SAN DIEGO – The Giants did not intend to reassemble out of the All-Star break, whip themselves into a frenzy and charge up a hill to wrest away fourth place in the NL West.
Some goals are nobler than others.
But they dirtied their uniforms in spirited fashion in a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres Friday night. And they’ll have a grunting, snarling presence back on the mound Saturday when Madison Bumgarner resumes his place in the rotation after a three-month absence.
The Giants might be 27 games out of first place in the NL West, but they are just four behind the Padres. It isn’t much of a chase. But even the slowest greyhound in the field can benefit from a wooden rabbit or two.
Buster Posey hit a 429-foot home run in addition to an RBI single, Eduardo Nuñez returned from the disabled list to make two sparkling plays at third base, Gorkys Hernandez collected a career-high four hits and the Giants bullpen soaked up outs after Johnny Cueto labored to last just four innings at Petco Park.
Rookie Miguel Gomez came off the bench to hit a tying sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, Denard Span followed with a go-ahead single and Sam Dyson escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth as the Giants snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Padres began this season under no pretense of fielding a competitive team. They took a back hoe to the Rule 5 draft and the low minor leagues while loading up their roster with players that could learn on the job — while losing 90-plus games to ensure they’d get the pick of next year’s draft litter.
Entering Friday night, the Padres would’ve picked third. The Giants would’ve picked second.
The Giants might be in the midst of a lost season, but the front office, coaches and players see much more profit in finishing on a respectable note than moving a handful of slots up or down in the draft order.
A large scouting contingent came for the due diligence on Cueto, but the Giants are only open to dealing him if they would receive a significant return. And Cueto simply hasn’t pitched well enough to warrant that kind of recommendation.
He was unimpressive and not sharp, and most out of character, he lasted just four innings while laboring to throw 82 pitches.
Instead, those scouts might have written with a flourish about Cory Gearrin, who has a weird reverse split against left-handers (5 for their last 39) and George Kontos, who followed Gearrin’s scoreless inning with two of his own.
Both right-handers will get a bit pricier in arbitration next season, which makes them candidates to be dealt over the next couple weeks.
Hunter Strickland, his penchant for settling three-year-old grudges aside, looks like a future contributor to the next functional Giants bullpen. So does Dyson, who looks to be the closer for at least several more weeks as Mark Melancon takes a more deliberate approach to the right elbow tendinitis that has sent him to the disabled list twice this season.
Strickland struck out two batters in the eighth and Dyson allowed a run on a chopper in the ninth before escaping a bases-loaded jam to record his fourth save as a Giant.
Dyson allowed three singles – two of them well placed hoppers – and hit a batter before Jabari Blash flied out on a 3-2 pitch to end it.
Cueto was starting on normal rest – he pitched into the seventh inning Sunday against the Miami Marlins before wilting at the end – and his evening started well enough. He hit 92 mph while striking out two in a scoreless first inning, and third baseman Eduardo Nuñez made a sliding catch of a foul pop.
The first inning was a tonic in more than one sense. Brandon Belt doubled and Posey hit an RBI single – a welcome change for a team that got outscored 59-32 in the first inning over their first 90 games.
But Cueto didn’t have the same kind of finish on his pitches or late life, and he seemed to know it as he nibbled around the strike zone.
The Padres scored two runs in the second inning when Corey Spangenberg drew a leadoff walk, Jabari Blash lined a double down the left field line and Erick Aybar followed with an RBI single.
The Giants tied it when Cueto’s slashing single scored Brandon Crawford in the second inning, but the club might have missed a chance to put up a crooked number because Cueto was thrown out when he took a wide turn around first base.
Cueto did not help himself by minimizing that scoring threat. He managed to dance out of a third-inning jam that started with Carlos Asuaje’s double, which Span couldn’t run down in center field.
But the Padres quickly put Cueto back into the stretch and put themselves back in front in the fourth. Erick Aybar hit a leadoff double and scored on Austin Hedges’ single to left field.
The Giants had Hedges out by several feet when Nuñez cut off the throw to the plate, but first baseman Brandon Belt wasn’t covering the bag for some reason. Belt partially rectified his mental mistake when he fielded pitcher Clayton Richard’s bunt and threw to force Hedges at second base. But the mistake forced Cueto to throw eight stressful pitches while retiring Wil Myers – one of which soared down the left field line barely foul – and that was enough to send the right-hander to the showers for the night.
The Giants rallied to take the lead in a two-run sixth inning that began with a walk to Hunter Pence. Hernandez and Panik singled to load the bases, and Gomez flashed a quick bat while driving his sacrifice fly to center field. Span followed with his single that put the Giants in front.
Posey added his 11th home run of the season, driving one deep over the center field fence in the seventh inning off Ryan Buchter.
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