Entries in Johnny Cueto (3)


Bochy on the Giants: ‘I like to think this was a start’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Still learning. “That’s the goal,” said Buster Posey, "to learn.” About the Giants, and himself. To learn how to improve, and even for a former MVP, a World Series hero, the education never stops.

For Buster. For manager Bruce Bochy. For the fans, after a week of successful baseball that finally arrived after too many weeks of failing baseball.

They learned, and we learned, that for a few games at least the Giants were able to combine pitching and hitting, play as they once played, play — yes — as they were supposed to be playing.

They won five in a row, five out of seven on a home stand that concluded Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park with a defeat, not surprising since the other team was the Dodgers and the other pitcher was Clayton Kershaw.

“He was his usual good self,” said Bochy, an understatement of sorts. Pitched the first seven innings. Didn’t allow a run. Impossible to win if you don’t score, although the Giants finally did, on an Eduardo Nunez bases-empty home run off of ex-Giant Sergio Romo in the ninth. It was a bit of face-saving in a 6-1 defeat.

In effect, the game was over in the first when Yasmani Grandal doubled in two runs off of Johnny Cueto. Kershaw with a 2-0 lead before two innings had been played? “Very tough,” said Bochy.

Two words that apply to the Giants' road trip, which starts Friday at St. Louis and then goes to Chicago. The Cardinals are in first in the National League Central. The Cubs are World Series Champions. Posey will learn something about the Giants.

“I like to think this was a start,” said Bochy of the home stand. “We lost the opener (falling 12 games below .500), and everyone is thinking we’re out of it.

“The thing I liked is we played Giants baseball. We were in games, got quality pitching, which gave us a chance.”

In the previous few games, at Cincinnati and New York, they barely had a chance, losing 13-3, 14-2 and 6-1. The return to San Francisco, to AT&T, a pitcher’s park, changed scores and perhaps attitudes.

“We kept people away from the big inning,” said Bochy. “The thing I like about this team is there’s a sense of confidence. We just have to keep playing the way we have been.

What appeared to be a reminder of the historic Dodgers-Giants rivalry popped up — in a manner of speaking — in the third. Cueto, possibly upset with himself after giving up the first-inning hits on two-strike counts, yelled at Grandal in the third for stealing signs from Posey after the first-inning double. An inside pitch, and like that both dugouts and bullpens emptied. And that was it.

In fact, Kershaw walked through the three dozen or so players from both teams that, as is the situation in most baseball confrontations, were just grabbing or yelling and marched to the mound to take his warm-ups for the bottom of the inning.

After the game, Grandal and Cueto (now 4-3) apologized to each other. No ejections, no fines and, for the usual sellout crowd at AT&T Park, no real excitement.

“It caught me by surprise,” Grandal said of the Cueto pitch, and no, he wouldn’t dare steal a sign and relay it to a batter, one of the many unwritten rules of a sport that has many.

“We talked about it,” said Grandal, the Dodgers' catcher. “We apologized, so we’re on good terms, I guess. Let’s not make it a larger deal than it really is.”

Everything between the Giants and Dodgers is large. San Francisco fans have forever chanted “Beat L.A.” Dodgers fans, and, wow, were there great numbers at AT&T, many of them hoisting a blue banner that covered much of the right centerfield bleachers, shouted “Let’s go, Dodgers.”

On Wednesday, after losing Monday and Tuesday, the Dodgers went. It’s obvious they’re a very good team. The Giants? We, and they, still are learning.


Bochy on Cueto: ‘This is why we wanted him here’

By Art Spander

It isn’t quite the sweet torture of a few seasons past. Oh, the Giants make you sweat, make their manager — the incomparable Bruce Bochy — wish it didn’t have to be as difficult as it seems to be. Yet, with that pitching staff, and Monday night Johnny Cueto was the man, there’s also a feeling the other team might never score.   

