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Johnny Cueto pitches masterful shutout, wins 100th career game

The Giants defeated the Padres, 1-0, behind the brilliant pitching of Johnny Cueto.

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

In the team essay for the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual, Erik Malinowski details the different Brian Sabean eras. There was the Bonds Era, which was followed by the Epoch of Homegrown Pitching, which was followed by the transitional, balanced roster that won the 2012 World Series. That, in turn, was followed by the Wait, How Did the Giants Develop This Many Hitters Where Am I? roster of 2014. Note that these are my names, and Malinowski described it better, but the book is way over there, and I'm way over here.

The point is that it wasn't that long ago that this team was completely different. We looked forward to almost every pitcher at the front of the rotation. It peaked in 2011. The answer to "Who's going tonight?" was almost always met with a nod of approval. "Oh, awesome. That guy's awesome." It feels like I attended nine different Barry Zito games that year, but the point still stands. The Giants used to have three or four starting pitchers you made time to watch. It wasn't that long ago, but so much has happened since then, it's easy to forget.

Here's a fun pitcher you make time to watch, then. Johnny Cueto is apparently as fun to watch as any of them. It feels like cheating when he shows up after a Madison Bumgarner start. We just watched a fun, absurdly talented pitcher last night. Shouldn't we have to skip a start? This is the team that won the 2014 World Series with a single excellent starting pitcher and a lot of crossed fingers. Even though we should be used to back-to-back talents in the rotation, it feels so long ago.

Maybe this is another era. The Homegrown 'n' Mercenary Jamboree. It's a long season, so there's no sense in gloating after four weeks of baseball, but imagine how little fun we would be having if Cueto and Zack Greinke swapped Aprils. And, because of how much Greinke would have cost, it wouldn't be Jeff Samardzija in the rotation. Angel Pagan might still be in center. There would be a very different mood around the team.

Basically, if the Giants had listened to me, we'd all be screwed. Again. Please click on some ads before you leave.

No one told me just how much fun top-shelf Cueto was, though. I knew the basics, like most of you, but I didn't know what it was like to watch him mow down the other team quickly and quietly, varying his looks up to confuse the hitters. He makes me giggle like Lucille Bluth after Gene Parmesan gets her with one of his disguises again. Cueto was in minor trouble in several innings, the kind where the Padres could have scored without a hit, and he whiffed his way through it.

The final tally: 24 changeups, 16 for strikes, with eight swings and misses. It's not like his other pitches were lacking in stuff or location, but the changeup was the Ford Super Great Look At This pitch of the game. He humiliated Matt Kemp with it, which is always a great sign that we're watching baseball we can appreciate.

In the seventh game of the season, the Dodgers scored five runs in the first inning against Cueto. It made me wonder if this was it, if we were just setting ourselves for another half-decade of a former excellent pitcher who left his bag of tricks in the previous city. The possibility tore me up before the Giants were even rumored to be interested, and it paralyzed me in the weeks after they signed him. This was it. This was it. A bad Cueto contract would completely destroy the fun of offseason rosterbation for years. He would be the expensive player. If he didn't pan out, it was Mark DeRosas and Miguel Tejadas all the way down.

Instead, I'm kind of freaking out about what happens in two years, when Cueto opts out. Maybe we shouldn't get too hasty, because Tim Hudson was the last pitcher to start his career with at least five starts with seven innings or more, and he was off to an even better start before sputtering in the second half. But a) Hudson was, like, 50, and b) you can pry the April optimism out of my moist, clammy hands.

Since that nightmare first inning against the Dodgers? 29⅓ innings, five earned runs. Johnny Cueto is fantastic, everyone, and we get to watch. I can't believe you were so against the Giants signing him.

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Of course, we might be talking about Johnny Cueto's pretty good, okay seven-inning start if not for Buster Posey, who gunned down two runners in crucial spots.

Without that play, Cueto doesn't sniff the ninth inning. He would have thrown another 10 pitches, max. Even if the Padres don't score, that little extra thrill of having a pitcher Ol' Hoss his way through a full game would have been stolen from us, pun definitely intended.

You can't see it in the GIF, but Cueto sort of circled around the mound, like he was going to pat the umpire on the butt. He would have been right to do it.

* * *

Hilarious sign idea to bring to the ballpark:

"HUNTER PENCE REPLACES HIS DIVOTS." You go ahead and take it. That one is on me.

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This was the first 1-0 from the Giants since last April, also against the Padres. They went the entire 2014 season without one. They're surprisingly rare. Stressful. Delightful. And rare.

* * *

Cueto won his 100th career game, which surprises me a little. I would have pegged him for a lot more. Check this, though, it's been years since Giants haven't had at least one pitcher in the rotation who would eventually win 100 games in his career.

  • Jake Peavy (2014-present)
  • Tim Lincecum (2007-2015)
  • Matt Morris (2006-2007)
  • Jason Schmidt (2001-2006)
  • Kirk Rueter (1996-2005)
  • Mark Portugal (1994-1995)
  • John Burkett (1987-1994)
  • Mike Krukow (1983-1989)

The trail runs cold there.

I don't know, I found it neat. Mike and John and Mark and Kirk and Jason and Matt and Tim and Jake and Johnny. The meaningless streak of eventual 100-game winners will never end.

The odds are at least even that Matt Cain is stuck on 99 wins for the entire second half, while the team averages an unearned run in every other one of his starts.

But that's for tomorrow. Tonight? Johnny Cueto got his 100th win, the night after Santiago Casilla got his 100th save. If Gregor Blanco steals five more bases on Wednesday, he's at 100. Food for thought.