Pence game-winner preserves Cueto gem

Hunter Pence entered the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, one man on, and a mild hamstring injury.

He popped a routine ball high into the night sky, tossed his bat aside, and watched as a deep-playing Matt Kemp lunged and missed the blooper, sending Brandon Belt home and the Giants to an odd 1-0 walk-off win over the San Diego Padres on Monday night.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Belt couldn’t see the play as he rounded the base paths, just Roberto Kelly flailing his arms:

“You see so many balls like that, and you see them caught so many times that it just kinda seems routine. But you never know in a game like this.”

One-run games have become routine for the Giants, though Monday night’s marked the first time the Giants have recorded consecutive 1-0 wins since 1980.

Pence said he was ready for the moment, watching the pitch movement from Brad Hand on the TV below the dugout.

“That definitely was a bloop well placed for the time, looking back at it Kemp was playing no doubles and it was kind of a long run and it was windy out there. Obviously you never know … was a good time for it there with Johnny pitching such a good game.”

Complete games out of Johnny Cueto (w, 7-1, 2.38 ERA) have also become routine, at least against the Padres. He pitched his third complete game of the season and, as it happens, his third against the Padres. Cueto has owned the Padres, holding them to 13 hits and just one run with 25 strikeouts in 27 stunning innings.

Cueto’s stuff was crisp, as it’s been through nearly all of his starts, and the Padres crumbled. Cueto was grasping a perfect game through four innings before Matt Kemp sliced a two-out single to right. But this wasn’t about perfection, this team is having fun with Cueto on the mound.

Belt even said he wouldn’t have minded a little more action at first:

“He had a perfect game going through four and I wanted to let somebody get on base so he could pick him off, that’s the most fun for me.”

Cueto’s cool efficiency and infectious consistency seems to have permeated through the dugout. He threw 114 pitches, 81 for strikes Monday, but his eccentricities on the mound have everyone on board, said Belt:

“I was thinking about it today out in the field how much I hated facing him in past years and how much fun it is to have him on your team just making stuff up on the mound and playing like he’s a little kid out there.”

Cueto was shimmying and shaking. He pumped his fists and shouted after escaping an eighth inning jam with runners on the corners, the only rally the Padres could muster that night. Cueto struck out pinch hitter Yangervis Solarte with a tight inside fastball that skimmed the edge after pegging Alexei Ramirez with a pitch on the wrist and giving up his second hit to Alexi Amarista.

Cueto is in a zone. A familiar one, at that, in his words:

“I remember having a rhythm like this when I was with the Reds, but thank God I’m having the same rhythm now that I’m with the Giants.”

The last Giant to throw three complete games against the same opponent was Atlee Hammaker in 1983 against the Chicago Cubs.

As May winds down, just four pitchers in the Majors have recorded more than one complete game: Cueto’s gem tonight keeps him up with Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, who also have three.

But the complete game win almost wasn’t. The Giants faced another puzzler on the other end in Drew Pomeranz, who gave up two hits in his seven innings of work.

The Giants couldn’t get much going on the base paths, but collapsed when they could, said Belt:

“It’s just one of those things we rely on pitching and defense when the hitting isn’t going so well.”

Pomeranz is holding on to a 1.70 ERA and just two wins to show for it. His team just can’t get that bloop to fall their way.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.