LOS ANGELES — Johnny Cueto has been the undisputed ace elsewhere, so he knows what comes with that tag. You’re supposed to stop losing streaks, you’re supposed to put the team on your back when it’s necessary.
Cueto, now the No. 2 in San Francisco, did that Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. He took a perfect game into the fifth, a shutout into the seventh, and a healthy lead into the eighth. The Giants have had some other leaks spring up, but Cueto papered over any issues in his first orange-and-black start at Dodger Stadium, a 4-3 win.
“Johnny was outstanding,” Bochy said. “He had good command, good stuff. He really located. The stuff was outstanding. He had good velocity and he had it all working.”
Cueto said he felt sharp in the bullpen, and he told himself to take advantage of that. Be aggressive, he reminded himself, and the Dodgers had little chance early.
Cueto hit 95 mph a handful of times and brought just about everything out of the bag, including his trademark “wiggle.” (That one might need to be tightened up a bit, as Cueto paused and shimmied twice in a row while facing Justin Turner, resulting in a very high breaking ball and then a double.) He even showed something new, throwing a pitch early on that looked to be the wiggle and morphed into a quick-pitch.
“I just like to get creative,” he said, through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I like to invent when I’m on the mound. I just try to keep the hitter off balance.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants hang on after Cueto dominates Dodgers]
He did that while throwing just 44 pitches through four innings, and Brandon Crawford — back from a brief break to rest a sore hip — made two spectacular plays. He snared a sharp liner to get the first out of the night and veered about 100 feet into left to make a running grab and rob Trayce Thompson. Crawford also had an RBI double in his return.
“You’re talking about one of the best all-around shortstops in the game,” Bochy said. “I don’t care who you have there (instead of him), it’s going to make a difference. We saw his talent today, his defense and what he can do with the bat.
“That was a Willie Mays-type of catch and he made it look easy. He’s so talented and everything he does doesn’t surprise me.”
It appeared to please Cueto, who showed his emotion through 7 1/3 dominant innings. He smiled after one particularly funky pitch to Turner and flipped his loose helmet off as he ran the bases in the eighth.
When Cueto finally sauntered off the mound for the final time, the night went sour. Javier Lopez entered and walked A.J. Ellis before giving up a two-run shot to dead center off Corey Seager’s bat. Lopez, coming off perhaps his best season, has allowed a run in three of his first six appearances. Bochy said Lopez is not pitching through an injury.
“The walk hurt,” Bochy said. “(Seager) was fighting him off and then he got a pitch he could handle. Javi is fine.”
With the Core Four down to two on the active roster, Bochy turned to Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich for big outs down the stretch. He said they should use this night as a confidence-booster. Santiago Casilla got the ninth and put the tying run on third in front of pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig, and while Bochy briefly thought of a free pass, he sent Casilla after the Dodgers slugger.
“I’ve got my closer and I didn’t want to send a message that I didn’t think he could get him,” Bochy explained.
Puig flied out to deep left, clinching a Giants victory on Bochy’s 61st birthday. That was news to Cueto, who smiled as he looked toward the manager’s office.
“I’ve got to say Happy Birthday,” he said. “We got him a win.”