NEW YORK – Javier Lopez has pitched in plenty of pressure situations in his career. This one was a little different Thursday afternoon.
Not only did he need to retire two hitters to preserve a 2-1 victory over the Mets, but he knew there were eight sets of boots, cowboy hats and skimpy white briefs waiting back in the clubhouse lockers.
And nobody likes to dress up the rookies after a loss.
Was “dress like Andres Torres” the theme of this year’s traditional hazing ritual?
“No, but we raided his closet,” Lopez said.
Turns out the Giants veterans – Lopez wouldn’t name his co-conspirators -- were inspired by the famous naked cowboy who plays his guitar for tips in Times Square. Presumably, that’s where the team bus was headed after the Giants narrowly won at Citi Field to take two of three – their third consecutive series victory, something they hadn’t done all season until now.
That makes it easier to enjoy the sight of Johnny Monell, Heath Hembree, Ehire Adrianza, Mike Kickham, Nick Noonan, Roger Kieschnick, Jake Dunning and Juan Perez uncomfortably leaving little to the imagination.
Monell was the exhibitionist of the bunch, posing for pictures with teammates. Perez, another Bronx kid, was willing to roll with it, too, after collecting a career-best three hits in front of a decidedly pro-Giants crowd that included his mother, wife, sister and daughter.
“I’ll never forget coming back to New York,” he said.
Neither will tourists in Times Square once the Giants bus arrives.
“We were just trying to think of something ridiculous,” Lopez said. “Everybody’s done the girl outfit or the Hooters girl thing. The naked cowboy is one of the iconic figures of Times Square. So we’re paying homage to him.”
For how long?
“It’s under negotiation,” Lopez said. “It’s a bit chilly out there. We don’t want to get these guys sick.”
Surely Perez doesn’t have to wear the outfit home, where his mother is planning a celebratory family dinner, right?
“Well, that’s up to him,” Lopez said. “Maybe he’s comfortable like that. Who knows?”
Maybe the Giants got such a lift from the goofy tradition because there have been so many stone silent bus rides, flights and postgame clubhouses this season. The one Giant who has been solid from start to finish is Madison Bumgarner, who crested 200 innings for the third consecutive year and stands at 199 strikeouts – one away from joining Jonathan Sanchez, Ray Sadecki, Rube Marquard and Cy Seymour as the only lefties in franchise history to strike out 200.
And he’s the first major league pitcher to post three 200-inning seasons in his three full campaigns since the Braves’ Steve Avery in 1993.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on it,” said Bumgarner, who had cowboy boots in his locker, too – along with the rest of his clothes. “That’s what all starters are into, 200 innings.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy asked if Bumgarner was all right after he took a hard but lucky shot off his shin to end the sixth.
“He’s a man child,” Bochy said. “Ask him how he’s doing and he’ll look at you, like, `Why are you asking?’”
Given all Bumgarner’s peripheral stats (and see the Instant Replay for those, along with this story I wrote about his ascendancy as one of the game’s elite pitchers), and it’s easy to see him getting plenty of back-end mentions on Cy Young ballots.
And on a day when the Giants planned some postgame revelry, Bumgarner delivered seven innings of stone silence. And Lopez, one day after the bullpen blew a three-run lead in the ninth, recorded two outs to strand the tying run at second base.
It was Lopez’s first save of the season – and it was incredibly well timed.
“Winning this one,” he said, “was a high priority.”