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WASHINGTON – Last year, on a cool September night at AT&T Park that left a sellout crowd yearning, Yusmeiro Petit came within one out of throwing a perfect game.
Petit looked to the heavens anyway, grateful to have completed a major league game for the first time. His heart did not ache.
Almost a year later, Petit has his perfect game, in a manner of speaking. With 4 1/3 shutout innings in relief Saturday at Nationals Park, Petit extended a streak to 38 consecutive batters retired over his last seven appearances.
That’s like throwing a perfect game -- plus retiring the next 11 batters, too.
Suddenly, Petit is on the cusp of the major league record of 41 consecutive batters retired by a reliever, set by the White Sox’s Bobby Jenks in 2007. Petit is also just seven away from matching the major league record by any pitcher, set by the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle when he followed up a perfect game with 5 1/3 spotless innings in his next start.
The Giants’ Jim Barr also retired 41 batters over a two-start span in 1972.
“Petit, what a job he did,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had to use his long man after Tim Lincecum got knocked out in the third inning of a 6-2 loss. “He locates, he commands the ball and he has four pitches to work with.”
Petit retired all 13 hitters he faced, striking out five. He was working on just one day of rest after tossing two scoreless innings Thursday at Wrigley Field, when he took over for Ryan Vogelsong in the resumption of a suspended game. Petit struck out the first five Cubs batters he faced, then fielded a comebacker.
His streak began with a lack of ceremony July 22 at Philadelphia, when he allowed five runs in five innings while making a spot start for Matt Cain. Marlon Byrd hit a two-out double and Petit’s night ended when Grady Sizemore grounded back to the mound.
Petit, who moved back to the bullpen when the Giants acquired Jake Peavy, pitched again four days later and tossed two innings against the Dodgers, striking out three. Then came two innings against the Pirates. He tossed an inning at Milwaukee, another at Kansas City and then the suspended game at Wrigley.
Oddly, or perhaps not oddly given his role as a long man, the Giants are 0-6 in Petit’s six relief appearances.
Petit’s line, beginning with the Sizemore ground out: 12 2/3 innings, zero hits, zero walks and 16 strikeouts.
Petit quietly sat at his locker after Saturday’s game. He was available for comment, in theory. But in baseball, superstition is a powerful force. You just don’t bother a pitcher when he’s working on a perfect game.