In Santiago Casilla’s first attempt at his 100th career save, the Giants closer was one strike away when he allowed a game-tying homer to Arizona’s Jake Lamb. He waited six days for another opportunity -- and even then it required a longer outing than usual.
Casilla entered Monday night’s game against the Padres in the eighth inning with two outs and the Giants clinging to a one-run lead. With two runs already in and the tying runner standing on third base, Casilla struck out pinch-hitter Jose Pirela, then notched two more strikeouts in a scoreless ninth, reaching a personal milestone and closing out the Giants’ 5-4 win at AT&T Park.
"He earned his 100th save, I’ll say that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
In doing so, Casilla also bailed out several of the Giants’ young relievers against whom the Padres had rallied in the eighth. Hunter Strickland started the inning with a 5-2 lead, faced four batters and allowed three hits. Derek Law entered for his fifth major-league appearance and hung a breaking ball to Brett Wallace, who singled to make it 5-4.
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Left-hander Josh Osich then entered and struck out switch-hitter Jemile Weeks. As the Padres sent up Pirela, a right-handed hitter, Bochy had right-hander Mike Broadway up in the bullpen alongside Casilla. He had already used the only other right-hander in his bullpen, Cory Gearrin, for the final out of the seventh.
Under different circumstances, it would have been a situation for Sergio Romo, or even George Kontos. But with both veteran right-handers sidelined by elbow injuries, Bochy signaled for his closer, requesting a four-out save.
"It’s great to have that experienced guy to come in the game like that and get a big out, a big strikeout," Bochy said. "You need that guy.
"You match up the best you think you can. We have three lefties and righties that I think can get the job done. Occasionally what happened tonight’s probably going to happen. They don’t have a lot of experience there … But I like the arms that we have there to get these matchups."
Casilla got ahead of Pirela and finished him off with a big curveball, stranding runners on second and third. After allowing a two-out single to Matt Kemp in the ninth, Casilla froze Melvin Upton, Jr. with a 2-2 slider, securing just the Giants’ fourth win in 13 games.
Casilla said afterward he was well aware he was vying for his 100th save, and that he’d noted the fact that he hadn’t pitched for nearly a week since blowing his first chance at the milestone.
"Today I have it, you know?" Casilla said. "I feel so happy, the team wins."
It was the sixth career save of four or more outs for Casilla, whose time with the Giants has been, in a word, steady. Since arriving from the A’s, with whom he recorded his first four career saves, Casilla has 96 saves in seven seasons during which his collective ERA is 2.23. In the postseason, he has compiled a 0.95 ERA in 24 outings, not allowing a run over his last 19 appearances going back to Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS against the Reds.
"He pitches in a spot where there’s naturally going to be a lot of anxiety anyway, but we got all the confidence in the world in him," said starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who earned the win Monday. "He’s nasty, he knows what he’s doing, he’s got command. Pretty much every time he comes through for us. There’s a hiccup here and there, but that’s with anybody. Nobody’s going to be perfect."
Bumgarner wasn’t perfect Monday but bulled his way through several trouble innings in part by recording nine strikeouts. The offense backed him with five runs, including home runs by Hunter Pence and Buster Posey and two RBIs from Angel Pagan, who continues to look rejuvenated hitting mostly out of the No. 9 spot in the order.
Posey’s seventh-inning home run proved key as the Padres closed to within a run in the eighth against the Giants’ bullpen, which has endured its share of struggles early on this season. Afterward, Casilla professed his faith in the Giants’ younger relievers.
"The young guys, they sometimes make a mistake like everybody makes a mistake," he said. "But they have good stuff. I believe in the young guys. They have good arms, they throw hard and have good breaking balls, too."
Casilla grinned and nodded when asked whether he kept the ball from his milestone save Monday night. He shrugged a little when asked about entering the game in the eighth.
"For me, I don’t think about that," Casilla said. "I like to pitch. I’m going to be ready the seventh, eighth, ninth. The only thing is I like to win. And we did that today."