The San Francisco Giants snapped an eight-shutout-inning slide to the San Diego Padres Thursday night with a top o’ the ninth Aubrey Huff home run that, given a bit more lift, would have broken free of Petco Park and gone into orbit around the moon. The Giants went on to win 6 – 2 in 12 innings, in large part due to a cadaverously cool Giants bullpen display and a Padres pitcher who had difficulty locating the strike zone without the help of a compass and a trained guide.
This win is a heady one for the Giants. Earlier this month, they whimpered into two losses in their first 2011 fracas with the Padres, though they eventually won two to tie the four-game series at 2-2. It is also a particularly chin-drippingly juicy win for Mr. Huff who has been in something resembling a slump: he’s had only six hits in the last 35 at-bats this season.
And the pitcher he got the home run off of? None other than Padres’ All-Star closer Heath Bell. Mr. Huff’s home run was the first Mr. Bell has given up this season, not to mention the first home run he’s given up in 99 consecutive appearances, a Padres record. The last home run against him was hit on April 19th, 2010 by — wait for it, wait for it — the then Giant, Juan Uribe.
Before the game, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy told KNBR 680’s announcer John Miller that the best thing Mr. Huff could do was to “wash off” what happened in the first half of the season (i.e. Mr. Huff’s bat seldom making the acquaintance of a ball) and to “keep it simple” by taking it all one at-bat at a time. Clearly, Mr. Bochy’s advice — and a nice long All-Star break — helped.
The game began in typical Giants vs. Padres fashion, which is to say no runs and hits rarer than a dodo sighting. The Padres’ starter, Aaron Harang, gave up a few in the top of the first and the third to Pablo Sandoval, Eli Whiteside, and Andres Torres, but the Giants ended up leaving them all stranded on base as if they were trapped in an especially lousy episode of “Gilligan’s Island.”
The trouble began in earnest in the bottom of the third inning when Giants starter Madison Bumgarner gave up three consecutive singles, allowing Chris Denorfia to score on a Chase Headley base hit to left field. The game ground on, 1-0, highlighted by painful fielding errors by Mr. Sandoval and Mr. Torres and OMG-escapes from Padres-on-base situations that Mr. Bumgarner just managed to squeak out of.
Ramon Ramirez replaced Mr. Bumgarner in the bottom of the seventh and held the Padres to sweet nothing. After Mr. Huff’s scorching game-tying home run in the ninth, Giants pitchers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla set the tone in ineffable style, sending Padres hitters back to the dugout with their bats dragging in the dirt — three up, three down — in the bottom of the ninth, 10th and 11th innings.
Then, with the score still at a 1-1 brick wall, the Giants caught a break: an oddly off-balance Luke Gregerson who, in the top of the 12th inning, walked Cody Ross and Brandon Crawford without a strike visible on the horizon, allowed Mr. Whiteside to load the bases on a bone-head bunt-catching error, then went on to put the Giants up 2-1 by walking Mike Fontenot.
After a base hit by Mr. Sandoval delivered two more Giants to the home fires — 4-1 — Mr. Gregerson was sent to the dugout to ponder his sins. But the bleeding still wasn’t staunched. Nate the Great Schierholtz got a base hit off the new Padres pitcher, Ernesto Frieri, to send Mr. Fontenot home — 5-1 — and Mr. Huff capped off his ninth inning glory with a hit that sent Mr. Sandoval in: Giants up, 6-1.
After some weirdness by Giants pitcher Javier Lopez who inexplicably walked Ron Johnson and allowed Cameron Maybin to score, The Beard was brought in to put the game to bed. Which he did, in 11 pitches, earning himself his 27th save of the year.
The San Francisco Giants now boast a 53-40 record and have a 3 1/2 game lead on the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West. The Boys by the Bay have won five of their last six while the San Diego Padres have lost a dismal six in a row.
Get your Giant-assisting superstitions on (see Helpthegiantswin.com for ideas) and watch Timmy the Kid Lincecum vs. the Padres’ Dustin Moseley tonight at 7 pm on NBC Bay Area or listen on KNBR 680 — your Giants’ radio home! — with pre-game coverage beginning at 6:05 pm.
Don’t stop believing, Giants fans.