One of my favorite pastimes is making fun of Giants/Padres games for being my least favorite pastimes. It's complicated. But there's a spectrum of baseball enjoyment, with one end being complete nonsense and the other end being complete drudgery. It's the Coors-Petco spectrum, and in the middle is enjoyable baseball. The ends of the spectrum can be frustrating.
And yet I had an epiphany on Wednesday night. I could watch Johnny Cueto pitch against the Padres in Petco Park for 162 games every year. That's not to say that the Padres wouldn't have a chance against him; I'd figure it would be like any other season, with ups and downs, good starts with good endings, good starts with bad endings, bad starts with good endings, and bad starts with bad endings. That was just the third time Cueto's pitched at Petco, so it's not like we have a vast back catalog to sort through. He was 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA before tonight.
But his rhythm fits the Padres' rhythm, at least this current roster. They're near the very bottom of the league in walks, so it's not like their gameplan was going to involve working 3-1 advantages against Cueto, who had just 10 walks on the season before Wednesday night. They were going to look for pitches around the plate, and they were going to be aggressive. To be fair, Cueto will have nights where he catches far too much of the plate. The plan's just crazy enough to work.
Until Cueto has that plus control working. He continues to work well with Buster Posey, like a couple of cagey jazz musicians playing off each other. Posey's walking a calm, surprisingly complicated tight bass line, and Cueto is inventing scales and naming them after childhood pets for no apparent reason. But it's beautiful music.
Don't forget that he moves like a big ol' kitty cat, too.
I wonder what it feels to make a play like that.
Yeah, pretty much. And to think, some people didn't think he'd be a good fit here.
Man, that guy is wrong about everything. But I was for Cueto the whole time. Just seemed like a great fit, and I'll never remember the words I wrote on the first day of the offseason.
I'm pretty sure that two months into Cueto's Giants career, he will be one of my favorite pitchers to watch. We're talking ever, not just in 2016.
I don't have the hyperlink handy, but trust me. Juuuuust trust me. Please don't do any research. I'm pretty sure I wanted him the whole time.
(At least I came around before February, you have to give me that much.)
* * *
Of course, this could have been a much different recap. With a rested bullpen and Cueto at 100 pitches, Bruce Bochy kept with the strategy of bending his starters until they break, which they haven't yet. This was the 24th time a Giants starter has thrown 100 pitches or more this season. This was the 19th game in which a Giants starter went seven innings or more.
Last year on May 18th, they had enjoyed nine 100-pitch outings from their starters, with 15 starts of seven innings or more. Chris Heston's no-hitter in June was the second complete game of the season last year; Cueto's was the second complete game of this three-game series so far. This isn't to say that this year's starting pitchers are overworked; it's to say that last year's starters weren't quite as adept at getting deep into games.
There will eventually be a game or two when this trust is thrown back in Bochy's face, though. Witness the first two pitches to Melvin Upton, Jr. in the bottom of the ninth:
Yeeeeeeeeps. The first one was a slider with no bite. If I'm Bruce Bochy in that situation, I'm calling my friends and making prank calls. But if I'm Bruce Bochy in that situation and forced to think about baseball, I'm pulling Cueto right there. Two lousy pitches, followed by four straight balls, with the last one not even being close? Forget it.
Cueto threw one more pitch. A slider. To a powerful hitter, who represented the winning run.
It was Cueto's worst pitch of the night. We get to have happy fun times because Norris is so screwed up right now, he popped the pitch up. But hopefully this will put a little angel on Bochy's shoulder when he's cosplaying a manager from 1958. Sometimes, it's not wise to tempt fate.
Of course, this doesn't revoke the right for all of us to complain if Santiago Casilla comes in and gives up three broken-bat hits in a row. This is not a negotiation.
* * *
One of my favorite things in baseball is to judge if a homer is going out based on the hitter's reaction. Here are the only two runs the Giants scored in the game. Duane Kuiper wasn't so sure before the cameras cut away, but Pence's eyes were greedy:
If it was hit before last season, it would have been an out. Bless those new dimensions.
It was the first 0-2 home run of the year. The Giants had seven 0-2 home runs last year, and they were 7-0 in those games. Always swing for the fences down 0-2, that's my motto. Science has taught us well.
It was a nice moment, regardless of who hit it. But we're two months into the new, more patient Hunter Pence. His OBP is near .400, and he's walloping dingers into the right field pavilion at Petco Park.
Here, I'll just leave this link here.
Sabean said Wednesday the Giants plan to tender a contract to Pence, even though the right fielder could be in line to make $13 million-plus in salary arbitration next season. Some media outlets have suggested the combination of Pence's big salary and his late-season struggles at the plate might prompt the Giants to consider cutting ties with the player and moving in a different direction with their outfield.
"Pence is going to be coming back," Sabean said at the general managers' meetings.
Of course he is. He's an iconic, incredibly entertaining player. Why wouldn't you offer him arbitration?
"We never would have traded for a guy that we remotely thought we would be non-tendering," Sabean said.
Of course you wouldn't have. He's Hunter Pence. He's awesome. Did you plant a fake story to mess with people in the future?
But not only did the Giants keep Pence for the next year, and not only did they lock him up far beyond that, but he started working counts and taking walks like he's been doing it his whole career. He's already seven walks over last year's total in 50 fewer plate appearances. No one starts walking when they're 33, out of nowhere.
Why, that would be an unorthodox thing for a baseball player to do. And we know that doesn't describe Pence.
* * *
The Dodgers lost.
* * *
The Giants have won seven games in a row. They have a chance for their first 7-0 road trip since they did it at the Baker Bowl and Ebbets Field.
They still haven't scored more than five runs in a game for a couple of weeks. That's weird, right?
It is! There have been ungodly 20+ game stretches without five runs or more, and you'll never believe it, but the Giants lost most of those games. Yet this is the 11th straight game this season without more than five runs, and the Giants are 8-3 in those games. The last time they had a winning percentage that good in five-run-or-fewer games was ...
Get out of here, odd year. I'm building a narrative here.