HOUSTON Time to nominate Javier Lopez for teammate of theyear.
As his bullpen mates conspired to give George Kontos thecustomary beer shower to celebrate his first major league win Wednesday night,Lopez remembered that the rookie tucked his cell phone into his sweatshirtpocket. So he advised him to take it off.
I took his advice, said Kontos, just before he was loadedinto a laundry cart and wheeled into the shower for the ol' Pilsner parade.
The Giants hope to spray many more sticky beverages over thecoming weeks, and if they manage to win the NL West, there will be no shortageof contributors that got them there. On Wednesday, it was Kontos and the fiverelievers who followed him as the Giants bullpen logged 6 23 innings in a 6-4victory over the Houston Astros.
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The defense flashed two tremendous plays behind Lopez in theninth -- shortstop Brandon Crawfords deft pickup for a force out followed byfirst baseman Brandon Belts perfect snag of a short hop to start a double play-- and then manager Bruce Bochycould exhale.
Not just because the Giants tore another page off thecalendar while retaining their 3 game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West.Also because Bochy only had Sergio Romo left in the bullpen.
Extra innings wouldve been extra painful.
I was in a bind, no question, Bochy said. It wouldvetaken Timmy or Vogelsong. You hope you dont get to that point. You fire yourbullets to keep the lead and it can catch up with you. Thats why that doubleplay is one of the biggest double plays weve had this year, because I didnthave much backup for Javy.
Kontos fired the first of those bullets. Entering the game, the 27-year-old had allowed 10 of his 19 inherited runners to score, later explaining that he put morepressure on himself when he knew the runners belonged to his teammates.
But he got ready in the span of four or five warmup pitchesand quickly established his fastball and slider to get a fly ball and astrikeout, stranding both of Barry Zitos runners in the third inning. Kontos retired the next six batters after that, too.
The phone rang and with (Guillermo) Mota back, I assumed itwould be him knowing that was his role, Kontos said. I threw just four orfive pitches and I was in the game and I just had to make sure to bear down andkeep Zitos runners from scoring.
He said he tried to tunnel on Buster Poseys glove, imaginethe runners were his own and just throw my regular stuff, which I feel ispretty good to begin with.
He knew it would be a good night when he started freezingAstros batters with his fastball when they were expecting his slider. But hedidnt realize that he was in line for the decision until the ninth, when hedawned on him that the Astros didnt retake the lead at any point.
Its awesome everything I thought it would be, said Kontos, who was appearing in his 39th major league game. I always thought my first win in the big leagues would come as astarter, but it feels just as good coming as a reliever.
So many victories in relief come by quirk or arrive on thewings of a vulture. This one didnt.
Lopez saved the game ball from the last out for Kontos andclubhouse man Mike Murphy shook his hand while presenting him with the lineupcard.
Theres more in store for Kontos beginning on Friday, whenthe Chicagoland native and Northwestern University alum will play for the firsttime at Wrigley Field, not far from where his grandfather once owned a hot dogstand. He already heard from high school buddies who bought tickets in thefirst row behind the visiting bullpen. Hes already worried that theyll jabbertoo much during the game and annoy bullpen coach Mark Gardner.
He estimated his cheering section would be in the hundreds.
For Wednesday night, at least, Kontos heard applause from insidehis own clubhouse. And thanks to Lopez, he had a dry, functional phone toreturn all those congratulatory texts and messages.