Johnny Cueto’s follow-through carried him off the left side of the mound and the Giants right-hander continued along that path, describing a kind of narrow arc toward second base.
The pitch was a 93 miles per hour fastball that the Padres’ Wil Myers swung through for strike three. Buster Posey’s throw to second beat a running Travis Jankowski for an inning-ending double play. And Cueto, tracking the throw nearly all the way to the bag, pumped his fist, yelled and jogged off the field, tucking his hat habitually into his glove.
“He kind of plays the game like a kid,” Posey said. “It’s something you can be envious of at times, that he’s able to go out there and it’s like he’s playing backyard baseball, just mixing things up. You can tell he enjoys his job.”
That double play ended the eighth inning, and minutes later Cueto returned to finish his seventh career shutout as the Giants beat the Padres, 1-0, on a chilly Tuesday night at AT&T Park. It was a stylish way for Cueto to record his 100th career win, and the right-hander also had a season-high 11 strikeouts, one shy of his career high.
Cueto becomes one of 21 active pitchers with 100 wins and, at 30 years old, the fourth-youngest among the group. He is also the 12th Dominican-born pitcher with at least 100 wins, joining a list topped by Juan Marichal (243 wins), Bartolo Colon (219) and Pedro Martinez (219).
“I mean, it’s just 100 games that you win,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “It’s a special number for a pitcher – 100, 200, as a pitcher you always want to win as many as you can.”
Myers was Cueto’s last strikeout victim and it came on Cueto’s 111th pitch. As Cueto returned to the dugout after the eighth, Giants manager Bruce Bochy approached to ask how he was feeling.
“I did check with him – he hasn’t been here long,” Bochy said. “He said, ‘I’m good.’ ”
Cueto started the ninth by retiring Matt Kemp in six pitches. Kemp, who hit a sinking fly to right-center that Hunter Pence caught going to a knee, taking a chunk of turf up with him. But Melvin Upton, Jr., flew out to Pence on the first pitch, and Cueto, on his 119th pitch, broke the bat of Derek Norris, who grounded out to third baseman Matt Duffy.
Cueto (4-1), whom the Giants signed in the offseason to a $130 million contract, has completed at least seven innings in each of his first five starts.
“I can’t say I’m surprised what he’s doing because he’s had that kind of career,” Bochy said. “That’s why we wanted him here … It’s been fun to watch him because he’s got good stuff but he’s a complete pitcher. I love watching a pitcher who’s like an artist out there.”
Posey, meanwhile, said he has been surprised by one aspect of catching Cueto so far. The Giants’ catcher said that when facing Cueto as a hitter in past seasons, he didn’t get a full appreciation of how Cueto seems to adjust his plan of attack during games based on what he’s seeing from opposing hitters.
“Even in the short stint I’ve had catching so far, I think he’s one of the best I’ve seen at reading hitters’ swings in the middle of the at-bat,” Posey said. “He has such a good feel for where the next pitch should be, or how he wants to throw the next pitch to set up a pitch later in the at-bat. It’s definitely fun for me when a pitcher is actually thinking along, we’re thinking along together out there.”
The first batter Cueto faced Tuesday, Jon Jay, roped a double down the right-field line, but Cueto retired the next three batters to strand Jay on third. The Padres’ best chance to score came in the fifth, when they loaded the bases with one out. Jay hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who bobbled it before throwing to Joe Panik, who made a lightning-quick turn for a potential double play.
Jay was ruled safe at first. But the Giants challenged the call and – a night after losing multiple replay reviews – successfully had the call overturned, ending the inning and erasing the run. Denard Span then hit an RBI double in the bottom of the inning – a drive off the right-field wall that would have been a home run in many stadiums – that gave Cueto his lead.
“When we got that run, you could see he kind of smelled it there a little bit,” Bochy said of Cueto. “He turned it up a notch and really elevated his game.”
“A handful of pitchers in this game, when they smell blood, they turn into a different pitcher,” Span said.
Cueto said he did become more aggressive after the Giants scored. Span remarked that while Cueto appeared to be throwing his fastball in the 89-90 mph range in the earlier innings, “I looked up at the scoreboard the last few innings and he was hitting 93.”
As the eighth inning began, Cueto jogged out of the dugout, side-skipped over the third-base line and threw his warm-up pitches with the same easy delivery that he’d used to stymie the Padres to that point. When the inning ended on Posey’s throw, he left the mound in the same exuberant fashion.
“I celebrated because it was a strikeout, throw-em-out at second, and the throw that Posey made was really good,” Cueto said. “I just wanted to celebrate a great play.”