LOS ANGELES -- The Giants took the field at Dodger Stadium on Monday night without their All-Star shortstop, who joined two other veteran members of the opening day infield on the IL. Their ace returned, but he hadn't pitched in over a week and didn't look like himself after the unexpected layoff.
None of that mattered, not when this turned into a Battle of the Bullpens.
The Giants group is lesser known, but it was better, and it's the reason the Giants won 7-2 to open a huge four-game series, extending their NL West lead back to two games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Five Giants relievers combined to throw six one-hit innings in relief of Kevin Gausman, who had his shortest start of the year.
It was understandable that Gausman struggled after the week he has had. He traveled to the All-Star Game in Denver and threw a bullpen session Tuesday to prepare for his Friday start in St. Louis, but when his wife was hospitalized he ended up flying back home to Louisiana. The Giants penciled him in for Monday's start and were relieved when Gausman got good news back home and was able to return for the big game.
Gausman has carried the pitching staff every fifth day for a season and a half now, but as manager Gabe Kapler pulled him and watched the final six innings, he felt the situation was reversed.
"I think there's at least a component or element of these guys wanting to step up for Gaus, feeling he's done so much for the team and organization over the past year and understanding that he's been helping his family out," Kapler said. "This is a perfect time for guys to step up and serve him. I think there's no doubt that there was some of that tonight."
The bullpen's effort was necessary because the Dodgers once again ground Gausman down on every pitch. He threw 58 of them in the first two innings, giving up a couple of runs on solo homers but stranding five runners. He had a 1-2-3 third, but needed 22 pitches to get through the three hitters, and he was pulled after that.
Zack Littell was the first man up, recording five outs and getting through the most dangerous part of the lineup in the fifth. He pitched around Max Muncy, who homered in the first, and then got a grounder from Justin Turner. Littell's final pitch was a 95 mph heater that Will Smith fouled into Buster Posey's glove.
"Those became high-leverage innings immediately," Kapler said. "You're dealing with a one-run game and we have to treat those innings like it's the sixth, seventh or eighth and try to maintain the lead."
Jarlin Garcia took over from there, recording four outs over two innings without seeming to even break a sweat. The lefty had a brutal April and went on the IL to let his groin heal, but since coming back in early May he has a 1.78 ERA.
"His stuff has been great, and I think he's just attacked with his fastball but also all of his pitches," Kapler said. "He's throwing a lot of strikes. He looks fearless out there. I think that stands out to me."
Garcia's second inning of work shepherded a 3-2 lead into the seventh, and the Giants broke it open from there. Jason Vosler hit a sac fly in a left-on-left matchup and Thairo Estrada, starting for the injured Brandon Crawford, added a two-run double.
The big cushion allowed the Giants to breathe a little easier, but the bullpen didn't let up. Dominic Leone struck out one in a perfect seventh and Jay Jackson, the latest to join the group, matched that in the eighth. Jake McGee got some work in against his old teammates and worked around a single in the ninth to close it down.
All told, the five relievers struck out six, walked one and allowed one hit. They guaranteed a win on what looked like it had the potential to be a brutal night as Gausman departed. Gausman said he felt off mechanically and "just couldn't make the adjustment." He still got to take part in a victory celebration, though.
"They really picked me up right there," Gausman said. "To come in and shut down that lineup, especially the way they were swinging it against me, to come in and pound the strike zone, that was the biggest thing. To do that against that lineup was really impressive, and that was the reason why we won the game."