Rewind: Padres at Giants, Game 3

There was a lot on the line for a mid-season Saturday night game. For the San Francisco Giants, a mediocre team that couldn't string together enough wins to take control of a wide-open division, implications ran rampant. A winning streak, a controversial trade, and the stumbling staff ace looking for a win are headlines on any other night. This game was about one thing: first place.

Good games tell many stories. Game three of the series against the Padres held intrigue from top to bottom. For starters, the Giants’ starter: Jason Schmidt’s last win came June 6. In seven starts since he had a record of 0-4, and a quick look at his all-time July record of 16-23 says this time of the year isn’t his best.

However, he’s 4-1 with an earned run average of 2.63 at AT&T Park this season. Poor record or rough stretch, Schmidt is still the pitcher the Giants want on the mound in a big game, and this game against the San Diego Padres was the biggest match up of the season.

At first it looked like Schmidt’s July struggles would continue and cripple the Giants’ chances to win a fifth game in a row. He fought through the first inning, walking three batters and allowing Mike Cameron to steal second and third after reaching base on a fielder’s choice.

The damage was limited to one run, in no small part to outstanding defense behind Schmidt. Clean defensive plays held it together for the Giants in a tight game where the Padres pressed with every chance they got. Neither starting pitcher had an easy time on the mound, as all the game’s runs were scored off the starters.

Padres right-hander Woody Williams had a worse time than Schmidt. The Giants put up three runs in the bottom of the second inning when Shea Hillenbrand singled to lead off. Pedro Feliz doubled and Eliezer Alfonzo brought them home with his first of two hits on the evening. He would score following Schmidt’s sacrifice bunt and Randy Winn’s groundout, on a wild pitch that should have been ruled a passed ball. Semantics debates won’t change the fact that the Giants had the lead they needed to keep the game in control.

San Diego scored again in the fourth and fifth innings, and the Giants answered with a run in the fourth. Alfonzo doubled and scored, this time on Winn’s sacrifice fly. Pitchers suddenly settled down and the mood grew tenser as the innings went on.

All eyes were on Hillenbrand, and to be expected. In his first game with the Giants since the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays questions preceded him, the biggest not about his personal issues and what happened in Toronto to grant his release from the team, but can this guy play first base or what?

He can and he did. He had one of nine Giants base hits, scored a run, and completed a pick-off play on Dave Roberts with Schmidt in the second inning. No doubt he needed a good start in his new home, as much as the Giants needed all he did for them.

Relief pitching kept the game close. With Jeremy Accardo gone in the Hillenbrand trade, Jonathan Sanchez’s role in the bullpen could become bigger. He’s not as unhittable as he was when he came up, as evidenced when he allowed a double and a single with two out in the seventh inning, but the young lefty will get the call to pitch often as Accardo did.

Brian Wilson added 1.1 innings of scoreless ball to set up Armando Benitez. Benitez may be a cardiologist’s worst nightmare but he had converted six straight save opportunities before Saturday night’s game, and his only mistake resulted in a single to the very hot Adrian Gonzalez.

With two outs and a runner on third in his inning, the ninth, he retired catcher Rob Bowen for his thirteenth save, and nailed down the Giants’ fifth win in a row. Oh yeah, and he capped the victory that gave the Giants sole possession of first place in the National League West.

Sunday’s game is as important as Saturday’s, because if they want to hang onto the division lead they have to sweep the Padres. With a win they have the chance to take a 1.5 game divisional lead on the road to Washington on Tuesday. They play their next nine games against the Nationals—on the road and at home--and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and these are the games to win. Right behind them, not just the Padres, but the Arizona Diamondbacks are tied for second place at a half game back. Late July isn’t too early for a pennant race.

SFDugout.com Player of the Game: Without Benitez’s solid pitching to end the game, and when needed in save opportunities of late, the team would not be in first place. Everyone connected to the Giants hope the big man can keep his own streak going.

Notes: It wasn’t all good news for the Giants. Moises Alou left the game in the fifth inning with a left hamstring injury. He pulled up lame running out a single and was taken out immediately…Ray Durham is the hottest hitter on the team, with a .400 average and four home runs on the homestand. He went 0-4, his first game without a hit since July 9 in Los Angeles, where he also went 0-4…Feliz and Hillenbrand turned an interesting double play in the fifth inning. Feliz tagged Gonzalez going to third, and threw to Hillenbrand covering first. Hillenbrand got Khalil Greene with a swipe tag to complete the twin killing. Tag ‘em out tag ‘em out double play?



Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 24th season of fandom. Love/hate mail can be sent to seasond_salt@yahoo.com, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.

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