SAN DIEGO — Mark Melancon was disappointed after blowing a save on Opening Day, but the veteran closer took it in stride. What happened next was a bit harder to comprehend.
Melancon, given $62 million in the offseason to fix the ninth, didn’t throw another pitch for a week. As the Giants dealt with a slumping left field, imploding bullpen, and inconsistent starting staff, they never managed to get another lead into Melancon’s hands. He sat and watched through a four-game losing streak.
“It was tough because we were losing,” he said of his break. “You just don’t want to be losing. Today was about getting that win at all costs. I think we can build off today.”
Melancon was going to get back on the mound Sunday one way or another, whether it was as the closer or just to get his work in. After some tense moments, the Giants handed him a 5-3 lead. He picked up his first save in orange and black, getting dangerous Wil Myers to bounce into a game-ending double play with the tying run on base.
It was a day of firsts for a team that had just one win through seven days. Chris Marrero opened the scoring with his first hit as a Giant, which doubled as the first hit for a Giants left fielder. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey padded the lead with back-to-back homers in the third, the first of 2017 for each player.
The most important contribution, however, was nothing new. Last season, the Giants learned that Johnny Cueto always keeps something in the tank. When Cueto gave up two runs of a five-run lead in the sixth and loaded the bases, manager Bruce Bochy thought he was done.
“I told him to give me one more,” Cueto said.
Cueto was at 95 pitches and due up first in the top of the seventh, but Bochy sent him back out to the plate. It was a nod of respect to his best right-handed pitcher. It was also an acknowledgement of concern about the bullpen from a manager who has watched his team blow eight leads already.
“He’s your guy,” Bochy said. “Of course, he walked the first guy to make me question it, but he settled down.”
Cueto got through the seventh, and in the top of the eighth Bochy delivered another vote of confidence. He let Marrero face a right-handed reliever with two on and one out, foregoing matchup plays even with Joe Panik and Jarrett Parker on the bench.
“I really believe in this guy,” Bochy said of Marrero. “He’s a good hitter. He had a big spring. He’s got lift in his swing and he hit the ball deep enough. It just got up there and the wind knocked it back down.”
Marrero’s high fly ended up drifting back into shallow left, not deep enough for Posey to score. Aaron Hill flied out to end the inning and Derek Law immediately sent Bochy’s heart back into his throat as the bottom of the eighth started. Yangervis Solarte banged a leadoff homer and Ryan Schimpf followed with a walk, but Law got out of the inning.
Melancon came on for the ninth and put two on with one out. Posey walked out to the mound for a meeting, and Myers was buzzed on the next pitch. He hit a cutter the other way and Hill and Brandon Crawford teamed up for the final two outs. The rough opening week ended without a sweep, but with the realization that the Giants will need to be better against the NL West.
The division is supposed to come down to the Giants and Dodgers again, with the Rockies a popular dark horse pick. But the first week showed that Arizona remains talented enough to cause trouble, and while the rebuilding Padres have no hope of competing for a playoff spot, they can play care-free spoiler for 162 games.
“What I take away from this trip is these two teams we played are full of good young athletes,” Bochy said. “They’re fast. Both of them are very athletic, with speed, and they’ve got some good arms. This team doesn’t have the experience of Arizona, but they have athleticism.”
The Diamondbacks will bring a 6-1 record into AT&T Park on Monday. The homestand finishes with a Rockies club that’s 5-2 through a week. You cannot win a division in April, but you can certainly dig yourself a big hole, so the Giants were thrilled to board their private Delta jet with a second win and a couple of souvenir baseballs tucked into travel duffels.
“It’s funny,” Posey said. “No matter how long you play, it’s always nice to get the first hit, the first save, and to get a win when you haven’t in a while.”