WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hunter Strickland threw his first pitch in the major leagues on Sept. 1. A little more than a month later, he found himself jogging in from the bullpen at Nationals Park tasked with defusing a bases-loaded, two-out situation and protecting a two-run Giants lead in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the N.L. Division Series.
"That’s what I enjoy," Strickland said later. "I enjoy the pressure.
"It fires me up."
Strickland then torched the stadium radar gun with the first four postseason pitches of his career. The fastballs went 98, 98, 99, 100, with Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond waving at the final one for a strikeout that ended the inning and, according to Jake Peavy, "saved the game."
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Strickland also surrendered a pair of home runs that made things interesting in the Giants’ eventual 3-2 win. But his first impression, against a hitter in Desmond who hit 24 homers and drove in 91 runs in the regular season, was an emphatic one.
"He’s a man," reliever Sergio Romo said. "He’s got real stuff. Guy belongs in the big leagues. He’s going to be here for a while. I don’t see him being afraid or being nervous."
That despite the fact Strickland, the 26-year-old right-hander, had never pitched above Double-A before September. He shot up the hierarchy in the Giants’ bullpen and was ready when Bochy summoned him in a pivotal moment Friday. Asked later if he would have shaken catcher Buster Posey off had he called for an off-speed pitch to Desmond, Strickland bluntly said: "Probably."
"But me and him, we’re pretty much on the same page," Strickland said. "We know each other and we’ve got to go with what’s best, and just attack."
That didn’t change when Strickland came back to start the seventh. But at that point, the Nationals were no longer surprised. Bryce Harper launched a 97 mph fastball into the upper deck in right field for the Nationals’ first run, and two batters later Asdrubal Cabrera turned on a fastball for another homer to right.
They were the first two runs allowed in the majors by Strickland, and made for a stressful final two innings with the Giants protecting a one-run lead. But reliever Jeremy Affeldt said he made a point after the game to tell Strickland his biggest impact Friday had come in the sixth.
"That was the game-changer," Affeldt said. "The two home runs, he’ll fix that. Those are solo shots, they happen When he was able to do what he did with the bases loaded, to me that showed me who he is and who he can be, and who he will be for a long time."
Posey, incidentally, shouldered part of the blame for Harper’s homer, saying it "probably wasn’t the smartest (pitch) call there." He added that Strickland has "electric stuff, (and) I think he’s going to be really big for us."
Strickland said he tried to move on quickly from the home runs, and acknowledged that on those particular fastballs to Harper and Cabrera, "They got the best of those." But he said he hopes to face them again before the series ends.
"That’s what it’s all about," Strickland said. "They got me this time. But I’m going to do my best to not let it happen again."
* The game story focuses on the Giants’ pitching as a whole, which upstaged the touted Nationals staff in the opener of this series. Jake Peavy earned his first career postseason win with 5 2/3 scoreless innings to outduel Stephen Strasburg, and five relievers recorded the final 10 outs.
The Giants have won their last nine postseason games, which CSNBayArea.com’s Andy Baggarly confirmed is the longest postseason winning streak in National League history, surpassing the previous record of eight held by the Cincinnati Reds. During that stretch, Giants pitchers have allowed a total of nine earned runs.
Peavy’s pitch count (104 at the time of his exit) helped prevent him from going further. But Posey said he thought that was a product of how Peavy aimed for corners from the outset Friday, determined not to make mistakes to a tough Nationals lineup.
"I think he mixed really well," Posey said. "He’s a very smart pitcher. I think he knows when not to give in. Had a higher pitch count through five or six than normal, but I think it’s because he went ahead and he made some really tough pitches. Early in the game, he understood how important those first few innings were."
* Tomorrow’s notebook leads with second baseman Joe Panik, who drove in the Giants’ first run, scored another and set a Giants record with five hits in his first two postseason games. Panik, if it isn’t clear yet, doesn’t get rattled by the big stage, and both Posey and Brandon Belt had some lofty praise for the rookie after Friday’s game.
