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Giants win with well-timed hits, stellar bullpen, imperfect Cueto

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The Giants won, 5-1, even though Johnny Cueto was still dealing with a froggy back.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On the day Hunter Pence was officially gone for months, not days, the Giants rolled into a sticky St. Louis, where baseball games can be annoying and difficult. The starting pitcher, Johnny Cueto, was dealing with back issues, and his control was imperfect. He walked five and clawed his way through six innings. The Giants were lucky to get six.

And yet the Giants won. It wasn't just that the Cardinals were unlucky with runners in scoring position, 2002-style. They were 1-for-3. It wasn't just that they left runners on, or that they were doubled up or caught stealing at the wrong time. It was all of the above. At the end of six innings, the Giants had a lead, and I'm not sure how, except I watched the whole thing and it made sense.

It's been awhile since we sat through a crusty Cueto start. His back is still bothering him, and while he still employed dozens of his popular, brand-building delivery quirks*, he didn't look like the post-Madduxian dervish that we've been spoiled with for two months. He had trouble bending over to get a ground ball in the sixth, and if it weren't the pitcher up in the sixth when Random Cardinal was thrown out stealing, we would still have what-ifs in our heads about Bruce Bochy letting him finish the inning.

So we have to make do with a recap that's tangentially about Cueto, but not wholly about his brilliance. It's weird.

Just transfer those brilliance credits right over to the bullpen, then. Josh Osich was a little wonky after getting Matt Carpenter behind, 0-2, but everyone else was completely heartburn-free. Cory Gearrin, in particular, deserves substantial credit for holding the Cardinals scoreless after coming in with a one-run lead and a runner on first.

His first challenge was Aledmys Diaz, unknown quantity with a freaky-high batting average, even though he isn't walking or striking out a lot. Seems like a fella you don't want to steal strikes against. Laying in the weeds, as Mike Krukow would say. Here's how Gearrin pitched him:

Perfect? Perfect. The first pitch was a Posey special, which set up the second pitch that Diaz had to honor. The third pitch was a wipeout slider that Diaz had never seen before. It was a rugged, beautiful sequence.

Then Matt Holliday, rock-jawed ape-man, who could give the Cardinals the lead with a flat sinker or hanging slider. He saw neither:

That's nine pitches, none of them anywhere near the middle of the strike zone. It was the best outing that Gearrin's had as a Giant. He threw one pitch in the top of the eighth, and it was a sinker that was about an inch away from the bottom-left corner of the zone. It was the best pitch to hit out of the 10 he threw, and it wasn't a particularly good pitch to hit.

Javier Lopez came in to face one batter. Guess what? A single pitch in the zone, right where Gearrin's last pitch went.

Hunter Strickland caught far more of the zone, including a get-it-in curve for the first strike. For the most part, though, the seventh and eighth innings were all about the Giants double-dog daring the Cardinals to get themselves out, and the Cardinals gladly obliging.

That kind of pitching reminds me of someone. Cueto didn't finish the game, but he left his essence on the mound, just in case anyone wanted to use it. It helped.

Never turn down Essence of Cueto. That's a tip you can use for the rest of your life.

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* The top three Cueto deliveries of the 2016 season, according to a Facebook poll, are Electric Livery, Lady Bermuda, and Gyro π, with 37 others also receiving votes

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I would have been more in favor of signing Cueto if I remembered how much he annoyed the Cardinals.

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Hey, it's Buster Posey running 18.7 miles per hour:

I looked, but that's the first time I've typed that sentence on this site.

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Buster Posey attempted a bunt. This is not a drill.

Just kidding, it's a drill ... right into Yadier Molina's wrist, lol. Sorry.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the Captain America kerfuffle that Marvel unleashed recently, setting Steve Rogers up as some secret super-duper-double agent that was in Hydra's pocket the whole time. It's silly, sure, but it got people talking about it. Which was the point. Anyway, hear me out:

What if Posey was a supervillain this whole time?

Like, what if he was motivated only by self-preservation and personal accomplishments, but buried his true nature behind an aw-shucks superstar? How would you get back at your rivals if you, say, wanted an All-Star spot?

Bunt for the first time in your life, then deflect the ball off said rival's wrist.

Look, it's a plausible twist, you have to believe me. Where are you going? I'm sorry, that was stupid, but if you have a better explanation of the bunt, I'd like to ... hey, come back!

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On the other hand, I'm always in the mood for a safety squeeze. It's a little risky, but risk-averse at the same time. Just like me, baby.

Wait, I think I'd be more of a fielder's choice. No, a single, stolen base, and balk with no outs that gets stranded on third. Maybe a home run that's overturned on review.

Regardless, I'm all about the safety squeezes in capable hands. Kelby Tomlinson on third and Matt Duffy wielding the bunt-stick? Mmmmmuaaah. Perfect. Don't tell me the sabermetrics on that.