LOS ANGELES – The Giants have major injuries. They have players at less than full speed. They have rookies unexpectedly playing key roles -- kids that their own GM expressly said were not ready for prime time.
But they have cohesion in their ranks. And they have a manager who has MacGyvered his way through two Octobers.
It took 13 innings over more than four hours, and it ended with rookie Andrew Susac breaking the tie and rookie Hunter Strickland recording his first career save. But the Giants held their ground, and gained some too, after a 5-2 victory at Dodger Stadium Monday night.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants pull out 5-2 win over Dodgers in 13]
“When you play that long, that tight a ballgame, in front of 53,000 people, I think they announced, most of them pulling against you, and squander opportunities late like we did when we felt we had a chance to get momentum, and stay as strong as we did and come back and get a win, that says a lot about these guys,” said Jake Peavy, who battled for the first seven innings.
Yasiel Puig very nearly was the story of the night. It took a perfect throw from center field to throw out Brandon Belt trying to score on Brandon Crawford’s single in the 11th inning. Puig made it on a fly. Catcher Drew Butera had to move his glove more on the pitches he caught.
They had so many chances. The Dodgers bullpen allowed 11 hits in six innings.
The Giants bullpen allowed zero in six innings. And their depth of talent allowed Bruce Bochy to use them appropriately. First it was Sergio Romo for an eight-pitch inning through the Dodgers’ 2-3-4 hitters. Then Jean Machi for two innings. Then Bochy eschewed his usual maxim – save your closer on the road in case you get a lead – and tapped Santiago Casilla for not one inning but a pair. Casilla ended both of them with double plays deftly turned by Crawford.
Bochy knew he had Strickland in reserve, a right-hander who struck out 55 and walked four in 38 2/3 innings at Double A Richmond this season. Even if the Dodgers knew about his 100 mph fastball, Bochy figured their bats would be too heavy to handle it.
“This kid’s got the stuff and he’s tough mentally,” Bochy said of Strickland, whose rise to the closer role is a matter of when, not if. “You can tell he’s not afraid of anything. That made it easier to use Casilla, knowing I had him in my back pocket.”
Meanwhile, you had to peer deep into Don Mattingly’s mind to make sense of his double-switches. At one point, he took out shortstop Hanley Ramirez and double-switched with the pitcher’s spot, which was due up first in the 11th. Then he pinch-hit Joc Pederson anyway.
While the Dodgers were summoning former Giant Kevin Correia, who has struggled since coming over in a trade, the Giants still had Strickland and Jeremy Affeldt in reserve. Tim Lincecum, too.
Bochy’s maneuverings had much to do with their World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. He used three-fourths of his playoff rotation in Game 6 of the ’10 NLCS at Philadelphia, even though it wasn’t an elimination game. He is steady during most of the summer, a pelagic swimmer who does not allow panic or inadequacy to break the surface. When the days get short, though, he reacts.
“Every game from here, we worry about tomorrow tomorrow,” Bochy said.
The knock on Bochy is that he doesn’t trust young players. What to make of this roster, then? Susac is getting chances behind the plate and had the confidence to lash at a first-pitch curveball to win a game. Strickland changed the manager’s entire thinking of how he’d set up his bullpen. Joe Panik had three hits, all in the eighth inning or later, and off three different left-handed hitters. Matt Duffy won a game off the bench earlier on this trip in Arizona. Chris Dominguez, a six-year minor leaguer, got his second start in a row after hitting a home run Sunday in San Diego.
The Giants are full of contributors who have endless tomorrows in front of them. And the veterans will protect them, along with each other. Peavy made that much clear when he plunked Puig with an 0-1 pitch in the first inning -- apparent retaliation for Puig's hard, late and wide slide on Brandon Crawford when the Dodgers were up 8-0 in a game Sept. 13.
They still need more from the middle of their order, though. Pablo Sandoval could have put them in front three times in the late innings. He’s hitting .188 in September. Hunter Pence isn’t much better, at .194. Combined, they have five extra-base hits in 141 at-bats.
They have questions in their rotation, too, beginning on Wednesday when they send a flagging Tim Hudson up against Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers still can clinch the division in front of their archrivals if they win behind Zack Greinke, a pitcher that the Giants have never beaten, and Kershaw, who is having a season straight out of 1968.
At 3 ½ games back, the heavy odds remain that the Giants will enter the playoffs as an NL wild card team. They’ll have to nudge back in front of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hold the tiebreaker, if they want to play the knockout game at home. Any combination of two Giants wins or Milwaukee Brewers losses will clinch a wild card spot for them, at least.
But to hear Peavy talk, you’d think it were 1987 and the wild card remained an NFL invention.
“We’re not giving up hope,” Peavy said. “Tomorrow’s a must-win. We know that. We’ll have to worry about the next day as well. We understand the situation we’re in. It’s not a good one. Big step tonight, though.”
Belt took one, along with better swings while singling in his last two at-bats. And in the 13th, because Susac was clever enough to hit the ball to Carl Crawford in left field and not Puig in center, Belt was able to score from second base.
“I was more worried in the 14th inning than I thought I was going to be,” Susac said. “What was it? The 14th? The 13th? … I think all of us were ready to go home, so I had a pretty positive mindset to get it done.”
Susac said strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan approached him in the ninth inning and told him to “stay locked in, because you’ll win this game for us.”
How did he know? Well, he was still on the bench. And he had to believe Bochy had a spot in mind for him.