Johnny Cueto‘s got a signature style. He’s a social media guru with enviable hair and top-notch bubble-blowing skills. He also has that shimmy-shake pitching motion, a move capable of sometimes throwing batters way off balance.
Friday night he shimmy-shook the Giants into an early deficit, balking with runners on second and third in the first to hand the Dodgers a crucial run in their eventual 3-2 win to kick off this three-game rivalry series.
The balk sounded off like a bomb in a game that needed to go perfectly. The Giants faced the Dodgers ace, and probable robot, Clayton Kershaw, who waltzed into San Francisco owning a 1.23 ERA on his NorCal rival’s home turf.
Cueto wasn’t off the best start, anyway. He pegged leadoff batter Chase Utley in the leg, gave up a pesky soft ball single down the third base line to Corey Seager and chucked a wild pitch to move both into scoring position all before recording an out.
Cueto, who hadn’t given up a run in 29-1/3 innings at AT&T Park, felt an unfamiliar presence behind him, said Buster Posey:
“With a runner on third, pitching in the windup was different for him.”
After the game, umpire crew chief John Hirschbeck said Cueto actually balked twice on the play. He went into his wind-up, stopped and shimmied.
Cueto said he’d never been called on that motion before:
“I don’t think it was a balk, but we have to see and investigate why it was called a balk.”
Even Bruce Bochy was perplexed as he tried to go through the call:
“I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure myself. Even after having to explain it there.”
Every run counted in this game, and that one motion may have cost the Giants this game, said a frustrated Cueto:
“It bothers you, you get upset because we lost the game but, again, it’s part of the game.”
In any other game, Cueto’s slip-up may have just been worth a chuckle. He grew stronger after the first, dealing seven more innings of shutout ball. The three total hits he allowed came in the first and he struck out eight through it all.
He kept it close enough for the Giants to claw back into it, even against the machine they call Kershaw.
Matt Duffy answered the odd two-run deficit with a whopping dinger off the ace; he took a 0-1 slider deep to left field, etching his name among the five few who’ve taken Kershaw deep this season. Two others, by the way, are also Giants (Madison Bumgarner and Ehire Adrianza).
Duffy made up one of four righties penciled in the lineup to face the dominant lefty, who’s holding left-handed hitters to a .135 average. In order to come back, the Giants needed a lefty to step up and set the table.
In the sixth, Joe Panik cracked a little ground ball into the right field gap, good enough for Posey, who split the outfield for a loud, game-tying RBI double.
Casilla (L, 1-2, 2.96 ERA) left a cutter over the plate for Justin Turner in the ninth that Turner pummeled for the dagger. Bochy’s sticking to him, with a little hesitation:
“Think overall it’s been pretty good, but I will admit we need to get a little better there in the ballgame.”
The match-up didn’t call for this type of result: right-handed hitters like Turner are only hitting .170 off him this year.
Kershaw (W, 9-1, 1.52 ERA) became the first 10-game winner this season, striking out a 13 Giants on his way, one short of tying his season-high.