SAN FRANCISCO – The first thing you should know is that it involved a sandwich, and no, it did not involve Jeremy Affeldt.
Matt Cain was fixing himself a little pre-BP snack when he cut the tip of his right index finger. He could swing a bat but when he tried to throw, the seams kept opening up the wound.
“There would’ve been blood all over the ball,” Cain said.
And besides, the Giants had a well rested tourniquet. So Yusmeiro Petit took Cain’s assignment with barely an hour’s notice, he held the Padres to three hits in six shutout innings and a situation that usually results in a garage fire – tapping an emergency starter – turned out to be the club’s smoothest victory of the season.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Petit fills in for Cain, Giants blank Padres]
How smooth? It was over in two hours, 28 minutes. Petit, Jean Machi and Santiago Casilla combined to throw just 105 pitches. The Padres advanced just one runner into scoring position, and that was long reliever Donn Roach after he doubled for his first major league hit.
A game like this can knock a club sideways for a week. Instead, the Giants will have four fully rested relievers behind Tim Hudson, a pitcher who has worked at least seven innings in each of his first five starts, as they shoot for a series victory and to close out April with a 17-11 record.
And they’re secure in the knowledge that Cain, in his own words, is “really confident” he’ll be fine to take the ball for his next start. If not, Petit will be ready.
“What a great effort,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Petit, who was operating on seven days of rest after throwing four solid innings at Coors Field. “That’s such a big lift. He saved us in Colorado and tonight he saved us. He had good command of his fastball and all his pitches. We saw him do that last year, pitch like that, and it’s fun to watch.”
It’s remarkable how ready Petit was for this assignment. He was rested, sure, but he doesn’t have the luxury of throwing a ‘pen in between assignments. Instead he used his plain, flat-ground catch sessions to simulate throwing off a mound.
He received word he would be starting barely an hour before the first pitch. Catcher Hector Sanchez didn’t find out for another 20 minutes after that, when he happened to glance at the lineup board in the clubhouse and notice Cain’s name was no longer there.
“I go to Cain and said, `What happened, man?’” Sanchez said. “Then I go to Petit and said, `Hey my friend, what signs are we going to use with a runner on second (base)?’ That’s all we talked about before the game.”
That’s all? No breaking down hitters? No cram session with the scouting reports?
“I know the way he works and I know these guys for the Padres,” Sanchez said. “So we tried to get on the same page. And he was ready for it.”
Said Petit: “That’s my job. I’m prepared for any time.”
Bochy wasn’t terribly surprised. Even before pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale, the manager began to make excuses for Petit just in case his Cactus League ERA wasn’t so pretty. He knew Petit didn’t pitch winter ball, which he is accustomed to doing back home in Venezuela. He also knew a command pitcher like Petit often gets lit up in Arizona’s dry air.
Petit won a place on this staff before he dropped a duffel bag at his locker. And thus far, he’s reaffirming Bochy’s confidence in him.
The manager has confidence in Sanchez, too. He had a feeling the Padres might intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval with first base open in the fifth inning, despite the Panda’s .177 average. After three nibble pitches didn’t draw a bite, the Padres dropped the pretense and put him on. Sanchez, whose grand slam in Colorado came after an intentional walk, hit a two-run single to open up a 2-0 game.
“I don’t know if Hector does (relish it) but you’re right, he has come through,” Bochy said. “Pablo has had his struggles but he has so much respect throughout the league. I thought they might put him on. That’s why I had Hector behind him.
“If you don’t score that inning, after bases loaded and no outs, it can be deflating, and he came through for us.”
Not as deflating, maybe, as chewing through a bullpen after becoming unhorsed an hour before the first pitch. But Petit ensured that didn’t happen. And after the victory, Cain could smirk and smile about his failure as a sous chef in the clubhouse kitchen.
“I went to cut a sandwich and Affeldt was in there helping me out,” Cain fibbed. “I guess he’s a bad guy to teach me.”
Affeldt, as you’ll recall, stabbed himself in the hand three years ago while trying to separate frozen burger patties.
“Oh, I was the first one to visit him,” Affeldt said. “Welcome to the club. He’s made fun of me for three straight years.”