Yusmeiro Petit's Perfect Game-bid broken up with two outs in ninth
Yusmeiro Petit pitched 9 2/3 innings without allowing a baserunner before surrendering a hit. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Yusmeiro Petit threw 48 pitches through five innings and didn't go to a three-ball count until the eighth inning. (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO – Greatness tends to come from where we expect it.
The strongest. The fastest. The most feared, the most respected and the most renowned.
Yusmeiro Petit is none of those things. But Friday night, he was almost perfect.
The balding, right-handed journeyman from Venezuela came within one tantalizing, agonizing strike of throwing the 24th perfect game in major league history.
Eric Chavez, that old A’s third baseman, came off the bench and lined a 3-2 single that short-hopped in front of right fielder Hunter Pence’s desperate dive.
Petit held his hands to his head and Pence’s eyes grew wide, as if he just dropped a newborn. But two pitches later, A.J. Pollock grounded out to end the Giants’ 3-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Petit thrust both arms skyward anyway.
It was a one-hit shutout, the first of his career. And when you are 29 years old, you had a 4.52 ERA at Triple-A Fresno and a stack of releases from passing through five major league organizations, that pedestal is glorious enough.
Many Giants fans probably had never heard of him when he took the mound in an also-ran game at AT&T Park. But Petit was masterful in chalking up 26 of those 27 outs. He mixed four pitches for strikes, benefited from two tremendous defensive plays and maintained a hitman’s cool even as he was an out away in the ninth.
Left fielder Juan Perez, inserted as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, made a diving catch on his belly to take a hit away from Arizona pitcher Patrick Corbin. And shortstop Joaquin Arias matched a backhand stop with a spinning throw to record an out on Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning.
Petit needed one more rescue, and there’s a reason a perfect game has only been thrown 23 times in major league history.
He pounded strikes, his first and only three-ball count came to Miguel Montero with two outs in the eighth.
Matt Cain pitched the only one in 131 years of Giants baseball, on June 13 of last season.
Already this season, the Giants received a no-hitter from Tim Lincecum on July 13 at San Diego. And they were no-hit in Cincinnati by Homer Bailey on July 3. They were nearly part of a third no-hitter in baseball this season.
Starting pitching report
Petit, 29, was making his third start of the season and his fourth as a Giant. He started just one game last year as the club rested its starters for the postseason; that was his first time on a major league mound in three years.
His previous two turns were good ones; he faced this same Arizona lineup just five days earlier at Chase Field and held them to two runs on seven hits while striking out 10.
But there was no clue at what was coming.
Petit does not throw hard but he’s usually around the plate, and the Diamondbacks just couldn’t find the barrel even though they knew he would come right after them.
He had thrown just 48 pitches through five innings and kept working efficiently until the end.
He didn’t even go to a three-ball count until two outs in the eighth, when Miguel Montero worked a 1-2 count full. Petit might have missed outside with a fastball but Montero fouled it off, then the next fastball was dribbled to first baseman Brandon Belt as the crowd roared.
Petit had the great defensive play and he had the resolve. It was looking fated as he fanned Chris Owings on a slider to start the ninth and fell behind 2-0 before getting Gerardo Parra to ground out to second base.
Then Chavez, hitting for Corbin, took two balls, looked at a pair of strikes and refused to chase a curveball. The next pitch would be a fastball, everyone knew. It was 89 mph, and Chavez served it where it was just out of Pence’s reach.
But Petit came back to retire the next hitter and deliver the Giants – believe it or not – just their second complete game this season. Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter July 13 at San Diego was the other one.
Nobody unbuttoned a jacket.
At the plate
Corbin is going to appear on some Cy Young ballots for the strong season he’s had. But the Giants were able to get just enough good swings against him.
Owings, the shortstop, threw wide on a potential double play to score a run in the second inning. Pence doubled and scored on Hector Sanchez’s two-out hit in the fourth. And Pence mashed his 19th homer, a solo shot, in the eighth.
He’s one homer away from being the Giants’ first 20-homer, 20-steal guy since Barry Bonds in 1998.
Perfect game bids are a practiced art for Bruce Bochy. You might remember in 2010, when Matt Cain was perfect through five, the Giants’ manager wasted no time lifting second baseman Ryan Theriot for Emmanuel Burriss. Then in the ninth he moved Joaquin Arias from short to third, and it was Arias who gloved and threw off his back foot for a difficult final out.
Bochy was just as proactive this time. He took out Brett Pill, a first baseman playing left field, to start the sixth. It was perfectly timed, as Perez, a defensive dynamo who has a slew of highlights in scant action this season, got a terrific jump and made his sliding catch of Corbin’s shallow line drive look easy.
It wasn’t the only play to circle on your scorebook. Just three batters into the game, Arias, who started at shortstop, went to his backhand to take a hit away from Paul Goldschmidt. Arias had to whirl quickly as he threw; he got enough on it to nip Goldschmidt by a step.
Nobody knew at the time just how important that play almost would be.
The Giants announced 41,180 paid. It was the loudest a Giants crowd has been in a long, long time. It might take an appearance from Brian Wilson in a Dodgers uniform to raise the decibel level any louder.
The Giants and Diamondbacks continue their four-game series Saturday at AT&T Park. Matt Cain (8-8, 4.43 ERA) returns to the rotation after missing two weeks with a right forearm contusion he sustained while getting hit by a line drive. (His DL stint was his first after 261 big league starts.) Cain will oppose right-hander Brandon McCarthy (3-9, 4.94 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. PDT.