Giants October Quest: Dodgers walk off, keep pace

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Giants October Quest: Dodgers walk off, keep pace

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LOS ANGELES -- Luis Cruz and the Los Angeles Dodgers are showing the kind of spunk and tenacity that hasn't been seen around Chavez Ravine for quite a while, and now the playoffs aren't such a far-fetched possibility after all. Far from it.Cruz came up with his second clutch hit in two nights, a tying two-out RBI double in the ninth inning, and pinch-hitter Juan Rivera followed with a run-scoring single to lift the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.The Dodgers' third victory in 10 games tied them with the Cardinals for the second wild card spot with 16 remaining for both clubs. The Cardinals lost despite a homer and three RBIs by Allen Craig."This was pretty big. It was definitely one of our most exciting games of the season so far," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "Cruz has definitely been amazing for us. He's been hitting the ball, getting those big hits for us and doing what it takes to win. That was an all-around good team win for us."After this four-game series concludes on Sunday, the Cards will play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs - who are a combined 83 games under .500 and 69 1-2 games out of first place in the NL Central. The defending World Series champions put themselves into this precarious position by losing 13 of their last 28 games."We invest ourselves a lot in every game, but obviously this one stings more than others," Craig said. "It's a tough loss, but putting your head down and being overly concerned about it isn't going to get us anywhere. So we've just got to play better and stay positive. We're still in a good spot."Jason Motte (4-5) came in trying to protect a 3-2 lead for Jaime Garcia and retired his first two batters. But Andre Ethier kept the Dodgers alive with a single and pinch-runner Dee Gordon stole second before Cruz drove him in with a drive that center fielder Jon Jay barely missed on a diving attempt in front of the warning track.Rivera batted for A.J. Ellis and lined a single off the tip of second baseman Daniel Descalso's glove, enabling pinch-runner Elian Herrera to score the winning run. Descalso started the game at shortstop and committed two errors, one of which led to an unearned run in the first inning.On Friday night, Cruz helped beat the Cardinals 8-5 with a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth against Mujica."It's unbelievable. It's like a dream for me," Cruz said. "I'm just trying to go out there and give a hundred percent and play hard every time. I'm having the chance to come through in big situations. I'm not going to say I'm lucky, but I've been really concentrating and having good at-bats."Ronald Belisario (6-1) pitched 1 1-3 innings for the victory. Kemp helped make it possible in the top of the ninth. He crashed into the fence trying to catch Yadier Molina's drive over his head, but recovered in time and kept him from stretching his hit into a triple with a brilliant somersaulting throw to Cruz."When Molina hit the ball, I didn't know hard he hit it, but it just kept carrying," Kemp said. "I thought I might have had a play at the wall and banged into it, but I wanted to get the ball, pick it up and try to make a good throw. It turned out to be a pretty good one. That was a big out."Kemp, whose swing hasn't been the same since he crashed into the fence at Coors Field on consecutive days (Aug. 27-28), was 0 for 4 and struck out three times in a game for the fifth time this season. He is 5 for 48 with a homer and two RBIs in his last 12 games since the Dodgers left Denver, but he is still playing with the same reckless abandon as before he got hurt."For me, it's all about winning," he said. "I mean, you try not to do stupid things like crashing into fences. But when I'm out there, man, I'm just trying to make a play and make things happen. I crashed into the wall, but it didn't faze me."Dodgers starter Joe Blanton gave up three runs and four hits in 5 2-3 innings and struck out six.A disputed call on a bang-bang play at first base enabled St. Louis to snap a 2-all tie in the sixth. Garcia drew a leadoff walk, ending a string of 13 consecutive batters retired by Blanton, and Jay followed with a single. One out later, Matt Holliday hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Hanley Ramirez and just beat the relay to first from second baseman Mark Ellis.Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went out to argue with umpire Dana DeMuth, and shortly after he returned to the dugout, Craig lined a single to left on an 0-2 pitch to drive in Garcia and chase Blanton.Blanton, who has surrendered an NL-worst 29 home runs, gave up Craig's 21st of the season in the first inning after a two-out single by Matt Holliday."Blanton did a really good job of throwing all of his pitches for strikes," Craig said. "He got his fastball on the inside corner and had good command. He didn't make too many mistakes."The Dodgers got one of the runs back in the bottom half when Shane Victorino reached on a throwing error by Descalso, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Adrian Gonzalez. Mark Ellis tied it in the third with a leadoff homer into the lower seats in the left field corner on a full count.Before the game, the Dodgers announced that reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw would not make his scheduled start in Sunday's series finale because of inflammation in his right hip.NOTES: Cardinals RF Carlos Beltran did not start because of tightness in his lower back. ... Blanton has a career record of 6-13 with nine no-decisions when allowing a home run in the first inning. ... The gametime temperature was 95 degrees, one more than Friday night. ... Craig, batting an NL-best .393 with runners in scoring position, missed the first month of the season on the disabled list while recovering from a fractured right knee cap and sat out another 14 games in May with a left hamstring strain.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."