Climbing the dugout steps, Javier Lopez tripped, stumbled to the ground and lay there, arms splayed. He rested a moment before popping up, pointing to the sky and jogging the rest of the way to the bullpen. Minutes later, the Giants left-hander entered Saturday’s game and got Arizona’s Jake Lamb to ground out in a key situation in the fifth inning.
It was a neat metaphor for the Giants’ bullpen, which has fallen down a few times lately but came through Saturday in a 4-2 win over the Diamondbacks. Beginning with Lopez, six relievers combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in support of Jake Peavy as the Giants notched their major-league-best 56th win and moved a season-high 23 games over .500.
That number might be even higher if not for several blown late leads. But with Peavy in trouble in the fifth inning Saturday, manager Bruce Bochy did not hesitate to turn to his bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead. The show of faith was not lost on a relief corps that blew its 17th save opportunity, tied for the National League lead, Tuesday night.
“I think everybody noticed that was happening,” Lopez said. “I think it’s one of those where the trust has got to be there, and he knows that as well as we do. We know we’ve got to pitch better and execute the way we can.
“It’s an easy thing to pick on the bullpen. We understand that; we’re not immune to criticism. But it’s also a challenge for us to get better, and it’s nice that he believes that we can continue to keep that lead.”
Lopez entered with two on and one out to face Lamb, who hit a chopper up the middle. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, shading Lamb to pull, ranged far to the right of second base, spun and avoided second baseman Grant Green while throwing Lamb out at first.
“Craw came out of nowhere,” Bochy said. “I just took it as a hit. I was ready to go out and make a change. But he’s as good as there is in the game right now at short.”
Adding to the difficulty was that Crawford initially broke toward second base, instead of behind it, thinking Lopez might stop the ball and try for a double play. But Lopez pulled his glove back.
“I take full blame,” Lopez said. “But I’m also trying to pump him up and make sure he continues to make Gold Glove plays.”
That left runners on first and third, but George Kontos entered and got Yasmany Tomas to line out to left field, the first of four batters Kontos retired on 10 pitches. Albert Suarez and Josh Osich threw a scoreless seventh inning, Sergio Romo retired three consecutive hitters in the eighth, and Santiago Casilla notched his 21st save in 25 chances despite allowing a one-out double to Phil Gosselin – the only hit given up by a Giants reliever on Saturday.
Romo’s return from a flexor strain last week was supposed to help stabilize the bullpen. The Giants always intended to hand Romo the eighth inning when they have a lead. But in his absence, no reliever consistently filled that role. Bochy was forced to mix and match in the eighth inning, and the result was less defined roles in the earlier innings.
Romo has made just three appearances since his return, but all have come in the eighth inning, and he has retired seven of nine batters without allowing a run.
“We have been playing the matchup game an awful lot this first half,” Lopez said. “We have had a lot of success, and we’ve also gotten burned by it. I think anytime you can add a veteran like Romo back in the fold, it’s going to help.”
Peavy did not exit without making a contribution. He allowed hits to the first four batters of the fourth inning but retired the next three to limit the damage to two runs.
Peavy also was part of a singular moment in that inning. Protesting a check-swing call with Lamb at bat, Peavy did not notice catcher Buster Posey throwing the ball back to him. The ball glanced off Peavy’s chest – into his glove.
“I was so hot over the check swing that it wasn’t comical in the moment,” Peavy said. “It is funny to look back at it now that the win’s in the books.”
It was one of several oddities Saturday. The Giants took the lead in the fourth after Lamb lost Brandon Crawford’s popup in the sun and had it knock off his shoulder for a single. Grant Green followed with a two-run homer off Robbie Ray, Green’s first homer as a Giant. Ruben Tejada padded the lead in the sixth with an RBI double.
“The fun thing about what’s happening is everybody’s doing something right now,” said Bochy.
Arizona left fielder Brandon Drury face-planted on the bullpen mound chasing a foul ball. And, of course, there was Lopez’s tumble, which he did little to disguise.
“You’ve got to own it,” Lopez said.