SAN FRANCISCO — In his first couple of weeks in the big leagues, Ty Blach gave off such an earnest vibe during clubhouse interactions that a veteran approached Bruce Bochy with a peculiar question. “Is this kid for real?” Bochy was asked.
Luckily for the Giants, every part of Blach’s presence and ability is real. On Saturday, he was spectacular, throwing eight shutout innings in the biggest start of his life. In his second big league start and first appearance at AT&T Park, Blach allowed just three hits while beating Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers 3-0.
The rookie allowed the Giants to come to the park Sunday morning knowing that they control their own destiny, that with a win, they are headed to New York to face the Mets in the wild card game. At the very least, they have clinched a tiebreaker game in St. Louis on Monday. Blach did all this with an unbothered expression on his face, and with a pace that would make sprinters blush.
The poise was far beyond his 25 years. The guts far exceeded normal expectations for a minor league call-up. When it was over, Buster Posey was asked if he had ever seen a young pitcher handle a big spot with that kind of ease. Posey smiled.
“Bumgarner,” he said.
From the outside, Blach looked in for a monumental task. He would be facing the game’s best pitcher in a must-win for the Giants. But Posey saw something else, a young man who was focused on just one goal.
“You could see it before the game,” he said. “You could get a sense of what it was going to feel like just walking into the clubhouse. There’s nothing that excites me more than a young player who has a big moment and seizes the opportunity. That’s what it’s all about right there.”
Blach scattered his three hits, walked one and struck out six. He became the first Giants rookie in 28 years to throw at least eight shutout innings to beat the Dodgers. Oh, and he also notched his first two career hits, both off Clayton Kershaw.
“That’s one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “With this kid having a month in the Major Leagues, with the stage he was on, with the stakes, with who he was going against. He just had a great focus and great command.
“It’s hard to pitch better than what he did.”
Before the game, a teammate asked aloud whether anyone in Las Vegas would wager on the Giants given the matchup. Kershaw was making his final start before Game 1 of the National League Division series, and he was close to his usual self, taking a perfect game into the fourth on just 26 pitches.
Blach, a control-and-command lefty from Centennial, Colorado, kept pace. He stranded two Dodgers in the second and then struck out the side in the third, with Chase Utley, Kershaw and Howie Kendrick all going down looking. In the fourth, Adrian Gonzalez flied out to deep center to end another threat. Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez, starting in place of Denard Span, smiled as he watched what was unfolding. Hernandez played behind Blach for five months in Triple-A. He had seen this version many times before.
“He’s focused all the time, and he knows what he needs to do,” Hernandez said of Blach, who posted a 3.43 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. “When he goes out there, he’s going to fight for every inning and every pitch.”
Blach didn’t seem to feel any of the tremendous pressure on his shoulders. A bit of it was lifted when Angel Pagan smoked a ball off the very top of the wall in left field. At first, Pagan thought he had a double. As he approached second, he saw Joe West twirling his fingers. He jogged home for a 1-0 lead. Pagan would sprint home in the seventh on a throwing error by Justin Turner. Brandon Crawford scored a batter later on Gordon Beckham’s sacrifice fly.
Blach’s spot came up two batters later, and Bochy had a full bullpen and Jeff Samardzija waiting behind glass. He didn’t hesitate. Blach was sent up to hit.
“I just love guys who are getting outs,” Bochy said, smiling.
Blach got a second single off Kershaw. Only one pitcher — Craig Stammen — had previously picked up two hits off Kershaw in one game.
“It’s just one of those things,” Blach said later, shrugging. “He got a couple of pitches over the plate.”
Blach rarely did. He pounded Posey’s glove, never shaking off a pitch selection. Blach threw 67 of 99 pitches for strikes, getting six outs on his own and 13 more on ground balls. He did it all at a blinding pace. Every time Blach threw a pitch, he squared to Posey and waited for the throw back to the mound. Every time Posey put a sign down, Blach's feet started moving a second later.
“We love that,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “As infielder, that’s what we want. You’re keeping our feet moving and allowing us to keep our range.”
Blach didn’t need any help on his final out. With a runner on in the eighth, he fired five straight fastballs at pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez. The final one was tipped into Posey’s glove. Blach subtly pumped his fist, and then, as he had done all day, as he has done all his life, he sprinted back to the dugout.
Blach was officially told on Friday that he would be facing Kershaw and the Dodgers. When his day was done, he broke into a wide smile. He leaned on a dugout railing and watched Sergio Romo clinch the win, the first of Blach’s career. He listened as Jake Peavy told him how proud he was. He thought of the upcoming beer shower from teammates. He prepared to check a phone that was overflowing with text messages, and to hug his parents, who had flown out for the weekend.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to start,” he said. “I wanted to make the most of it.”