SAN DIEGO -- After crawling out from under the hex that Alexei Ramirez had placed on him, Johnny Cueto was free to cast his own spell upon the San Diego Padres.
Cueto spun nine innings of magic Wednesday night, relying on his dazzling assortment of deliveries and Hunter Pence's fourth-inning home run to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory that extended their winning streak to seven games.
Combined with Madison Bumgarner's tireless triumph in Tuesday's series opener, Cueto sealed the Giants' first set of back-to-back complete games since Aug. 19-20, 2002, when Livan Hernandez beat the Marlins and Jason Schmidt overpowered the Mets.
"It's a friendly competition," said Cueto (6-1). "It's good to see that [Bumgarner] threw his complete game. I'm happy that I did the same thing."
Cueto weathered his lone significant lapse in the second inning, when Brett Wallace drilled a leadoff double and scored on Ramirez's two-out single. That hit hiked Ramirez's lifetime batting average against Cueto to .667 (10-for-15).
And then, silence. Cueto retired 15 of the next 16 batters -- including Ramirez on a harmless fly ball leading off the fifth inning -- until he issued his first walk of the evening with two outs in the seventh. Up came Ramirez, of course. Cueto retired him on another innocuous fly, affirming that not even one of his most formidable foes would deter him.
Asked how he subdued Ramirez, Cueto grinned as he listened to interpreter Erwin Higueros recite his answer: "I can't tell you exactly what I did. It's my secret. I finally figured him out after that hit."
Cueto's efforts to keep the bullpen idle provided the remaining drama. The ninth inning began uneventfully, which meant that Cueto maintained total control as he struck out Matt Kemp and Wallace. A pitching change appeared imminent when Melvin Upton Jr. walked on a 3-2 pitch. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy remained in the dugout, convinced Cueto could prevail. That didn't take long, as Derek Norris lifted a first-pitch foul popup to catcher Buster Posey.
Cueto never thought he would be removed.
"I know he has faith in me," he said, referring to Bochy.
Bochy confirmed this.
"Your great starters are great closers," Bochy said. "He knows how to finish a game."
Like everybody else in the Giants' clubhouse, Pence reveled in the team's starting pitching. The members of the rotation have posted a 1.72 ERA in San Francisco's last 12 games. Pence credited the starters for the winning streak that has hoisted the Giants atop the National League West standings, saying, "They're probably the catalyst to that."
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.