Jake Peavy’s first pitch Friday afternoon was a fastball clocked at 89 miles per hour on the Nationals Park radar gun. Stephen Strasburg hit 91 mph in the first inning – with his changeup.
The pitching matchup for Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Giants and the Nationals seemed to reflect how many are characterizing this series – the savvy veteran, with playoff experience and a recently minted World Series ring against the young but exciting talent trying to make his first impact in the postseason.
And while the Nationals’ touted rotation helped make them a prohibitive favorite, it was the Giants’ pitching staff Friday that served a reminder of what has fueled their postseason success in recent years. Peavy outpitched Strasburg into the sixth inning, and relievers Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo each secured a crucial late out as the Giants beat the Nationals 3-2 to steal the NLDS opener and home-field advantage in the series.
Peavy, who entered with a 9.27 ERA in five career playoff starts, threw 52/3 scoreless innings to earn his first postseason win and help extend the Giants’ postseason winning streak to nine games, the longest in franchise history. During the streak, the Giants’ pitchers have allowed just nine earned runs.
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“In the postseason you really, really have to grind out every pitch to have a chance to win,” said Peavy, who joined the Giants at midseason from Boston, where he was part of the World Series champion Red Sox last year. “If you don’t do it, the other team will do it and beat you.
“I think it comes down to that. We understand that we might not be man for man, you know, the favorites. We aren’t given a lot of credit. (But) we take a lot of pride being chained together.”
Peavy started the chain, allowing only an infield single over the first five innings and taking a 2-0 lead to the sixth. He surrendered a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz and, after retiring the next two batters, walked Jayson Werth, prompting manager Bruce Bochy to summon Javier Lopez to face left-handed hitting Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche walked to load the bases and Bochy went to the bullpen again, this time for Strickland, a rookie who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the majors before Sept. 1. After missing with his first pitch to Ian Desmond, Strickland came back with fastball strikes of 98, 99 and 100 mph – with Desmond swinging through the last to end the inning.
Strickland said Bochy’s confidence in him was “huge. It fires me up. That’s what I enjoy – I enjoy the pressure.”
Fellow reliever Jeremy Affeldt said the strikeout “was the game-changer When (Strickland) was able to do what he did, bases loaded, to me that showed me who he is and who he can be, and who he will be for a long time.”
The Giants added to their lead in the seventh when Joe Panik hit a leadoff triple to left-center and scored on Buster Posey’s grounder that bounced off Nationals reliever Craig Stammen’s mitt for an infield single. Panik also had driven in the Giants’ first run on a one-out single in the third. The rookie second baseman’s five hits in his first two playoff games – including the wild-card game – are a Giants franchise record.
“Pretty unbelievable,” Brandon Belt said. “He doesn’t seem like a rookie at all.”
The seventh-inning run was critical, as the Nationals’ offense woke up in the bottom of the inning against Strickland. Bryce Harper crushed a 97 mph fastball into the upper deck in right field, and after Strickland struck out Wilson Ramos shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera turned on a 1-2 fastball and lined it into the right-field seats to make it a one-run game.
The Giants escaped the inning without further damage, but Washington put two runners on in the eighth with a two singles off Romo. Romo struck out Ian Desmond on a big slider, which brought up Harper with two outs. With a crowd of 44,035 ready to explode, Romo put out the fuse, getting Harper to hit a chopper to Belt for a fielder’s choice.
Santiago Casilla pitched a perfect ninth to secure his first postseason save and the win for Peavy, whose pitch count (104) likely kept him from going deeper. Posey, though, said that number was the result of Peavy making “some really tough pitches” to corners early in the game. “He understood how important those first few innings were,” Posey said.
That seemed especially the case with Strasburg, who appeared amped for his much-anticipated postseason debut after being shut down by the Nationals before the 2012 playoffs. Strasburg threw nine fastballs – between 97 and 99 mph – in the first inning and retired the side in order.
Still, the Giants seemed to be making solid contact against Strasburg from the outset. Belt said one “could see right away that people were going to have good at-bats” and that started to bring in the third, when Travis Ishikawa led off with a single and scored the game’s first run.
Ishikawa advanced when Peavy bunted and LaRoche tried for the out at second. Ishikawa was originally ruled out, but Bochy challenged and the call was overturned after a review. Two batters later, Panik lined a single up the middle to score Ishikawa.
The Giants added a run in the fourth when Hunter Pence reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scored on Belt’s single.
Peavy still hadn’t allowed a hit at that point and after Harper hit an infield single leading off the fifth, Peavy’s first pitch to Wilson Ramos resulted in a 4-6-3 double play. It left Peavy pumping his fist and yelling, “That’s what I’m talking about!” at his infielders.
Peavy, in the clubhouse afterward, said: “This was fun.”
“Special win,” Peavy said. “Jeremy said it right. It was crazy, and really hard-fought.”