PHOENIX — Cory Gearrin was in the bullpen when Hunter Pence made a sliding catch and went face-first into a mesh wall a few feet away. Pence got up and defiantly fired a throw back to the infield, then waved to the relievers, as if to fire them up for what was to come.
Three innings later, Pence took a much different tone as Gearrin came running out to center field. Pence and Denard Span looked at Gearrin, who had just recorded a strikeout.
“What are you doing out here?” they asked.
“Where do I go?” the right-hander asked.
Pence and Span told Gearrin to “play straight up.” He smiled.
“What’s ‘straight up?’” Gearrin asked.
There was nothing straight up about this one, a 7-6 win the Giants absolutely had to have. For much of regulation, it looked like a normal game that might get them a game closer to the Dodgers. In the 10th, it looked like a disaster, and Bruce Bochy appeared to have made one of his worst moves as Giants manager. After the 12th, only smiles remained.
“That was a ton of fun,” Gearrin said.
It started off so innocently. Madison Bumgarner gave up a pair of two-run homers but buckled down and got through the sixth. Pence’s four-hit, four-run night did most of the damage, and Angel Pagan’s solo shot gave the Giants the lead in the seventh. But Denard Span got turned around on a fly ball, and only a magnificent relay from Brandon Crawford and deft tag from Buster Posey kept the Giants from falling behind.
They played into the 10th, and the Giants again took the lead. That’s when Bochy made a baffling move, one he later regretted. Earlier in the day, Bochy had removed Santiago Casilla from the closer role, saying he would instead be part of a committee. Apparently Casilla’s standing in that committee was still pretty strong.
Bochy had used Hunter Strickland for the ninth, and when Casilla showed good stuff while getting Chris Owings, Bochy decided to stick with him, even though Jake Lamb was in the on-deck circle. Lamb had three previous homers off Casilla, including two this season. In an earlier series here at Chase Field, Casilla blew up at Bochy after the manager pulled him with Lamb striding to the plate.
“Nobody is on, and you’re hoping he makes a good pitch to him and executes there,” Bochy said. “If I take him out there, they’ve got right-handed hitters coming up. I'd used all my guys except for Gearrin. (Casilla has) been there. He’s got (31) saves. Joe (Nathan) had two outings (before this one. I felt we had our guy.”
Casilla was clearly still ahead of Nathan on the depth chart at the time. “At that point, he was our closer,” Bochy said of Casilla. The worst case scenario played out, though. Lamb crushed the tying homer to left-center, picking up his third homer in three at-bats off Casilla this season.
“I don’t know if I’ll use that again,” Bochy said, smiling. “I’ve touched that hot stove enough.”
As the extra innings wore on, the Giants looked headed for an inexcusable loss. But Casilla made it out of the 10th and Joe Nathan stranded the winning run on third in the 11th. That’s when Bochy’s mind started whirring again. He had misfired with Casilla, but he had another trick up his sleeve.
Last season, Bochy approached Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo with a unique opportunity. He told them to be ready to play left field if the matchups dictated it in a tight spot, and on two different occasions, the relievers were warned as they warmed up. Lopez thought he might get his chance during the marathon game in Miami last month, but it didn’t happen. Gearrin and Lopez got the warning again on Friday after Kelby Tomlinson roped a go-ahead single in the top of the 12th.
Lopez might be one of the best defensive outfielders the Giants have, and he regularly puts on a show during batting practice. He was confident in Gearrin, who was moved from second base to the mound at Mercer University.
“That’s usually your best athlete,” Lopez said, pointing out that Gearrin has a history in the middle of the infield.
Lopez played outfield for the Red Sox in a 2009 blowout, and after Gearrin recorded the first out of the 12th, he joined the small club. As Lopez warmed up, Gearrin jogged to the outfield to replace Angel Pagan. He became the first Giants pitcher to play a different position since Noah Lowry in 2007. He is the first since Keith Comstock in 1987 to play a different position and then return to the mound.
The plan was creative, but it didn’t work out perfectly. Lopez walked the only batter he faced.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get him any action out there,” Lopez said.
Gearrin was ready for it.
“I was thinking, if it comes my way, am I laying out to make a play?” Gearrin said, the smile plastered to his face. “Pitchers shag every day and you hope to make one of those plays.”
Instead, Gearrin had to lock that scowl back onto his face. He felt it was weird to go through a second round of warmup pitches, but he soon had to forget about the novelty of it all. The Diamondbacks got the tying run to second, but Gearrin struck out Welington Castillo on a close pitch and then got Yasmany Tomas to ground out. The part-time left fielder had picked up the save.
“That was an exciting game,” Bochy said. “A little too exciting.”
Lopez said it showed something about this club. The Giants again displayed some serious flaws on Friday, and they are still in a perilous spot in the NL West race. Several times, they were a base hit away from falling into a tie for second place in the Wild Card standings. But they found a way to pick up a big win.
“It’s a game we had to have,” Lopez said. “Guys are not quitting on each other. That’s the most important thing to take away from this.”