Perez: 'I had a lot of butterflies'
With Sunday's win the Giants improved to 33-29, and are 1.5 games behind Arizona in the NL West. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
PHOENIX – The names were different, but the paradigm was so familiar for the Giants on Sunday at Chase Field.
Chad Gaudin was making his second start in three years. Juan Perez was making his first start anywhere in the big leagues, ever.
But it always comes down to pitching and defense for the Giants, no matter who drives the delivery truck. Gaudin swerved expertly through six innings to cement his place in the rotation and Perez made an impact in more ways than one, surviving a crash with the center field wall while making a tremendous catch in the first inning.
The Giants minimized scoring chances but received home runs from Marco Scutaro and Brandon Belt while taking a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Giants won two of three over the NL West leaders, trimming the Diamondbacks’ lead to 1 ½ games. It was the Giants’ first road series win since April 29 to May 1, when they swept three here at Chase Field.
In fact, the Giants have won nine of their last 11 games here in downtown Phoenix, dating to last season.
The Giants also improved to 20-11 against NL West clubs; they are 13-18 against everyone else, including 4-10 on the road outside the division – something they’ll have to address as they continue this road trip to play winning clubs in Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
Starting pitching report
Gaudin (2-1) secured his place in the rotation while once again holding an opponent to two runs in six innings – the same line he posted last Sunday at St. Louis, when he made his first big league start since 2009 with the Yankees.
Gaudin’s breaking ball was impressive and his fastball still crackled at 93 mph when he struck out Didi Gregorius in the fifth.
He labored in a long, 30-pitch fourth inning but managed to get through it while preserving the lead. A.J. Pollock’s bloop single made it 4-1 and Arizona scored another on a controversial balk call, but Gaudin intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Cliff Pennington and struck out pitcher Tyler Skaggs to strand the bases loaded.
Gaudin was able to catch his breath and be efficient enough to get through the sixth inning with 84 pitches – five more than he made in his previous start.
All those catches in the outfield saved him plenty of bullets; in addition to Perez’s wall-crashing catch on Paul Goldschmidt to end the first inning, right fielder Hunter Pence sprinted to the wall to take another extra-base hit away from Goldschmidt in the fifth. And Perez ran straight back to catch Pollock’s drive with a runner in scoring position in the sixth.
Gaudin was active on the bases, too – a place he’s seldom ventured since he’s 1 for 47 in his major league career as a hitter. But he reached on an error in the sixth inning, and ended up centered in a perfect storm of bad luck when Andres Torres hit a drive to right field that would’ve been a tough read for any runner. Plus Gerardo Parra, who has one of the game’s best outfield arms, was playing right field. Gaudin hesitated, Parra fielded the ball on one hop and came up throwing to record a rare 9-6 fielder’s choice.
Jose Mijares, Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo combined to pitch three scoreless innings.
It wasn’t a save situation for Romo, but the Giants’ closer hadn’t appeared in the series and the club had a day off looming. He got a strikeout and a foul pop, extending his streak to 20 2/3 scoreless innings over 28 appearances against Arizona dating to Sept. 6, 2010.
At the plate
It worked this way so well for so long: When they Giants scored a handful of runs, they won.
Slowly, after two months of big innings and TNT starts, the blueprint is starting to work again. The Giants are now 17-3 in their last 20 games when they score at least four runs.
They nearly had much more in the first inning when the first five batters all reached against Skaggs (1-1) without recording an out. Torres, Scutaro and Buster Posey started the game with consecutive singles, Pence walked to load ‘em up again, then No. 5 hitter Joaquin Arias hit an RBI single to make it 2-0.
The Giants minimized the chance, as Brandon Belt fouled off a first-pitch fastball down the middle before lining out to second base. Perez’s first big league at-bat ended with a foul pop that ended up in second baseman Cliff Pennington’s peach basket, and Brandon Crawford struck out to leave the bases loaded.
The Giants tacked on a run in the third when Pence doubled, took third on Belt’s checkswing tapper, then scored on Perez’s ground ball to third base. Martin Prado’s throw appeared to be in time but Goldschmidt couldn’t pick the ball in the dirt and the official scorer saw fit to award Perez his first major league hit. Perez got his first RBI out of the way, too.
Scutaro’s second homer of the season clanked off the left field pole in the fourth. An inning later, Belt nearly put one in the swimming pool while hitting his seventh homer.
Scutaro reached base four times as the Giants collected 27 hits over the final two games of this series.
Perez is a gifted outfielder but hadn’t played an inning there for Triple-A Fresno since May 18, as he’s been finding regular at-bats in the Grizzlies infield.
He looked perfectly comfortable three batters into his major league career. And he definitely found a novel way to shake out the butterflies.
Perez got a terrific jump and showed off great speed, mixed with some fearlessness, as he made a leaping catch in front of the wall. He put his throwing hand over his glove as he crashed into the wall, keeping the ball from squirting out. After a moment on the track, likely to get air back into his lungs, he popped up and jogged back to a welcoming dugout.
Perez and Pence wrapped up a solid defensive weekend for the Giants outfield – an area of the club that had underwhelmed over the first two months of the season.
The Diamondbacks announced 38,222 paid, not including 350 dogs as part of Bark in the Park Day.
The Giants are off Monday and then continue their road trip with a three-game series at Pittsburgh that begins on Tuesday. Tim Lincecum (4-5, 4.75 ERA) takes the mound against Gerrit Cole, the 2011 first overall pick who will make his big league debut. (Cole is also the boyfriend of Brandon Crawford’s sister, Amy.)