Bruce Bochy is conceding nothing about this season. The San Francisco Giants’ postseason hopes may be slim, and they require help in the form of Dodgers losses that they did not get Monday night with Clayton Kershaw pitching the division leaders past the Colorado Rockies.
But the Giants will say the only thing they can do to stay alive is win games, and Bochy’s determination in that regard could be measured by the ground he wore out walking between the dugout and mound in a 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
The Reds had two dangerous left-handed hitters in Jay Bruce and Joey Votto batting second and third. Bruce batted five times and faced four different pitchers; Votto would’ve had the same experience had he not been stranded in the on-deck circle when Bruce lined out to right field against Giants closer Santiago Casilla with two on in the ninth inning to end the game.
And the game’s arc could be traced by their at-bats. The Giants led 4-0 in the fifth inning behind a strong start from Tim Hudson, who’d allowed just one hit through the first four. But when Hudson loaded the bases with one out in the fifth and Bruce coming up, Bochy promptly went to his bullpen, summoning left-handed specialist Javier Lopez.
That was partly because Hudson’s hip had started bothering him in the second inning. He had told the Giants’ staff he would try to get through the fifth – but he was also making just his second start since returning from the DL with a shoulder strain, and had already walked two batters in the fifth.
“He gave us a heads-up, that’s why I had Lopez ready,” Bochy said. “I was hoping to get him through that fifth, (taking him out) was the last thing I wanted to do. But (the hip) was barking pretty good.”
Lopez came in and induced a ground ball from Bruce up the first-base line. Brandon Belt gloved it and, despite being behind the bag, threw home for the force-out, cutting down a potential run.
“He surprised all of us going home with it,” Bochy said. “What a great play. He’s on the run there and he put the throw right on the money.”
Belt said that while the Giants’ infield was gathered at the mound for the pitching change, catcher Buster Posey had asked what he would do on a ground ball. Belt replied that if he got one to his back-hand side, he would probably make the more natural throw home rather than try to go to second for a potential double play.
“It’s easier to go home right there, save a run and hopefully get two,” Belt said. “I work on throwing quite a bit when I’m out there doing my (pre-game) routine. It’s usually to second base, but we have all kinds of throws. It kind of gets you ready for any situation you have out there.
“First basemen don’t have a lot of opportunities to throw, so when you get that chance you want to make the best of it.”
Lopez then walked Votto on four pitches, forcing in a run. But George Kontos came in and got Brandon Phillips to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. It stayed a 4-1 game until Bruce’s next at-bat, when Bochy summoned his other go-to left-hander in the bullpen, Josh Osich, and Bruce crushed a 98 mph fastball from Osich over the wall in right-center for a two-run home run.
Osich struck out Votto, though, and the Giants added an insurance run in the eighth with the help of an error by Reds shortstop Eugenio Suarez. That proved valuable as Casilla made things interesting in the ninth, allowing hits to the first two batters before striking out the next two.
That brought up, again, Bruce. Yet with left-hander Jeremy Affeldt warm in the bullpen, Bochy opted to stick with Casilla.
“He’s done a terrific job,” Bochy said of Casilla. “His pitches were getting up there, but I thought he still had good stuff. You get your closer out there, and you kind of put your hands behind your back – to a point. But I thought he still had good stuff.”
Casilla fell behind Bruce, 2-0, and threw a fastball that Bruce hammered to right field. But this time it was a lower line drive, and right fielder Marlon Byrd was positioned so well in the gap that he only had to stagger backward a few steps to make the catch. Votto, in the on-deck circle, sank into a crouch. And the Giants celebrated their fourth straight win and 20th in their last 25 games at home.
“I know the first half we had our struggles here,” Bochy said of the Giants, who started out 17-19 at AT&T Park. “It runs in cycles. But they’re just playing with a lot of fire.”
▪ Hudson didn’t sound too disappointed about being lifted two outs away from qualifying for a win, saying, “It was just the move to make.” As for the hip, he didn’t sound overly concerned.
“It’s just one of those things, something I deal with from time to time,” Hudson said. “Just old. I got that old, tricky hip.”
Bochy said he wasn’t sure whether the hip would affect Hudson’s availability for his next start. He said the Giants “will check on him. But I like the way he’s throwing the ball. It’s unfortunate the hip flared up on him there.”
Both Bochy and Hudson are well aware that Hudson has only so many starts left. The 40-year-old intends to retire after this season, and though he can still get major-league hitters out –as he showed through the first four innings Monday night – he remains steadfast in that decision.
“I mean, I see the finish line,” Hudson said. “I see it coming. It’s fine. Come on, I’m ready for it. I’ve played this game a lot longer than I ever thought I would.”
Hudson is the active career wins leader with 221, and figures to have three more starts if he’s healthy enough to make them. Of course, that could change if the Giants somehow did make a last-ditch run at the postseason. Hudson sounded like he’s prepared for either possibility.
“I wish we was playing more baseball after our regular season’s over with – there’s still a shot,” he said. “But it is what it is. I’m happy with how things have gone throughout my career. Hopefully we can finish it on a positive note.”
▪ Belt’s defensive play in the fifth wasn’t his only contribution Monday night. He also had two hits and drove in two runs – even though his hardest-hit ball of the night in the first inning was run down by Reds speedster Billy Hamilton in center field, taking away extra bases and possibly two RBIs.
“Off the bat I thought it was a double,” Belt said. “But he made a good play.”
Belt made up for that with an RBI triple in the third inning and drove in the eighth-inning insurance run with a sacrifice fly. His numbers in his last four games against the Reds are pretty impressive: 11-for-17, nine runs, nine RBIs and six extra-base hits.
▪ The Giants could be in better position right now if they’d started out the season playing at home like they’re doing now. This game had all the makings of a quiet night at AT&T – it was a Monday night, a light drizzle fell throughout the game and the 49ers kicked off their season opener at roughly the same time as first pitch. But in front of a (generously announced) sell-out crowd, the Giants improved to 25-8 at home since June 24, the best home record in the majors over that span.
“(It’s) of course what we have here, the fans, the atmosphere, and I just like the way that they’re playing the game,” Bochy said. “For us to run this streak off, I think it’s more of us than what happened earlier. Unfortunately sometimes you go through those streaks. But this is more the club we are, the way we’re playing now at home.”
Every Dodgers win edges it closer to being too little, too late. But the Giants have done what they can so far this home stand to stay relevant. Game two of this series has Chris Heston (11-10, 3.55) opposing Reds left-hander John Lamb (1-3, 5.18). First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.