SAN FRANCISCO -- Some years ago, Trevor Brown was a kid growing up in Southern California as a natural Dodgers fan. Two weeks ago, Brown was back at home, thinking he was done playing baseball for the season after the Giants had opted not to call him up when the Triple-A season ended.
And Monday night, Brown found himself right in the middle of those two teams’ storied rivalry, catching for the Giants in an elimination scenario in just his eighth major-league start. The rookie acquitted himself well. Brown had a two-run double off Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke and caught six different pitchers, including starter Jake Peavy for seven strong innings, as the Giants beat the Dodgers, 3-2, in 12 innings to remain alive in the N.L. West.
Peavy called it a "great team win" before singling out his catcher, saying: "You’ve got to give huge props to Trevor Brown."
"To be at home for a week or so, come off the couch and jump right into the mix here in a must-win game against the Dodgers, to deliver the big hit but yet be as good as he was behind the plate all night, was pretty remarkable," Peavy said.
Brown had a chance to be the walk-off hero when he batted in the 12th with Marlon Byrd on third base and no outs following consecutive singles by Byrd and Kelby Tomlinson. He tapped out softly to third base, but watched Alejandro De Aza pick him up by lofting a fly ball to left field deep enough to score Byrd for the game-winning run.
It denied the Dodgers a chance to clinch the N.L. West -- at least for one more day. The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch is still two, and they can eliminate the Giants with one win in the next three games at AT&T Park. They send reigning MVP Clayton Kershaw to the mound Tuesday night; the Giants will counter with their ace, Madison Bumgarner.
Brown may not be behind the plate Tuesday night -- Bumgarner traditionally throws to Buster Posey -- but his contributions Monday were critical. His second-inning double gave the Giants an early 2-0 lead against Greinke, a pitcher they still have not beaten in 10 meetings, and it looked like that might be enough offense as the Giants took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning.
After the Dodgers tied the game in the ninth, Brown handled a string of Giants relievers who held the Dodgers scoreless over the final three innings.
"Brown, what a game he had behind the plate," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He did a great job handling Peavy and this bullpen."
While Brown is still learning many of the Giants’ veteran relievers, he actually has some familiarity with Peavy, having worked with the right-hander several times while Peavy was rehabbing from injuries this season at Triple-A Sacramento. Ironically, Brown said Monday night -- when Peavy threw seven innings and allowed just one run on three hits -- was "probably the least on the same page we’d been all year."
"Every time I’d come in the dugout I was talking to him just trying to get on that same page with him," Brown said. "He was saying he’s thrown to these guys and has a lot of experience throwing to these guys.
"I was just kind of letting him shake me off. Obviously he was right on most of them, because had a pretty good game."
Brown said that it was tough to think along with Peavy on Monday, but easy to roll with Peavy’s decisions, because the right-hander "had so many different pitches to choose from." They relied heavily on Peavy’s cutter, particularly away against the left-handed-heavy Dodgers lineup, but Brown also noted that Peavy’s velocity was up compared to when he caught him in the minors.
"Everything has just been sharper," Brown said.
Peavy, meanwhile, remarked several times after the game about how naturally Brown has transitioned into catching for the Giants after not playing for a week before his call-up. Brown said he was actually home for nine days before the Giants called. Yet with his 2-for-4 game Monday, Brown is hitting .308 (8-for-26) in his first eight big-league games.
"Brownie’s got a lot of confidence, Brownie feels like he belongs," Peavy said. "The moment is not too big for him. He’s a smart kid, he’s educated, and he’s not letting the situation get the best of him. Pretty impressive what he’s done, stepping in with the poise that he’s had."
Officially, Brown was educated at UCLA, and he still has plenty of friends from the area who are Dodgers fans. Naturally, he said he found plenty of text messages on his phone when he got back into the clubhouse Monday night. More surprisingly: "All of them were pretty positive," Brown said. "Which is cool."
There was plenty of blue in the AT&T Park stands Monday night. But Brown said that’s a color that no longer complements him.
"As soon as I got drafted (by the Giants)," he said, "that was an immediate change."
* In his most critical start of the season, Peavy held the Dodgers to three hits and pitched seven innings for just the third time in 18 outings. Two of those hits came in the third, as Carl Crawford singled with two outs, stole second and scored on Kyle Seager’s single to center field. Peavy faced 14 more batters in the game and didn’t allow another hit.
