Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Peavy pivotal in Giants’ playoff push

Ailene Voisin
Ailene Voisin

S Pittsburgh. St. Louis. Perhaps Washington, D.C., later in the week. When Jake Peavy took the mound Saturday against the San Diego Padres, the Giants were still debating their upcoming travel plans, guessing the identity of their opponent, but knowing they would be playing a wild-card game somewhere Wednesday.

But without Peavy? Bruce Bochy doesn’t even want to go there. This was the midseason Bay Area/Boston Red Sox trade that worked out.

The A’s send Yoenis Cespedes to the Sox for Jon Lester, and as a parting, unanticipated shot, the popular outfielder takes the entire Oakland clubhouse right along with him. The bats. The emotional oomph. The swagger. The collective identity that delighted an impassioned fan base and succeeded these past few seasons evaporated before Justin Verlander and his huge right arm made another Coliseum appearance.

Billy Beane’s big gamble – his attempt to cut payroll and counter dominant pitching by acquiring another ace, even though his own players rarely sniff .250 – could still prove to be a wild card and further his reputation as a baseball savant. Then again, momentum is a fickle beast. Check back in a few days.

The Peavy swap wasn’t without risk, either. He was older and injury-prone and struggling (1-9 in Boston), and it came at a high cost: Boston’s demand for talented prospects Heath Hembree and Edwin Escobar, both projected as important elements for a Red Sox makeover that features the dynamic young Cespedes.

But the Giants aren’t into makeovers these days, or for that matter, desperate to experience life after a Division Series. Win two World Series in four years (2010, 2012), raise ticket and parking prices, and everyone in the kitchen is stirring the pot, studying the calendar, and chilling the champagne for championship No.3.

Trouble is, 2014 has been an odd year from the start. The dizzying highs (Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter) and surprising contributions by the precocious Joe Panik and Andrew Susac, along with the emergence of Yusmeiro Petit, have been diminished by injuries to Matt Cain, Angel Pagan, Michael Morse and Brandon Belt. Lincecum’s banishment to the bullpen has been another bummer, though historically, the two-time Cy Young Award winner elevates his game in the postseason.

But as Bochy always likes to say, it starts with your starters, and he wanted another starter. Hence, his push for Peavy.

“I’d hate to think where we would be without him,” Bochy said after his club’s 3-1 win. “A guy with his experience. He was excited about coming here and helping us out. He knows these moments don’t come around very often.”

The 33-year-old Peavy, who played for Bochy for five seasons in San Diego, has been nothing short of a revelation. His career has been hampered by injuries, including a detached right shoulder muscle in 2010 that required an experimental procedure. The surgeon listed his chances for a full recovery at less than 50-50. Though he made it back, his progress has been slowed by a fractured rib, strained adductor and chronic soreness earlier this season in his leg.

But talk about an easy, if somewhat bizarre adjustment back to the West Coast. Peavy, who had gone 18 consecutive starts without a win, is 6-4 with the Giants – 6-1 with a 1.35 ERA in his last nine appearances. Even while feeling poorly and lacking energy in his five innings against the Padres, he still allowed only one run on four hits, and struck out three. Most importantly, he will be rested and available to pitch the opening game of the NLDS should the Giants prevail in the wild-card game, or in the worst-case scenario, relieve Madison Bumgarner should the ace falter Wednesday in the early innings.

The Mobile, Ala., native, who can be seen muttering angrily to himself on the mound, is unfailingly affable and engaging when the glove comes off. While talking about his surgically repaired shoulder Saturday, he rubbed his arm, and couldn’t stop smiling. The mention of Bochy and his coaches elicited an impassioned, emotional response.

“I’ve loved it here,” he said. “To come right into the middle of the pennant race, with familiar faces … I couldn’t ask for anything more. The fact that man (Bochy) believes in me, that makes a world of difference. We worked some things out mechanically (with Dave Righetti after he was acquired). You just get on a roll, feel good health-wise. I can’t thank them enough.”

Well, he may get that chance.

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