For the second time in this festival of improbability we will call the San Francisco Giants 2014 postseason, the true difference between victory and whatever it is you get when you deserve to lose six different ways was the team’s first long reliever.
Yes, it was another Yusmeiro Petit day at the old ballpark, and for all the other ways that the Giants shook a 6-4 victory from a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, his performance was the least striking and most vital.
“Yeah, you really have to put this on him in a lot of ways,” Bochy said as he basked momentarily in his team’s 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series. “We need the bullpen tonight because Vogey (starter Ryan Vogelsong) was struggling, and he went out and gave us enough time so that we could get the bullpen matchups we needed later.”
Petit’s performance was more subtle than his six innings of one-hit shutout ball between the fourth and sixth hours of Game 2 of the NLDS against Washington.
That was pushing an entire philharmonic orchestra, stage and all, up a muddy hill. This outing, innings four through six of a game he entered trailing 4-1, was half as long but just as vital, because it not only rendered just one hit, it stopped the Cardinals dead cold at a time when they were positioned to rage all night.
“I knew I had to be ready, but I always think that,” Petit said afterward, his Captain Ahab beard-bald head combo glistening in the overhead light. “I’m the long man, and I have to be ready. I throw every other day on the side, and I expect to go in at any time.”
In fact, he must have suspected something was up in the second inning, when St. Louis’ standout player this series, second baseman Kolten Wong, doubled and then scored on local icon A.J. Pierzynski’s ensuing single up the spine of the diamond. That made it 2-1 St. Louis, and Vogelsong, who had already muscled through a 22-pitch first inning, was embarking on a 22-pitch second.
In fact, Petit might have come in in the third after Wong homered to make it 4-1, but Bochy coaxed one last out from the battered starter, a fly ball to right by Pierzynski so that he could start the bottom of the third with a pinch-hitter, Joaquin Arias, in Vogelsong’s spot.
That worked delightfully, as Arias roped a 3-1 fastball off Cardinal starter Shelby Miller and eventually scored on catcher Buster Posey’s second of three RBI. The Giants scored twice to get back in the game at 4-3, and Petit began the task of stomping the Cardinals flat.
He struck out Randall Grichuk and then Miller himself, a choice by St. Louis manager Mike Matheny that caused some folks to merge their eyebrows in consternation, and Petit finally finished the hat trick with Matt Carpenter.
It was the end of St. Louis’ meaningful offensive contributions, as they got only one runner into scoring position the rest of the night while the Giants binged on more no-hit high-sugar runs in the sixth -– your standard walk-single-bunt-groundout-groundout-single three-run inning, and Petit left, his job more than merely done.
Those three innings allowed Bochy to hurl waves of specialists at the Cardinals in the final three innings -– Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and finally Santiago Casilla -- to do what Petit had done by himself.
Now comes the fun part, though...
Petit said he could pitch again in Thursday’s potential series-clincher, which may or may not be a lie. Pitchers never admit to being tired in October, even if their arms can make ice water boil. Romo has pitched in every game; Affeldt, Casilla and Lopez in three of the four. This is a lot of concentrated work in high-stress situations, and Bochy knows it. He knows Petit gave him an evening he needed so that he could use the other four (plus Machi) as he normally would, but he needs Madison Bumgarner to carry the heavy end of the tractor Thursday.
“I know they’re running on fumes, but they’re gamers,” Bochy said. “But tomorrow might be a day for Timmy (Lincecum) and Hunter (Strickland), too. You never know.”
No, you never do, except for one thing. The Giants are now 7-2 in the postseason, angling for a crack at the Kansas City Royals, who are 8-0 and force far more mistakes than they make themselves, unlike the Cardinals. And the Giants are running out of ways to make people laugh in bewilderment at their opportunism and fortune.
Thus, Yusmeiro Petit became the centerpiece for a second time. Both times, his work helped the Giants take a two-game lead in a series, and he is becoming the undersung but hugely important sidebar in a story of scavengers who keep ending up in the finest restaurants eating their fill while their opponents sit waiting at their table wondering why the waiter never comes.