SAN FRANCISCO — For 147 games, Bruce Bochy had two choices. Take the ball from his starter on the mound or shake his hand as he reached the top step of the dugout. But in the eighth inning Friday night, Bochy could do neither.
Chris Stratton was at 105 pitches and shutting out the first-place Rockies, and Bochy had Mark Melancon and Tony Watson loose, with Will Smith starting to stretch. But he also had just watched Stratton strike out two in a clean eighth, so he went to a third move. As Stratton approached the dugout, Bochy turned his back to his starter and had a brief conversation with pitching coach Curt Young and consultant Madison Bumgarner.
Stratton was going back out for the ninth, Bochy decided. But then he turned and looked at the scene behind him.
“My worry was that I saw all the guys high-fiving him after the eighth,” Bochy said, smiling. “I didn’t want him to think he was done. I didn’t think he was done. His stuff was still there.”
You could forgive the Giants for prematurely celebrating Stratton. They hadn’t celebrated, period, since August 31. Stratton did think that his night might be done, but he didn’t shut it down. He went out for the ninth, got three more quick outs, and put an end to the longest losing streak since 1951. The Giants won 2-0, getting their first win of September, and Stratton became the first Giants starter in two years to get double-digit wins.
Bochy thought it would take a night like this. He figured he would either need an offensive explosion from somebody or a shutout.
“We’re challenged right now with getting runs on the board,” he admitted. “The shutout part was more likely to happen.”
Not necessarily. Not in today’s game. The Giants did not even have a complete game entering the night, but they were hardly alone. Five other National League teams have not had a starter go the distance, and the Pirates lead the league with three whole complete games. Bumgarner had four by himself just two years ago, when the Giants had 10 complete games from their starters.
This season, they have only had two starters even get through eight. Before Stratton’s performance Friday, he had one eight-inning start and Bumgarner had three. The game has changed, and you’re considered foolish if you let your starter go through a lineup three full times, or four.
Bochy doesn’t believe in all that, but he hasn’t really had the horses the last couple of years. Bumgarner has been hurt and playing catchup. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have been hurt. Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez are rookies, and Derek Holland has been unable to cross that seven-inning hurdle.
But on this night, Stratton sailed. It wasn’t even a difficult decision to send him out for the ninth. Bochy watched him command all four quadrants of the zone with his fastball and keep a good lineup down. He let him go.
The Giants got two early runs on a seeing-eye single from Austin Slater and good defense allowed Stratton to stay out of trouble. Gregor Blanco had the biggest play, a running catch to rob Nolan Arenado of an RBI double in the sixth. That almost certainly would have changed Stratton’s fate. Instead, Blanco was one of many Giants waiting for a hug at the end of nine innings.
“He pitched an unbelievable game,” Blanco said. “It was a huge win for us. You could see how excited everybody was.”