SAN FRANCISCO — The best Giants pitcher in the first half of the season gives way to the best Giants pitcher in the second half the season in search of win No. 107 and the N.L. West title.
And if Logan Webb can pitch as well as Kevin Gausman did Saturday in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the San Diego Padres, the Giants have to like their chances at opening the National League Division Series Friday at Oracle Park.
Gausman was in command against the Padres from the outset, starting with a seven-pitch first inning and giving up one run on six hits through seven innings when his right hand began to cramp in part because of all the split-finger fastballs that left hitters flailing.
It was Gausman’s second straight strong start, coming off a six-inning effort against Colorado in which he gave up three hits and one run with no walks and 11 strikeouts. He departed the game to the roar of a crowd of 40,760.
“I feel like the ball is coming out really well,” Gausman said. “Mechanically I feel I’m right where I need to be going in to the postseason. I threw some really good splits today and got some good swings and misses and that’s always encouraging.”
The fact that Gausman didn’t pile up an extraordinary strikeout total (he had six) allowed him to pitch seven innings for just the second time since the start of June.
“What an incredible outing. Just outstanding,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “He was so efficient. He did kind of run out of gas there, and you have to very pitcher with a starting pitcher of that caliber.”
After a hot start which put Gausman on the All-Star team, he fell into a second-half rut where opposing hitters were laying off his split and running up his pitch count. He’d end up with pitch counts in the 60s atter three innings and getting into the seventh was out of the question. Against the Padres, Gausman had thrown just 23 pitches (15 strikes) after three innings and was at 37 after four.
In the end, Gausman threw 84 pitches, 63 for strikes. HIs average of 12 pitches per inning in an extended outing was matched only once this season. Gausman also averaged 12 per inning when he threw 96 pitches over eight innings against Pittsburgh.
The issue with Gausman’s hand cramping is not new, and said for reasons he does not understand it is a daytime issue.
“It was just a real hot day, and that last inning, I threw a lot of splits and the middle of my hand was cramping,” Gausman said. “We’ve got such a good bullpen, maybe we go with those guys anyway.”
Third baseman Evan Longoria, asked about Gausman’s departure after seven strong innings, said, “We knew he was coming out of the game before the inning even started. What more could you ask from him? He went out and threw seven strong innings for us. Our bullpen has been great for us. Gausman did everything we asked him to do.”
The Giants will ask just as much of Webb Sunday, possibly with a division title on the line. If the Dodgers lose Saturday night, Webb’s workload could change.
Webb, 10-3 with a 2.93 earned run average, essentially took the torch of being the Giants ace from Gausman in the second half of the season. He hasn’t lost a start since May 5.
“We have 100 percent trust,” Kapler said. “The same amount of confidence we had in Gausman going into today’s game, we have in Webb in tomorrow’s game. He’s had an incredible year, especially the last three or four months. We feel really good about Webby taking the ball.”
The atmosphere, if the title is on the line, will be something Webb has not experienced. Gausman could sense the difference during warmups as a crowd anticipating a party settled into its seats early.
“Don’t try to think too much about it, just to pitch your normal game,” Gausman said. “I went to warmup today and the stadium was packed so you know it’s different. You try to control your emotions and set your pace for the game and not let the big crowd affect you.”
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Author: Jerry McDonald