever role you give them."
* The Giants’ starting staff in this series: 30 innings, 15 hits allowed, 0.90 ERA, two walks and 35 strikeouts. Granted, this was against a Rockies lineup that has been ravaged by injuries. But with the Giants not scoring many runs right now, either, the performance of the starting pitchers loomed large.
"We’ve had our struggles, and this team (Colorado) has been tough on us here at home," Bochy said. "But those pitchers, the starting pitchers, are what we lean on, and it’s going to be important they on a consistent basis just give us a chance to win."
* The lineup tweak for this game had Joe Panik in the No. 2 spot and Pence batting fifth. Bochy said that was mainly because Michael Morse was getting a day off and he wanted an experienced hitter in the fifth spot. But Panik got on base twice with a walk and single and Pence drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and when asked afterward if he’d consider keeping this alignment, Bochy didn’t rule it out.
"I’m going to noodle on this for tonight," he said. "It’s not an easy call, ‘cause both guys you like up there (near the top). But I’ll think about it."
* By taking the last three games of this series, the Giants won three games in a row at home for the first time since June 6-8. For as bad as they’ve been at AT&T Park most of the summer, the Giants have won seven of their last 10 at home and are 35-33 overall.
They now welcome in the first-place Milwaukee Brewers for a three-game series starting Friday night. The pitching probables:
Friday: RHP Wily Peralta (15-8, 3.56) vs. RHP Ryan Vogelsong (7-9, 3.78)
Saturday: RHP Mike Fiers (4-1, 1.54) vs. RHP Jake Peavy (2-4, 3.18)
Sunday: RHP Kyle Lohse (12-7, 3.42) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 3.02)