* After Strickland’s strikeout of Desmond, the next-biggest out Friday might have been recorded by Sergio Romo, who pitched himself into a jam by allowing two singles in the eighth but got Harper to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
Left-handers hit .256 off Romo during the regular season, and one of the singles he gave up Friday was to left-handed hitting Adam LaRoche, but Romo came back to get Harper, who had just reached the upper deck in his previous at-bat. Posey said that Romo "did a nice job of keeping the ball down, and he made some really good quality pitches to a couple of good hitters."
Casilla, who retired the side in order in the ninth, shrugged off the significance of his first career postseason save and had an interesting take on his role as closer in general. Casilla said he doesn’t actually think of himself as a closer. "When you think you have to close a game, it makes a lot of pressure," he said.
Instead, Casilla said he just thinks of the ninth as his inning rather than the last three outs of the game.
"Ninth, eighth, seventh, I don’t care," Casilla said. "I like pitching."
* Probably the most common question since the Giants arrived in Washington has been some variation of, "What is it about this team " in regards to their playoff success of recent years. Romo was asked that again Friday night, and offered this take:
"I feel we understand what’s at stake and we understand it takes a little more than talent, so to speak. Talent gets you here, getting the job done during the season gets you here, but it does take a little bit more to get through the postseason. There’s a lot of pressure and stuff that comes now that doesn’t come during the season."
So what makes the Giants effective at dealing with that pressure?
"Well, it’s definitely character, chemistry plays a part as well," Romo said. "But it’s that not giving fear credit -- not giving fear a face. And I think that’s kind of what I’ve seen here during my postseason experiences with this team. We go out and trust ourselves."
* Peavy really did his emotion-showing thing in the fifth, when after he allowed his first hit on an infield single by Harper, his next pitch resulted in Wilson Ramos grounding into a 4-6-3 double play. Peavy pumped his fist emphatically and appeared to yell, "That’s what I’m talking about!" at his middle infielders, Panik and Brandon Crawford.
Hunter Pence, also known for his intensity, was asked what he thinks of Peavy’s intense demeanor on the mound and answered: "I honestly don’t get to see it that much from the outfield. But I get a kick out of everything he does."
On Thursday, Peavy had said he was going to try not to utter a single cuss word on the mound Friday. Did he succeed?
"Maybe," Peavy said. "I think I might’ve slipped in the dugout. But I did my best."
Cameras also appeared to show Peavy, as he walked off the mound in the sixth, mouthing the words "Nice job" to home plate umpire Laz Diaz. Peavy confirmed that he was in fact saying that to Diaz -- and that he wasn’t being sarcastic.
"These guys (umpires) know me well enough that I’ll say it like it is," Peavy said. "At the end of the day, all you want is the umpire to be consistent. If you know what’s a strike and what’s a ball, and where to throw it, you can never complain. And today, that was the case."
* In his post-game press conference, Peavy was asked to explain one of his many tattoos, one that reads, "Outsider." His answer, according to the transcript:
"‘Outsider’ is kind of something that hit home, and with me, over the last few years. You know, because I have been -- I felt like I have been in situations throughout life since I was 20, since I first signed, even before that 17, I didn’t leave the South much. I was in a lot of situations where I was uncomfortable, in fancy hotels, maybe speaking to people maybe I didn’t have the education to speak to.
"‘Outsider’ is a way to find a way to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable, if that makes sense at all. There have been a few songs written that stand for --
"I love people who do it their own way. It is something that I have taken pride in over the years, I have tried to do it. I haven’t tried to be anybody else. I tried to be true to myself and my family and do it my way. It is a good reminder that you don’t have to be like everybody else to be right."
* The Giants earned at least a split in Washington to theoretically wrest away home-field advantage from the Nationals in this five-game series. Game 2 pits Tim Hudson, looking for his first postseason win since 2001, against Jordan Zimmermann, who is coming off his no-hitter on the last day of the regular season. First pitch at 2:37 p.m. PT.