SAN FRANCISCO – The play unfolded, and first baseman Brandon Belt stood in the middle of it.
Out in center field, Juan Perez was putting all of his 5-foot-9 gumption into a low-trajectory throw. Back at the plate, Buster Posey was readying for a desperation swipe tag.
“I was looking back and forth to see if it would be on line or not,” Belt said. “If it’s a bad throw, I’m cutting it off.”
Belt let it go. He was hoping the grass would be slick and the ball would take a fast bounce. Mostly, he was just hoping.
“I didn’t know if it had a chance,” Belt said. “But I knew it was right on the money, so I wasn’t touching it.”
And now there will be legions of Giants fans imploring the same of GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy: Whatever you do, however you juggle this roster when Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval come off the DL in a few days, don’t touch the kid. Just let him go.
Perez has played seven big league games and his four outfield assists already lead the team. He saved a run with his throw in the seventh inning that nailed a stunned Mark Kotsay.
Then in the eighth, Perez followed Belt’s tying double off the bricks with the game-winning hit. He took a slashing swing at a 3-2 pitch below the strike zone and coaxed a ground ball through the right side, as the Giants rallied for a 5-4 victory that halted the Padres’ winning streak at seven games.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Late rally lifts Giants over Padres]
“He saved the game for us, he won the game for us,” Bochy said. “He’s been a shot in the arm – a talented player who can throw and hit and run. He’s something we need right now. He’s a guy we think is going to get better, too. He’s got a good eye at the plate and he battles well.”
He wasn’t supposed to be with the club for long. Francisco Peguero might have been called up ahead of Perez if he hadn’t sustained a concussion when he got hit on the helmet by a pitch at Triple-A Fresno.
Now you wonder how the Giants could justify sending him down. He’s right there with Gregor Blanco as the best defensive center fielder on the club. He’s a switch hitter. And he can play third base or second base, too.
Bochy dropped the ol’ “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” when asked if Perez would remain on the roster when Pagan is activated.
“But you have to like the things he’s doing,” Bochy aid. “He’s doing all he can to stay here, I’ll say that. Once Angel is back we’ll have a tough decision to make. We’ll have to make it before we go to LA. (on Monday).”
Nick Noonan likely will be optioned out to make room for Sandoval. The other move is a bit tougher to predict. The Giants can’t send down Tony Abreu, who is out of options. They aren’t ready to cut ties with Andres Torres, who remains a useful player even though he’s made some maddening errors, physical and mental, in left field.
Hector Sanchez has options, and although Bochy wants him on the roster so he can better spell Buster Posey during these long stretches without a day off, the Giants might have to adjust to what they’re seeing. Guillermo Quiroz is a much steadier defensive catcher, anyway. (And Bochy said he would've pinch-run for Posey in the eighth inning even if he didn't have a third catcher at his disposal.)
However the Giants swing the roster, it’s clear that Perez is a major league player.
“He’s just trying to show us who he is and what he has,” said Sergio Romo, who saved his 17th game in 20 opportunities. “In a sense he’s exceeded expectations in the situation he’s in. He’s had to replace Angel, who’s our team sparkplug, and he’d definitely been that and more.”
Perez didn’t want to venture an opinion on whether he’s done enough to stay. He’s just happy to get the chance to play, and he’s definitely savored the last two games in front of sellout crowds here.
He looked earnestly surprised when told his four assists, in just 44 defensive innings, led the club. (All other outfielders have combined for five assists in a combined 1,828 innings.)
“I guess they’re going to keep testing me,” Perez said.
There’s no reason to cut him off now.
“I played with him at San Jose and knew he had an arm,” Belt said. “I guess I kind of forgot how good it is.”