Many have ruled the Giants out of the post-season and it’s not an unreasonable assumption to make at this point. They came into the series opener against the division-leading Diamondbacks two games under .500 and eight games back in the division.
But the two teams on the field weren’t especially distinguishable Monday night. The Giants (66-67) didn’t look like underdogs punching above their weight, and the D’Backs (72-59) didn’t look like heavies coming into town to take on easy prey to pad their lead in the West. And as it turned out, the better team Monday was the team everyone has counted out, as San Francisco took a 2-0 victory over Arizona on the back of a marvelous start from Chris Stratton.
Patrick Corbin (L, 10-5, 3.15 ERA) hasn’t allowed more than three runs against the Giants this season, and he makes a habit of whiffing San Francisco batters who struggle to discriminate between his fastball and his slider. In the final series of the season for these two teams Corbin was no different notching nine strikeouts and allowing just four hits. The pitch that made a difference in the game wasn’t even a bad one.
It just turned out that, while Corbin was good, the 27-year-old kid from Mississippi was better.
Despite a shaky first few innings Stratton (W, 8-8, 4.99 ERA) looked just as intimidating on the mound as Corbin. He allowed lead-off singles in each of his first three innings, but he muscled through it without allowing a run and by the fourth inning he kicked it into gear.
Manager Bruce Bochy was deeply impressed by the righty’s performance as it marks the second game in a row Stratton has performed well after being sent to Triple-A to work on locating his pitches:
“You know he’s thrown some really nice games, you go back to last year and early this year, but I’d have to put this up there [as] one of his best games. He was really good with his command and all his pitches—curveball slider, change— he really spotted his fastball well.”
Aside from a two-out triple in the fifth Stratton allowed no further hits and kept the D’Backs scoreless through seven innings allowing five hits, but at 101 pitches Bochy decided his stuff was still strong and he would stay in until he couldn’t get outs.
“I didn’t know [if] I was going back out, but if nobody comes and shakes your hand then you’re still in there, so you gotta stay locked in. I think ‘Hundo’ [Nick Hundley] fought for me to go back out.”
And his skipper’s trust was not misplaced. It took 16 pitches but Stratton tossed a 1-2-3 inning coaxing a line out, a ground out, and his sixth strikeout.
This was just his second start since spending some time with former-Giant and roving minor league instructor Ryan Vogelsong while he was in Nashville with the River Cats. Vogelsong observed him throw a bullpen in Tennessee and noted that the two had similar pitching styles which was helped the veteran diagnose the problem.
“That was probably the worst game of catch I’ve ever played in my life just because I was trying to focus on all these different moving parts and trying to lock ’em in. And as soon as I got on the mound Vogelsong was just right behind me and just kinda coaching me along with what he does. [He] just kinda helped me stay in a better line. I think I was just getting a little too rotational and just flying open a little too much.”
In his first Big League outing since meeting with Vogelsong he tossed 6-1/3 allowing two runs on six hits against the Mets last week, which was a nice buildup to Monday’s tremendous start which, at 117 pitches and eight innings was his longest this season.
But it would have all been for naught if rookie Steven Duggar wasn’t underestimated by a pitcher for the second night in a row. Batting in the eight hole, as he has in recent games, both Rangers pitcher Yovani Gallardo and Corbin had the option to pitch around Duggar with the pitcher on deck and a base open. In Gallardo’s case, Duggar yanked a 2-2 slider up and in, into Triples Alley to clear the bases.
Corbin was a bit more cautious than Gallardo, but Duggar showed him up anyway. Duggar dug a 3-1 fastball down and in and swatted it over Levi’s Landing to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.
The two run shot was his second big league homer and his first at home:
“It was exciting, to say the least. [To get the] first one [at AT&T Park] off a pitcher of his caliber—he’s one of the tougher ones that I’ve seen for sure—and to be able to get one, square one up and see it leave, that was definitely exciting.”
Tony Watson came in to pitch the ninth and issued a one-out four-pitch walk to Paul Goldschmidt, and after Watson managed to strike out Daniel Descalso, Bochy opted to pit Hunter Strickland (S, 14, 2.95 ERA) against Steven Souza Jr. in his first save opportunity since June 18, the fated game against Miami in which he blew the ninth inning lead and got in a fight with a door in the tunnel of the dugout after being hooked by Bochy.
Strickland tempted fate, walking Souza but ultimately he coaxed a lazy fly to right field from Nick Ahmed that nestled comfortably into Andrew McCutchen‘s glove, putting 38,308 Giants fans at the park at ease.
Buster Posey is resting comfortably after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip in Vail, Colorado by Dr. Marc Philippon. He is expected to return to the Bay Area later this week to begin rehab and the Giants hope he will be fully recovered by Opening Day 2019. … Bochy said rookie catcher Aramis Garcia may see his first big league action behind the plate in the series finale against Arizona Wednesday, though this has not been set in stone yet. … Hundley stole his second base of the year Monday, it also happened to be his second in the last four days. …Stratton and the Giants held Goldschmidt hitless (0-for-3 with a walk), which might be regarded as a minor miracle for a guy who regularly torments Giants pitching and came into the Monday’s match hitting 7-for-14 off Stratton.