Giants fend off Padres' ninth-inning push

Giants fend off Padres' ninth-inning push

Giants fend off Padres' ninth-inning push
SAN DIEGO -- The Giants earned plenty of points for creativity with their 8-7 decision Saturday night over the San Diego Padres.

Joaquin Arias left his usual perch on the bench to drive in three runs. Having struggled most of the season with their situational hitting, the Giants complemented Arias with three sacrifice flies.

"We needed every one of them," manager Bruce Bochy said.

That's because the 8-5 lead the Giants took into the Padres' half of the ninth inning almost wasn't enough. San Diego rallied with two outs and nobody on base against left-hander Jeremy Affeldt before Clay Hensley, San Francisco's sixth reliever -- that's the creative part -- struck out pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay to end matters.

Thus the Giants retained their half-game lead over second-place Los Angeles in the National League West. But though it's mid-August and the traditional rivals are about to clash in a three-game series beginning Monday at Chavez Ravine, third baseman Pablo Sandoval said that it's premature to come down with true pennant fever.

"It's early," Sandoval said. "We've got a lot of baseball coming up."

Which means that plenty of time remains for the Giants to define themselves.

For instance, maybe their offense isn't as flimsy as it often seems inside AT&T Park.

San Francisco owns a Major League-high 5.24 per-game scoring average on the road. Yet at home, the Giants average 3.44 runs per game, third-lowest in the bigs. With multiple combinations of hitters producing simultaneously each day -- in this game, Sandoval, Arias, Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence collected two or more hits apiece -- common sense would dictate that the Giants' productivity ultimately will rise at AT&T Park, no matter how pitcher-friendly it is.

Little was pitcher-friendly about this game. The Giants overcame a 4-1 deficit by amassing four runs in the fifth inning, then broke a 5-5 tie with a pair of runs in the seventh. The ninth-inning run they generated on consecutive doubles by Posey and Pence seemed superfluous at the time yet proved essential.

Arias contributed in each of the first three innings in which the Giants scored. He homered in the second before lining RBI singles in the fifth and seventh. With left-hander Eric Stults starting for San Diego, Bochy went with the right-handed-batting Arias at shortstop instead of left-handed-swinging Brandon Crawford, whose nine-game hitting streak ended with an unsuccessful ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance. Arias entered the game hitting .317 off left-handers and .215 against righties -- though his final hit came off Padres right-hander Brad Brach.

San Francisco left-hander Barry Zito departed after four innings, having yielded Chase Headley's three-run, third-inning homer that gave San Diego its early edge. But Zito's departure intersected with the Giants' ascent. He was replaced by pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot, whose single christened the Giants' fifth-inning rally.

Posey (3-for-4) continued to look more and more like a leading Most Valuable Player candidate. He hiked his post-All-Star-break batting average to .439 with 10 doubles, nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 32 games. This performance featured a pair of exquisite opposite-field doubles and one of the sacrifice flies.

"The guys were determined," Zito said. "It was great. They picked me up huge today."

Ultimately, it wasn't just the hitters who excelled for the Giants. Newcomer Jose Mijares retired the only two batters he faced to earn his first victory with San Francisco. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo combined for 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief before the adventurous ninth.

Pinch-hitter Yonder Alonso coaxed a walk from Affeldt to prolong matters. He took second base on defensive indifference and scored on Alexi Amarista's single. Amarista also advanced via indifference and came home when Chris Denorfia singled on an 0-2 pitch.

"They really just kind of put it where we weren't," Affeldt said.

Nevertheless, out went Affeldt and in came Hensley, who fanned Kotsay on four pitches. Kotsay's lifetime performance against Hensley dipped to 0-for-8 with three strikeouts. But Hensley, who recorded his third save, felt anything but overconfident as he faced Kotsay.

"Anybody at any given time can get a hit," Hensley said. "These guys are paid a lot of money to hit the ball. I think if you start thinking, 'I have better numbers than him,' it's probably not a good game plan. You want to treat it like the guy's going to get a home run off you or a hit, so you have to attack him aggressively."

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.