ST. LOUIS – The Giants didn’t have many vacancies on their pitching staff when they reported to spring training. If you were a non-roster free agent hoping to crack a job, Scottsdale wasn’t the most fertile spot to till the earth.
But Chad Gaudin said he eagerly signed a guarantee-free deal with the Giants because he watched them win the World Series, and was just too excited at the thought of joining such a tremendous group of arms.
“Still am,” said a smiling Gaudin, after his first big league start in four seasons resulted in a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. “This is a great staff, a great team.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Belt's pinch-hit double lifts Giants past Cards]
It hasn’t been so great over the past few weeks – especially on the road. Gaudin’s six-inning, two-run performance was the club’s first quality start away from AT&T Park since April 30, when Madison Bumgarner had a good one at Arizona.
Gaudin signed on to augment the staff. Wouldn’t you know it? He ended up being the stopper as the Giants snapped a seven-game road losing streak.
Buster Posey had four hits, Brandon Belt hit a tiebreaking, two-run pinch double in the seventh inning and Brandon Crawford made one of his best web gems of the season as the Giants avoided being swept by the Cardinals, who own the best record in the NL.
“We got timely hits, Crawford made great plays, Buster was great back there as always,” Gaudin said. “I feel like this is a pretty big lift for us, and it was a good all-around effort for the whole team.”
In case you had any doubts, yes, Gaudin will get another start. The Giants still have the option of skipping the No.5 starter with days off Monday and Thursday. They had sketched out a plan to have Mike Kickham return from Triple-A Fresno to start June 15, when they’d need a fifth starter again.
But after Gaudin’s outing, the outline has changed. Although Giants manager Bruce Bochy still had to discuss it with his coaching staff, it appears Gaudin will get a start sometime next weekend at Arizona. That would give the other starters an extra day of rest, which is not a bad thing given their struggles and the workload of the previous few seasons.
Gaudin’s turn would come up on Sunday, but the Giants could move him up to pitch on a full complement of rest earlier in the series. That way, they could push back Tim Lincecum to the Pittsburgh series, where the risk of Goldschmidt exposure is much less severe.
“Whatever they need me to do -- that’s what I signed up for,” said Gaudin, who threw just 79 pitches and was hurt only by one, which David Freese belted for a two-run home run in the fourth inning.
Gaudin had struggled against lefties this season but neutralized the Cardinals well enough.
“He definitely pitched off his fastball and threw the ball down in the zone well,” Posey said.
Said Bochy: “What a great job he did. He kept his fastball down, in and out. He used his breaking ball well. He pitched great. He gave us a huge shot in the arm.
As I’ve said so many times, the starter sets the tone. He even went a little further than we thought. … It was fun to watch him. He’s been such an asset to this club. We needed a quality start. We got one.”
They got a clean game behind him, too. And they got four hits from Posey, who entered in a 2-for-20 funk that stuck out a little more because the club was without Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval.
They even got the tiebreaking hit from their short-staffed bench when Bochy had to settle for a lefty-lefty matchup of Belt and Randy Choate. Belt is 3 for 6 in the pinch this season after his double in the seventh.
“I was thinking about the ball running in, so I wanted to catch it out front and stay through,” Belt said. “I was able to do that.”
Said Bochy: “With what we had on our bench, he was our best hitter in that situation,” Bochy said. “He’s been throwing some pretty good at-bats against lefties, and off the bench. That was big for him and it’s good to get him going, because we’re going to need him.
“Especially with Pagan and Pablo out of the lineup, we need the other guys to elevate their game.”
Sandoval took some swings to test his strained foot and the outlook after Sunday’s game was a bit brighter that he’d be available sometime in the two-game series against Toronto that starts Tuesday at AT&T Park. Pagan (hamstring) is expected to start Tuesday.
The Giants only have two games at home before the next road trip to play winning clubs at Arizona, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
At least they won’t have to hear about an eight-game road losing streak when they arrive in Arizona to play the first-place Diamondbacks next weekend.
You could sense it amid the pulsing music in the visiting clubhouse: Gaudin helped to flush a lot of bad vibes.
“It feels good,” Crawford said. “We know we haven’t been playing good baseball. This is more of what we’re used to -- a great start, clutch hits from a couple different guys – that’s the kind of baseball we’re used to playing.”
A lot of pitchers will tell you they could have pitched longer. Not Gaudin.
Did he still feel strong after six innings and 79 pitches?
“I was gassed,” he said. “I was. I was gassed.”
Crawford said he didn’t think he had any shot at making a play on Yadier Molina after diving to his right to stop his ground ball in the third inning. With runners at first and second, he just wanted to keep the ball on the infield and keep a run from scoring.
“But then I saw he was about halfway down the line,” Crawford said.
The Giants committed plenty of needless errors in May when a fielder tried to force a play that wasn’t there. It’s only natural for some of the players to second guess themselves in an instance like Crawford’s ball in the third.
But good defender is a confident defender, and Crawford trusted his instincts. He tried to make a play, and he beat Molina by a half step.
Then Molina chucked his helmet, got ejected and is likely headed for more discipline following some incidental contact as he raged at umpires.
I offered Crawford a solution to all the helmet throwing going on this season.
He said he didn’t think the union would approve it.
His average is back up to .291, by the way.
Angel Villalona hit his sixth homer in seven games Saturday for Single-A San Jose. He's got 14 this year. He also has 52 strikeouts in 195 at-bats while hitting .241 with a .281 on-base percentage. So he hasn't exactly mastered his league yet. The power is still there, though.
Hector Sanchez's tough season continues. He's on Fresno's DL now with a left thumb injury, and that's after not catching for two weeks in May because of a sore shoulder.