Bay Area Baseball

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May 22, 2013
Sandoval fights a bug, Cain rises to occasion in Giants' 4-2 win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval has been battling a flu for the past couple days and was still feeling bad enough Tuesday to get an IV before the Giants played the Nationals. He then played 10 innings on a night when it was 57 degrees at first pitch at AT&T Park. And he ended the game with his second career walk-off homer, a moon shot that bounced into the bleachers in the deepest part of the park in right-center field, right near the shield commemorating Barry Bonds' 756 career home runs.

"He got all of that one," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Sandoval definitely looked under the weather after the Giants' 4-2 win and was asked about being able to deliver that kind of swing under those circumstances against a pitcher he'd never faced, Nationals reliever Yunesky Maya.

"I don't know, man," Sandoval said. "Effort. You have to give 100 percent out there no matter what. This is your job. You have to fight through it."

An appropriate response, perhaps, given the past couple days for the Giants as a whole. First there was the 1-5 road trip on which the starting rotation posted a 9.82 ERA. Then they lost Ryan Vogelsong to a fractured pitching hand Monday night that will likely keep him out six to eight weeks. Tuesday, the Giants were held down for seven innings by Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and down to their last strike in the ninth before Gregor Blanco sent the game into extra innings with a game-tying RBI triple off Rafael Soriano.

Before stepping in against Maya, Sandoval said he had gotten only a brief scouting report that the right-hander "throws a lot of strikes." Maya missed with a first-pitch fastball and then threw a changeup that Sandoval crushed to give the Giants their 13th comeback win of the season and sixth in their final at-bat.

Sandoval is notorious for being one of the more aggressive Giants when it comes to congratulating teammates in the traditional on-field mob after walk-offs. So naturally, he said, "I got it pretty good. I tried to get out of there, but they got me good."

Who did?

"Everybody."

Bochy said that coming off "just a horrible road trip," the nature of the comeback "has to do a lot for our club." If nothing else, it gave Tuesday a feeling of familiarity.

"We love pressure," Sandoval said. "It's our favorite part."

* Nobody was under more pressure Monday than Blanco in the ninth, down 0-2 against Soriano with two outs. Blanco fouled off the first two-strike pitch, then hit a low slider over the head of Bryce Harper in right-center to score Andres Torres easily from first. Torres was pinch running for Buster Posey, who singled off Soriano to start the inning.

"When I got two strikes I said just hit a double," Blanco said. "Torres is fast and something in the gap, he's going to score."

Blanco said he "knew I hit it hard," but figured the Nationals' outfielders were playing deep to guard against extra bases. Having played right field at AT&T Park, though, he also knows it can be tough to gauge how close you are to the jutting wall in right-center, particularly for visiting outfielders. Harper leapt short of the wall as the ball cleared him.

It was Blanco's third hit of the night. He also singled twice off Strasburg and scored the Giants' first run in the second inning on Angel Pagan's two-out single. Blanco can be counted on for defense and is batting .293. It's a big reason why left field hasn't seemed like the question mark the Giants thought it might be coming out of spring training.

"He's kind of that guy that is quietly doing a lot of things for us," said starter Matt Cain. "He does a lot of things to keep rallies going or just keep the bats going. Might not get hits every time, but he's usually working counts and messing with the pitcher. He's a good teammate and a good guy to have on your side."

* The Giants were within striking distance in the ninth thanks to Cain, who shook off a couple mistake pitches in the first inning to match Strasburg for the rest of seven innings. Cain allowed RBI doubles in the first inning to Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, but said he "knew I felt fine and just kind of felt I needed to bear down a little bit."

Cain allowed just one more hit while striking out seven. He and Strasburg combined for 14 strikeouts in 14 innings. The Nationals did load the bases against him with one out in the fourth, but Cain fielded Kurt Suzuki's comebacker and flipped home to Buster Posey for a force out before striking out Strasburg to end the inning.

"I had to think back to high school when I played second base," Cain said. "That was the way they used to teach us to turn double plays."

Bochy said Cain's performance, coming off a start in Colorado where he allowed six runs -- but still got the win -- was "critical."

"(Strasburg) was throwing great, and you're hoping your guy puts up zeroes and keeps you in the game," Bochy said. "You keep it close and anything can happen, as you saw."

That the outing and subsequent comeback came in the wake of the Giants losing their No. 5 starter for the near future was not lost on Cain.

"It's a hard thing to see Vogey go down, especially the way that it happened, but we're glad things look like they should be OK, he'll be all right, " Cain said. "That's the hard thing with baseball is you have to kind of move on really fast. And the guys did a good job of that."

* The Giants also got an encouraging appearance from Jean Machi on the same day they put Santiago Casilla on the DL for his troublesome knee. Machi relieved Javier Lopez with runners on first and third in the eighth and two outs and retired Ian Desmond on a chopper in front of the mound. Machi made a pretty athletic play on the ball, too, calmly fielding it and making a strong throw to first.

"Since Casilla's gone down we'll use some other guys in that role, and (Machi has) the equipment to pitch there and he's got the poise," Bochy said. "A lot of times you see a pitcher panic a little bit, but he made a good throw and got us back in the dugout."

* Marco Scutaro extended his hitting streak to 19 games with an eighth-inning double. He also singled in the 10th and was standing on first when Sandoval homered. For the streak, he's hitting .481 (38-for-79).

"It's kind of laughable at times," Cain said.

* So, after all that, the Giants are in position to go for the sweep tomorrow behind left-hander Madison Bumgarner. The Nationals counter with lefty Gio Gonzalez, and the 12:45 p.m. first pitch will be here before you know it.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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