WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg’s first changeup was 91 mph. Jake Peavy’s first fastball clocked in at 89.
But October is not about the fastest, the strongest, or even the longest beard. The Giants have proven that much, over and over.
They spent their Friday night in the District proving it again.
Peavy outperformed his one-time protégé, rookie Joe Panik stood out amid a ruthless, contact-oriented lineup, Hunter Strickland got the biggest out of his life and Sergio Romo thoroughly Jay Bruced the Washington Nationals as the Giants claimed a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
The Giants won their ninth consecutive postseason game, toppling the vaunted ace of a 96-win Nationals club that was just as heavily favored as the 2010 Phillies team that Bruce Bochy’s boys clambered over to win a pennant.
Starting pitching report
Peavy did not have a sterling postseason record and the Boston Red Sox won his three playoff starts last year more or less in spite of his performance. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy was confident that Peavy’s snarl and stuff -- and his 1.15 ERA in his last six regular-season starts -- would translate into October.
Peavy did not have many “God blessit” moments in 5 2/3 shutout innings. He pitched around two-out walks in the first two innings, getting away with a 3-0 cookie that Adam LaRoche fouled off.
The Nationals didn’t have a hit until Bryce Harper singled off Brandon Belt’s glove to start the fifth, awakening the crowd. Harper screamed and tried to fire up his dugout. Peavy immediately muffled the moment by getting Wilson Ramos to ground into a double play.
Peavy did not survive the sixth, and although former Giant Nate Schierholtz led off with a pinch double off the right field wall, Jayson Werth was most responsible for getting to the Giants bullpen.
Peavy issued a two-out walk to Werth on the seventh pitch of the plate appearance. Werth had worked a seven-pitch walk in the first inning, too. And he saw eight pitches in the fourth, when Peavy got a generous call on an outside, 3-2 fastball.
Peavy threw 104 pitches, and 21.2 percent of them were to Werth.
With LaRoche coming up and the tying runs on base, Bochy took the baseball from the 33-year-old right-hander he shepherded into the big leagues more than a decade ago. It was time to play matchups.
Javier Lopez, such a postseason weapon during the Giants’ two World Series runs, could not retire a dangerous left-handed hitter who was 0-for-9 against him. LaRoche worked a walk to load the bases.
In perhaps the game’s most critical moment, Bochy did not flinch. He turned to Strickland, even though the rookie right-hander did not make his major league debut until Sept. 1. Strickland, a waiver pickup from the Pirates a year ago, threw four pitches -- 98, 99, 99 and 100 mph. Ian Desmond could not catch up to them, striking out to leave the bases loaded.
Harper did more than catch up to Strickland’s fastball, though. He flagged it down, got it to pull over and then put it in a car crusher. He turned around 97 mph and hit the longest home run of his career, a leadoff shot in the seventh that landed in Section 234, calculated by ESPN at 445 feet. Asdrubal Cabrera also turned around a Strickland fastball to make it 3-2 in the seventh, and necessitate Jeremy Affeldt to appear and record an out.
The lack of a lefty made the eighth inning all the more compelling for Romo, who might have gotten his biggest out against a left-handed hitter since he so memorably retired Jay Bruce two years ago to get the Giants past Cincinnati in that NLDS.
Rendon poked a single on an outside pitch before Romo made a series of perfect, darting sliders to get Werth to pop up. The first left-handed bat, LaRoche, reached out and dunked a slider into left field for another single. But Romo dusted off Desmond on three funhouse-mirror pitches, then had enough guile and movement on his 89 mph fastball to keep Harper from another space flight.
Harper grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Santiago Casilla recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his first career postseason save.
At the plate
Strasburg waited two years for the opportunity to pitch in the postseason, and his extra-frisky fastball displayed what his face managed to hide. Strasburg threw 98 mph, harder than he’d thrown all year, when he faced Gregor Blanco to open the game. Even his changeup was 91 mph.
But the Giants had a strategy to work the middle of the field, they executed it, and perhaps Strasburg’s iffy command later in the game was because he’d humped it up out of the gate.
In any case, the Giants chased Strasburg with a pair of singles before he could record an out in the sixth inning. They tallied eight singles off him -- six of them up the middle -- and they took advantage on the bases well enough to score two runs.
Travis Ishikawa hit a leadoff single in the third and the Giants caught a break when LaRoche, the first baseman, tried to cut down the lead runner after fielding Peavy’s bunt. Umpire Tom Hallion called Ishikawa out but Bochy filed the first successful replay challenge in postseason history.
Panik put the Giants on the board with a single, becoming just the fifth Giants rookie to record an RBI in postseason play. The others: Buster Posey (2010), Greg Litton (1989), Chris Speier (1971) and Tom Haller (1962).
The Giants made it 2-0 in a fourth-inning rally that Pablo Sandoval started with a single to right-center, which extended his postseason hitting streak to 12 consecutive games -- five away from matching the record shared by Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez and Hank Bauer.
Sandoval started the rally, but Hunter Pence fueled it with his speed. He beat out a double-play grounder, stole second base and scored easily when he got a good break on Brandon Belt’s RBI single.
Belt and Brandon Crawford singled to start the sixth, knocking out Strasburg. But Bochy had little choice other than to stay with Ishikawa when the Nats brought in left-hander Jerry Blevins, who recorded a strikeout and kept the Giants from adding to their lead.
Panik produced a run in the seventh, though, when he tripled to center field. It was his second deep drive to center, and unlike the first inning when Denard Span robbed him, the Nats’ talented outfielder couldn’t come down with the ball this time. Buster Posey singled off pitcher Craig Stammen’s glove to give the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Whether it’s Freddy Sanchez, Marco Scutaro or even the occasional DH contribution from Ryan Theriot, the Giants cannot complain about the production from their second basemen in the postseason this decade.
Panik upheld the tradition with his bat and his glove, too. He made a diving stop to take a hit away from Span in the seventh inning.
The Nationals announced 44,035 paid. And at times, it was the Library of Congress in here.
The Giants and Nationals play Game 2 of their NL Division Series on Saturday at Nationals Park. Right-hander Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57 ERA) takes the mound against Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66). First pitch is scheduled for 2:37 p.m. PDT.