SAN FRANCISCO -- Kind of funny how the world works.
Chad Gaudin got an opportunity in the Giants rotation because Ryan Vogelsong fractured his finger in a freak play. Two years earlier, Vogelsong got an opportunity in the Giants rotation because Barry Zito sprained his foot on a freak play.
Now Gaudin is definitely staying, Vogelsong is a few weeks away from returning … and when he does, Zito might be the guy left without a chair.
But that’s a scenario the Giants won’t face until the second week of August, or thereabouts. And that’s way further down the rabbit hole than Bruce Bochy wants his players to tumble.
“Today’s game,” said the manager, in the hours before the Giants began their unofficial second half with a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. “We’re behind. We don’t have the same margin for error that other clubs do.”
[REPLAY: Giants start second half right]
Sure, “one day at a time” might be a macramé slogan fit for every clubhouse wall (if clubhouses were decorated by grandmothers). But for the Giants, it’s as true as a cross stitch can be.
So they can’t think about a winning homestand or even taking a series. You don’t roll out of bed, consider the benefits of a seven-game winning streak, then report to the ballpark hoping to accomplish it. Baseball is slow food, meant to be savored – both the bitter and the sweet.
But when you’re playing the frontrunner, a victory gives you a full-game bite in the standings. So the Giants had to feel good about moving within 5 ½ games of first place in the NL West.
“We can’t look at what lies ahead,” said Sergio Romo, who extended his Arizona-specific scoreless streak to 29 innings while recording his 22nd save in 25 chances. “But today was a great way to start the second half. We just gained a game on the division leaders.”
They did it behind Gaudin, who held Arizona to three hits in seven shutout innings, didn’t walk or hit a batter, didn’t allow a single runner into scoring position and retired the first two hitters in an inning six times. He has a 2.23 ERA in seven starts, and no, he isn’t going back to long relief.
Romo was struck by “just how direct he is. Here it is. This is what I have. There’s no new pitches. It’s just in the strike zone. You can see his confidence growing out there.”
I asked Gaudin: Was there a time you felt you had to fool hitters?
“Of course,” he said. “When I came up, I had a lot different mentality. I didn’t really pitch. I threw. I’ve learned the hard way it’s not always about how nasty your stuff is or how hard you throw. It’s putting it where you want.”
Right-handed hitters were 0 for 11 against Gaudin on Friday and are hitting .159 against him this season. He’s keeping lefties honest (.265) by changing speeds, too.
“Just getting ahead of hitters is huge,” he said. “Right, left, it doesn’t matter. Their numbers go way down when you get ahead.”
The Giants do not have the luxury of playing this second half like a pitcher with a 1-2 count. They are not ahead in the count. They’d have to go 45-26 after the break to get to 85 wins, and even that might not be enough to win the NL West if Arizona or the Dodgers peel off a hot streak.
Then there’s the more urgent cause-and-effect of winning on this homestand. The players have a chance to convince management to be a bit more aggressive ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
You couldn’t blame anyone for having a sense of urgency around here. But those thoughts betray the macramé, and so tempting as they might be, they aren’t so useful.
Friday night was a good start, and nothing more.
“This is who we are,” Romo said. “It’s another example of how close we can be and how happy we can be when we show up to work.”