"He was determined not to let it end tonight," Bochy said of Peavy. "He knew he had to pitch well going against Greinke, and he did it, got us seven solid innings. He just had a great focus out there tonight."
As Brown said, Peavy also had the velocity and stuff he did not possess while battling hip and lower back issues earlier in the year. The result recently has shown up in the stat line: In his last five starts, Peavy is 3-0 with a 1.99 ERA.
"I’ve been getting stronger as the season has unfolded here," Peavy said. "I got a little bit of a late start, but I feel fresh and feel like I’m putting my best foot forward."
Peavy was well aware of the circumstances of his start Monday night and made it clear he relished the opportunity to pitch in a must-win situation. Even when his body hasn’t been at its strongest, Peavy’s competitiveness has remained intact and been a source of fuel for his teammates in a clubhouse with some quieter leaders.
It’s a quality Peavy said he has seen reflected in the past few weeks. Peavy was realistic Monday night when asked if he thinks the Giants had put pressure on the Dodgers with their win Monday night.
"I don’t think so," Peavy said. "I mean, what is it, a five-game lead with six to play? I don’t think you can call that pressure."
He acknowledged the Giants are "in a tough situation." Then he added:
"But not at one point in time have I felt like this team as a whole has any quit, has any back-down in them. And it makes me awful proud to call these guys teammates."
* Brown wasn’t the only rookie to play a key role Monday night. Kelby Tomlinson had perhaps his best defensive game of the season at second base, and reached base in three plate appearances, including a second-inning single that set up Brown’s double.
It was the defense, though, that had both Bochy and Peavy raving. In the sixth Tomlinson took away a leadoff hit from Seager with a sensational dive to his back-hand, popping up to throw Seager out at first base. Tomlinson also made a tough play on Chase Utley’s ball in the 11th inning with two on and one out to start an inning-ending double play.
"His defense saved us," Bochy said. "Great plays."
Tomlinson said it was about as good he has felt about a game defensively since joining the Giants. "Usually you don’t get that many opportunities to make that many plays and even if you do, you usually get a lot of routine ones," he said. "But it seemed like every one was kind of stretching me out a little bit."
It did, especially to the backhand side, where Tomlinson also made a neat play on Andre Ethier’s game-tying groundout in the ninth to ensure only one run scored and on another well-hit Utley grounder in the seventh. Peavy remarked that it was a display of "what experience does -- when Kelby first got to the big leagues, I’m not sure that he makes those plays he did tonight."
Tomlinson certainly looks more comfortable at second base now than when he was first called up by the Giants in August. But he didn’t entirely agree with the idea he needed to settle in.
"I think (it was) just a bad-luck kind of deal at the beginning," Tomlinson said. "Even when I missed those plays, I still felt like they were plays I normally make, so it was a little frustrating … I don’t think I was ever really uncomfortable."
Tomlinson said that before Monday’s game he chatted with Ron Wotus, who coaches the Giants infielders. But the conversation was more big-picture than anything that might’ve weighed into the defensive performance Monday night. Tomlinson said Wotus had given him a heads-up that he wanted to sit down this week and go over some things Tomlinson can work on over the offseason.
Might Wotus be crossing anything off that list now?
"Nah," Tomlinson said, grinning. "You can always keep working."
* Before the game, Bochy had said he was proud of the Giants for still being technically in contention on Sept. 28 despite the injuries that have depleted their roster. The win on Monday night underscored his point. Brown, who spent most of the season at Triple-A, caught all 12 innings. Tomlinson didn’t get called up until August. Byrd, who scored the winning run, arrived in a trade Aug. 20. De Aza, who had the walk-off sacrifice fly, was acquired in a trade Aug. 31.
"He’s a professional hitter," Bochy said of De Aza, who faced left-handed reliever Adam Liberatore in the 12th inning. "That’s a tough match-up, lefty on lefty, but he got it done."
Hunter Strickland, who made his first appearance for the Giants this season May 23, got the win. Strickland got the Giants out of a jam in the 11th by inducing Utley’s double play and pitched a scoreless 12th, setting up the game-winning rally.
"We’re not going to replace the guys that we lost," Strickland said. "But these guys have stepped up and done the job."
* The Giants lived to fight another day -- and get Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night as their reward. They will counter with Madison Bumgarner, who last October showed his resolve in elimination games. Giants players on Monday night sounded confident about their chances.
"This is what it’s all about," Strickland said. "Backs against the wall, we kind of like it that way. It’s do or die for us. We’re going to enjoy it."
First pitch Tuesday night at 7:15 p.m.