On most occasions, a one-hitter is a one-hitter, which is pretty damn good. But this wasn't most. This was, once again, Madison Bumgarner going into the very late innings with a perfect game. Tonight there were four outs to go when a clean single up the middle spoiled perfection. Still, it was more than a one-hitter. It was a game without Bumgarner allowing a walk or the Giants making an error. It was perfect, except for one batter.
It's a weird thing to listen to. The announcers have little to say when every single Padres player is 0 for 1 or 0 for 2, and eventually 0 for 3. But for awhile it wasn't the story to get excited about. The Giants once again beat up on the Padres offensively. They did it exclusively with singles last night in a 9-1 win--which was, by the way, a 2 hitter for Jake Peavy. But tonight they had singles, double, triples and homers by Pagan and Belt. One of those triples was almost an inside the park homer. The Giants scored 8 runs. (Once again, no Crawford or Panik in the lineup, and Blanco is out as well, with a concussion.)
But by the 7th there was just one story, and the eyes of baseball all over the country were turning towards San Francisco. And then with one swing, perfection was over. And Madison Bumgarner had merely thrown a one-hit shutout complete game, for his 18th win of the season, matching his personal best of last year's regular season. It was his third one-hitter, and the second one in two years that was perfect until very late in the game.
Sure, it's that time of year when teams clearly out of it are experimenting with minor leaguers they brought up. And the Giants pitcher do tend to throw no-nos against the Padres. But the Giants are only 8-6 v. the Padres by my count, overall this year. So these are still real games.
Big moment of the night on Friday: manager and former pitcher Bruce Bochy had sent his son and (until recently) minor league pitcher Brett Bochy in for some relief work in the ninth. Brett was doing well, got the first two outs, but gave up a hit and hit a batter. The elder Bochy had other relievers who needed work, so he took his walk out to the mound, intending to take Brett out.
Now fellow old timers will recall that managers used to make multiple trips to the mound before the rule was changed to allow them only two visits per pitcher, meaning the second time the pitcher had to be taken out. These days you seldom see a manager go to the mound except to take the pitcher out. But he doesn't have to.
The fans knew what it meant when dad headed out to the mound, and they booed him. They wanted to see Brett pitch some more. Bruce Bochy heard them, and with an eight run lead, he told his son, you get one more batter. He walked back to the dugout to the cheers. Brett struck out the batter to end the game. Hello Hollywood!
Meanwhile, things are REALLY getting interesting in the NL Central, as the Cards continue to skid while the Pirates are winning. Today the Bucs won while both the Cards and Cubs lost. The Bucs blowout over the Brewers included a pinch hit grand slam by former Giants playoff hero Michael Morse. The Pirates are just 2.5 games out of first.
It's a good thing the Giants aren't actually in a division race anymore. On Tuesday they got back a starting pitcher and their All-Star second baseman, and both were great. But in the fourth inning, after several plays at shortstop probably only he could make, Brandon Crawford left the game with recurrence of both the injuries that have kept him off the field. He'll be out for at least "a few days." So the Giants had their starting infield intact for all of three innings in the past month.
Announcer Jon Miller (I think it was) outlined what's happened since the last time the team had a day off, two weeks ago. They went 5-9 while the Dodgers went 12-2. And of course, 3 of the Dodger wins were over the Giants. No Panik or Crawford or Pence.
But Tuesday's story--and Tuesday's win--was about the guys who made it back. This is the fun of following a team this closely--to know these stories, to feel along with them. Forty year old Tim Hudson pitched six strong innings, and had two hits, including--and this is getting to be a habit with these Giants pitchers--a home run. The fourth of his career, the first as a Giant. This is all but certainly his last season, and each game like this is precious. I hope it all slowed down for him so he could savor it all. He couldn't end his career on a better team.
Joe Panik, from last year's rookie to this year's All-Star, came back, and sparked the victory. He hit, he ran, he fielded, he drove in runs, he scored--and he homered, too. The Giants have one more game in Arizona, and then go home. He may not play until then--and that place will rock to see him.
Tim Hudson has earned a place in the rotation, and it'll be great if he gets a start in the home park. Somebody figured out that if he maintains his spot, he would pitch in the season's final series, to be played in Oakland, where he began his storied career.
It's also worth noting that a run scored due to Pagan's speed, and he's been out of the lineup for a long time as well. Anyway, the Giants won 6-2 (Gregor Blanco homered again too), and the Dodgers won as well. So far no implosion.
As for this last game in Arizona, it will likely be back to a much weakened lineup--without Crawford or Panik, and possibly with the substitute catcher, which means two very weak spots in the order. Chris Heston will have to pitch a damn good game.
Meanwhile, the NL Central is getting interesting. After the Pirates took two of three in St. Louis, the Cubs have defeated the Cards twice. While that means the Bucs are now four games out of first, it also means that the Cubs are pressing them from behind--just two games behind them. At this point they are probably playing for home field in the Wild Card game, but this is becoming a race worth watching.
The Pirates kept pace by beating the Reds with pitching and power, their formula. I'm gearing up to follow them deep in the playoffs, but I am dismayed at the prospect of listening to their announcers. They are awful.
Wednesday Update: Sure enough, the Giants were shorthanded and lost again by that ghastly score of 2-1, the most painful score of all really. Chris Heston and the bullpen pitched very well--a 2 run homer was all Arizona got. Joe Panik played but probably shouldn't have--he left hurting, if not hurt. Now the Giants come home from this fateful road trip with a different emphasis--preparing for next year. But the fans will be out to make this not at all a sad time. And Tim Hudson announced that indeed he is retiring at the end of this season. The Cards beat the Cubs, the Pirates won, so there remains a little mystery in that division.