SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto performed on the big stage, emergency fill-in Curt Casali homered and the Giants beat the Athletics 2-0 Friday night in the first game of the Bay Bridge Series at Oracle Park.
Cueto pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up five hits with a walk and six strikeouts in improving to 6-3. That was just a bit better than Sean Manaea, also 6-3, who gave up one run in the fourth inning and nothing else. He gave up three hits, walked three and struck out seven.
The win for the Giants, 49-26, came on a night they learned Brandon Belt would be out indefinitely with a right knee injury and Buster Posey was scratched about 90 minutes before game time with lower back stiffness.
The good news, delivered by manager Gabe Kapler, is that Posey’s absence was a preauation and that the catcher is expected back in the lineup Saturday night.
Even better, Casali, who replaced Posey, hit his second home run of the season in the seventh inning against A’s reliever Cam Bedrosian. The Athletics, fighting to keep pace with the Houston Astros in the American League West, fell to 46-32.
Kapler seemed to have an inkling as to what was to come from Cueto during his pregame talk with the media, given it was the first time the park was open to capacity and played to 36,928 fans.
“He loves the spotlight and he loves the big stage,” Kapler said. “The one thing we know about Johnny is every time he goes out there he’s entertaining and he emotes, and we like that. It’s fun to see a guy out there and show us what he’s dealing with and what he’s feeling. I have no doubt that he’ll put out his version of a show.”
The hitter that gave Cueto the most trouble was Manaea, who had a third inning double and an infield single after coming in with one career hit in 10 at-bats.
“Johnny drew energy from the fans as the game matured,” Kapler said afterward.
Tyler Rogers pitched the eighth and Jake McGee the ninth for his 15th save.
“It was the best fastball he’s had all season,” Casali said. “His pitches had serious bite to them.”
Not long after he got word he’d be starting for Posey, Casali was warming up his starting pitcher and noticed Cueto had a bounce in his step.
“He’s a showman. He feeds off it,” Casali said. “He was nodding his head like he was happy there were a lot of people in the crowd. Fans can give us energy. It’s really incredible. It gave him an extra level of adrenaline to go out and give us his big stuff.”
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Casali has now caught six shutouts from Giants pitchers, and while his primary objective is be a solid receiver for his pitching staff, he is now swinging the bat better after an earlier stint on the injured list with a rib injury.
“I feel like I’ve got some bat speed. I feel like I want to swing the bat and swing it hard and try to drive the ball,” Casali said. “My practices are more fun, my batting practices are more fun. It’s a shame it took me so long to figure it out, but as they say better late than never and I’m just happy to contribute on both sides of the ball.”.
The Giants didn’t break through against Manaea until the fourth inning on Brandon Crawford’s two-out single to left which brought home Wilmer Flores.
Flores was the first Giants player to reach second base against Manaea with a two-out double to left. Playing with a sore hamstring, Flores managed to chug in to second base and given the way he was running, it was no sure thing he’d score on a single.
Crawford, however, singled cleanly but softly to left field, giving Flores enough time to make his way to home plate for a 1-0 Giants lead.
Cueto was casting an early spell on the A’s similar to that of Manaea, with the opposing pitcher’s surprising two-out double to right field leading to a bases loaded situation with two outs. Cueto got out of the inning by getting Matt Olson to fly to center.
Cueto’s mound gyrations were kept at a relative minimum as he worked on being precise to Athletics hitters.
“Oakland has a very good team so I was just concentrating on the hitters, didn’t want to leave anything in the middle of the plate,” Cueto said through a translater. “I did shimmy a couple of times here and there but Oakland has a very good team.”
Cueto even seemed to enjoy visits from umpires who checked him for foreign substances as per major league rules since June 21.
“It really didn’t bother me,” Cueto said. “It’s a job they have to do so I might as well have fun with it.”
— The Giants had lost nine of their previous 12 games against the Athletics at Oracle Park.
— Swoon? Not exactly. The Giants are 15-6 in June.
— LaMonte Wade Jr., recalled from Sacramento, got into the game in place of Darin Ruf and flew to center in his only at-bat.
— McGee is 11-for-11 in save chances in 14 games at Oracle Park.
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Author: Jerry McDonald