PHOENIX — Matt Duffy had the day off Sunday, but he entered in the bottom of the ninth as a defensive replacement. Duffy ended up spending nearly as much time standing around looking at video replays on the scoreboard as he did standing at third base.
That’s part of the new normal in Major League Baseball. Replay reviews are here to stay, and while they haven’t always favored the Giants — particularly this season — a long review late Sunday afternoon put the finishing touches on a 2-1 win and a four-game sweep of the division-rival Diamondbacks.
The four starting infielders stood around with catcher Trevor Brown and closer Santiago Casilla for nearly four minutes. In a tense spot, with a game on the line, the players who had just decided it had no more control than the fans gripping their seats at home.
“In a situation like that it’s a little nerve wracking,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Especially to end the game.”
The Giants took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, but Casilla put runners on the corners with one out. On a two-strike count, Brown called for a slider to Rickie Weeks Jr., hoping for a strikeout. Casilla shook to a fastball in and ran a perfect pitch in on the hands, which led to a grounder and caused Weeks to get a slow jump out of the box.
Panik flipped the ball to Crawford, who grazed the bag and put all his weight behind a throw to first. Brandon Belt scooped it as he fell off the bag, but the runner at first was ruled safe. The Giants immediately challenged. As players met in the middle of the field, there was little debate about Belt’s role in the play.
“I was pretty sure I was on the bag,” Belt said. “I was pretty sure I had it. I’ve done a pretty good job of being able to keep the toe on.”
Giants coaches used to worry about how quickly Belt pushes off the bag on those plays, but he has mastered the timing at first. Belt switched from a size 15 shoe to a size 14 this year, but he still had enough length to keep his toe on the bag.
“Twinkle toes, you know …” he said.
Belt relayed his confidence to the rest of the infield.
“I was like, sweet, looks like he’s on, let’s go home,” Brown said, smiling.
As Bochy asked for a second look at the back end of the play, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale asked for another look at Crawford’s role. The Diamondbacks felt Crawford had come off the bag early.
“I wasn’t sure,” Crawford said. “I knew it was close. As soon as I caught the ball I was up and throwing. I thought I dragged it long enough but I wasn’t 100 sure.”
Bochy was ready to dispute a third part of the play. He felt the runner at first illegally cut toward Crawford's legs, but it didn’t get to that point. The umpires in New York ruled that Crawford had made one hell of a quick turn and Belt had completed one of his better scoops. The Giants had a win, but first, there was more confusion. The first sign from the umpire was a “safe” call, but he was quickly corrected and put his fist up twice, signaling two outs and the end of the game.
“That was a little confusing at first,” Crawford said. “But they figured it out and both guys were out and we get to go to San Diego.”
The Giants head to Petco Park riding a wave of momentum. After a month of relying on three starters, they finally have all five going at once. A night after Jake Peavy’s strong effort, Cain allowed just one run through seven. He threw 15 innings for the week, giving up just three runs.
“He’s really gained traction here the last two starts,” Bochy said. “He did a great job today. The run he gave up was a cheap run, the wild pitch ended up costing him. He pitched out of some jams. What a solid effort he gave us today. It’s good to see him and Peavy throw like that.”
Cain got some help from his battery-mate. Brown hit a solo homer off the tough Rubby De La Rosa. It was his fourth bomb in 46 at-bats.
“It’s unlike me,” Brown said. “I think I’m surprising myself as much as anybody.”
Cain and Brown worked well together, with the longest-tenured Giant showing flashes of his old self. He got three early strikeouts by throwing high 90 mph fastballs past hitters, something that was his trademark earlier in his career when he threw harder. Cain has been around too long to get caught up in the moment, though. Is he back to his old self?
“I don’t know if you’ll ever feel that way,” he said, “But this is definitely two good starts in a row and you keep it moving from here.”
The Giants don’t need Cain to be an ace, and the same holds true for Peavy. If they pitch like they have this week, the top of the rotation, a deep lineup, and the defense that was on display in the ninth will take care of the rest.
Sunday’s win clinched a season-best five-game winning streak and made for a happy flight, even if the trip to the airport started four minutes after it could have.
“It created a lot of drama,” Bochy said of the ending. “That’s a great feeling when it ends like that.”
Bochy paused a brief moment and smiled.
“If it goes in your favor,” he added.