PHILADELPHIA – The Giants are in that strange, demilitarized portion of the season. They aren’t contending, per se. But they aren’t playing out the string, either.
The best way to describe them is invested, and although the market is not trending in the right direction, they still bank a lot of emotion in the outcomes of these games.
You’d think the Giants and Phillies were fighting for the NL pennant, the way a pitcher’s duel turned into a frenzied ninth inning Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.
The Giants scored two in the ninth to make a last-ditch winner of Matt Cain. Then Sergio Romo had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the inning to protect the Giants’ 2-1 victory.
Cain was looking at an eight-inning complete game – just the second CG by a Giant this season, along with Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. He ended up with a victory instead when the Giants greeted Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with four consecutive hits – including a tying pinch single from Roger Kieschnich -- to start the ninth.
[EXTRA BAGGS: Bochy chooses Kieschnick over Francoeur, etc.]
The Phillies loaded the bases on third baseman Joaquin Arias’ error, a bunt hit when Romo slipped while trying to field it, and a hit batter. But Romo got Laynce Nix and Carlos Ruiz to hit shallow fly balls, then pinch hitter Erik Kratz grounded into a fielder’s choice to end it.
Romo looked to the sky, arched his back and screamed to the heavens. Yep. These games still matter.
[RELATED: Giants pass on Wilson, put faith in Romo]
The Giants took two of three in Philadelphia and they’ve won consecutive road series for the first time since early April.
Cole Hamels remained 4-13, taking a rough no-decision despite throwing eight shutout innings and even delivering an RBI single for the game’s only run until the ninth.
Papelbon has blown six of his last 13 save attempts.
Starting pitching report
Cain continues to have an impressive second half. He has a 1.80 ERA in three starts and has topped 100 pitched in all of them, alleviating any concerns about his health.
He retired the first 11 batters he faced before Chase Utley singled in the fourth inning. He appeared to have the Phillies subdued in the fifth, too, before Nix and Ruiz hit two-out singles to put runners at the corners.
Cain probably would have thrown nothing but fastballs to Hamels if not for last season, when the left-hander hit his first career home run – right after Cain had taken Hamels deep in the top of the same inning. (The most amazing part of that July 21 game: Hamels had never hit a homer nor allowed one to an opposing pitcher before doing both in that same third inning.)
This time, Cain got cute and tried to flip a 1-1 curveball. But he hung it and Hamels swatted it down the left field line to score a run.
Cain picked Hamels off first base to avoid further damage and didn’t give up another hit until the seventh, after Darin Ruf had drawn a leadoff walk and pinch runner Michael Martinez stole second base.
John Mayberry Jr. ground a single through the left side, but left fielder Jeff Francoeur put his reputation to the test yet again. He came up throwing and his one-hop offering arrived ahead of Martinez. Buster Posey made a clean pickup and swipe tag to save Cain a run.
Cain leaned on his defense once more in the eighth after Jimmy Rollins hit a one-out triple. With the infield in, Arias, at shortstop, fielded Young’s grounder and made an accurate throw to record another out at the plate.
Romo had taken consecutive losses in his last two outings – the first time that’s happened to him in his career. He did not make it three in a row. His 25th save in 29 chances marked one of the greatest escapes of his career.
The Giants didn’t need Guillermo Moscoso, which makes it likely that he’ll start in Barry Zito’s place Sunday at Tampa Bay.
At the plate
One night after Brett Pill and Kieschnick sparked the offense, the Giants were back to sifting sand through the sluice box against Hamels.
Hunter Pence popped up to strand runners at the corners in the first inning. But their best chance came in the fourth, after Posey hit a one-out double and Pence reached on an infield single. Pill, one night after a four-RBI game, could not put the ball in play. He struck out against Hamels, then Francoeur, who started in place of Kieschnick, grounded out.
Pill also struck out looking on a nasty fastball at the knees after Pence hit a two-out double in the sixth. Andres Torres flied out with a runner at second base in the seventh.
Just one year ago, the Giants had the top scoring road offense in the National League. That’s one of many attributes they cannot claim this season – and one of the contributing factors to their current residence in the NL West cellar.
But they perked up as soon as Hamels exited for a pinch hitter in the eighth. Pence greeted Papelbon with an infield single, Pill broke out of his one-day doldrums with a single to put runners at the corners, then manager Bruce Bochy sent up Kieschnick to hit for Francoeur.
The rookie came through again, hitting the first pitch through the right side to score Pence with the tying run. Kieschnick is 3 for 3 with runners in scoring position over his two-game career.
Arias followed with another RBI single to left field that put the Giants in front.
Francoeur’s throw to the plate was the defensive play of the game, but Sandoval’s diving stop in the sixth inning ranked among his finest efforts of the year, too.
Sandoval did more than snag a ground ball within fall-down range. He got a quick first step and made a full-extension stop to take a hit away from Michael Young.
The Phillies announced 33,645 paid. I’m not sure if Papelbon would clear waivers, but there was no avoiding the crowd’s lusty boos.
The Giants begin a three-game interleague series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field. It’ll be left-hander Madison Bumgarner (10-6, 2.76 ERA) against Rays right-hander Chris Archer (6-3, 2.39) in the opener. Tim Lincecum (5-11, 4.61) is scheduled to face left-hander David Price (6-5, 3.57) on Saturday in a clash of former Cy Young Award winners. Then the Giants will choose between Guillermo Moscoso and Barry Zito to start Sunday against right-hander Roberto Hernandez (6-11, 4.71).