CHICAGO – You do not win at all costs in April. The season is too long for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to run closer Sergio Romo out there every day.
“I don’t want these guys running into a brick wall,” Bochy said.
That becomes a literal dilemma when you’re playing in a 99-year-old ballpark. In Friday’s loss, Angel Pagan made his bargain. He admitted he didn’t want to risk injuring himself by throwing himself into the bricks and ivy in center field when Starlin Castro’s game-winning drive smacked off the wall.
Pablo Sandoval made a different choice in the ninth inning Saturday. He crashed into the low brick wall, toppled into the stands and banged his shin so hard against a seat that he couldn’t feel his left leg.
But he emerged with the ball in his glove – one of six critical outs that backup closer Santiago Casilla recorded in a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Did self-preservation ever enter the Panda’s mind?
“I didn’t even think about it,” said Sandoval, who iced his leg but was deemed OK after the game. “I just try to catch the ball. … You want to support our pitchers no matter what. You want to play great defense for them.”
It’s a tough question for a manager: Would Bochy rather see his players throw caution to the lake breeze? Or think a little harder about the long haul?
“It’s a good question,” Bochy said. “You don’t want to lose your regular players. At the same time, you always play the game hard.
“This is the one place that doesn’t have padding. It’s been this way for 99 years and it’s not going to change, and it can be dangerous. I don’t want them running into a brick wall. But at the same time, if you’re too cautious, that’s when you can get hurt, too.
“I always say this: You play to win the ballgame, but you’re also smart out there.”
The irony is in Pagan’s decision from Friday night: He ended up being scratched from Saturday’s lineup anyway, because of a sore wrist that he jammed while making a diving catch in Thursday’s series opener.
Pagan jogged out to center field on a double switch in the eighth inning and is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday, Bochy said.
Bochy stuck to his guns by giving a break to Romo, who had appeared in seven of the club’s first 11 games – putting him on pace for 103 appearances. It was up to Casilla after Jeremy Affeldt allowed the first two batters to reach base in the eighth.
Bochy double-switched to make sure Casilla’s spot in the lineup wouldn’t come up. It was obvious: Plan A was for Casilla to go the rest of the way.
He induced a potential double-play grounder from Alfonso Soriano but the Giants managed to record just one out – and that’s only because shortstop Brandon Crawford managed to scoop up the ball after it deflected off Sandoval.
With the tying run at third base, Casilla got one more double-play grounder from Wellington Castillo. Crawford handled it and the Giants retained the lead.
Sandoval tumbled over the bricks to snag Luis Valbuena’s foul pop in the ninth, then two more strikeouts completed Casilla’s work for the day.
Bochy called Casilla a “luxury” in the bullpen. The Giants already made it clear what they think of the right-hander when they gave him a three-year contract over the winter.
“We won the World Series and they know I love pitching here,” Casilla said. “I don’t care where. Maybe he needs a starter?”
Casilla said he’s more confident than ever in his repertoire. Left-handers hit .265 off him last year (compared to .197 against right-handers), so he worked on his changeup and a backdoor slider he could use along with his two-seamer and spike curve.
As confident as Bochy felt with Casilla on the mound, he didn’t think the game should’ve come down to a save situation. The manager pointed out mistakes on the basepaths by Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, and the club was lucky when right fielder Scott Hairston missed his cutoff man, allowing Madison Bumgarner not to get thrown out by 10 feet at the plate.
“It wasn’t our best game, to be honest, with the baserunning and situational hitting,” he said. “The pitching picked us up and won this game for us.”
Marco Scutaro’s three hits aside, the Giants grounded into their major league leading 14th double play. Cleanup man Buster Posey is hitless in the series, has driven in a run in just two of his 11 games and pitchers are going after him with hard stuff inside. A team with speed to burn has just three steals in five attempts, too.
And yet they are 8-4.
“Sometimes when you win games, those things get overlooked,” Bochy said. “But we can’t overlook them. We have to look at adding on and putting away a game when we have a chance. We should have five or six runs there."
Yet they emerged with the win, and just a few bruises.