Now for two straight games, Sunday the awesome Cubs, Monday the not-so-awesome but very tenacious Padres, the other team hasn’t scored.

And finally the Giants did score. If barely. But when Cueto follows Madison Bumgarner, barely is plenty. Yes, consecutive games in which San Francisco could only score a run, Monday night when Hunter Pence, with a sore hamstring, pinch-hitting for Cueto, blooped a two-out ball to right in the ninth that Matt Kemp couldn’t reach.

Down went the ball, in ran Brandon Belt from first, and it was 1-0 Giants.     

Just as on Sunday it was 1-0 Giants, if against another team.

They’ve got the routine down. So exhale. And commend management for signing Cueto, a free agent, over the winter.

He is earning $130 million, a lot, but the long-held theory here is for cars, wine and ballplayers you almost always get what you pay for. Cueto is wonderful verification.

In his last four games, including this cold Monday night at AT&T Park, Cueto has allowed a total of three runs. The statement has been repeated often but perhaps not often enough: If the opponent doesn’t score, you can’t ever get worse than a 0-0 tie.

Which is what we had going into the bottom of the ninth. Now what the Giants have is a third straight win and 11 wins in the last 12 games. That ain’t bad.

“Pretty amazing what our pitching is doing,” said Bochy. Not really. It’s doing that it needs to do. What Cueto, 7-1, with a 1.93 earned run average (compared to Bumgarner’s 2.17) did was hold the Padres hitless the first 3 2/3 innings, give up only two hits total and pitch his second consecutive complete game after going nine in a 2-1 win against the Padres five days earlier in San Diego.

“This guy’s done it when he was with Cincinnati in that Great America Park,” said Bochy of a location as different as imaginable from spacious AT&T, a pitcher’s paradise. Cueto last year was traded from the Reds to Kansas City, where he was on a World Series champion. As a free agent he joined the Giants, where life is both beautiful and nerve-wracking.

“I’m enjoying it,” said Cueto, a Dominican, through translator Erwin Higueros. “I can handle these close games.” He understands the English questions well enough but is more comfortable giving the answers in Spanish. His fastballs and sliders speak a universal baseball language. Get out of here.

Cueto swings a mean bat, but he doesn’t always connect. In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, Angel Pagan, who had walked — and subsequently reinjured his hamstring — was on second and Gregor Blanco, walked intentionally, was on first. Bochy may have considered a pinch hitter but not for long. Cueto had thrown only 78 pitches so he came to the plate — and struck out swinging.

“I was thankful that finally Pence came in to get a hit,” said Cueto.

So was Pence, who before the game was tentative about getting into the lineup. “But I felt fine,” said Pence, “when I went up there.”

Bochy was pleased with the ending but less so with the progress of the game. “We made it hard,” he said. “We had those two runners on in the first. We didn’t execute.”

Kelby Tomlinson and Matt Duffy had back-to-back one-out singles, Tomlinson going to third. But Duffy was caught attempting to steal second and Buster Posey struck out.

“Their guy did a great job too,” Bochy said of Padres lefthander Drew Pomeranz, who went seven shutout innings. “We thought it would be a close game.”

Isn’t it always when the Giants are involved? Sure, there are exceptions, such as Chicago’s 8-1 win on Friday night, but otherwise it was 2-1 and 3-1 over San Diego and then 1-0 and 1-0 over the Cubs and the Padres.

“That game Sunday,” said Bochy about the victory over Chicago “was one of the great baseball games. It had everything. Then we come back with this one.

“We had Johnny Cueto on our radar last year. This is why we wanted to bring him here.”


A telling loss for the Giants

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO -- One game, but a telling game. A game when the Cincinnati Reds took Matt Cain’s mistakes over the fence. A game when seemingly every time there was a line drive by one of the Giants it was right at someone.

A game when there was a sense of “Dustiny.”

Remember that word? It was coined by a Giants fan back in 2002 when Dusty Baker was the team’s manager and, until the sixth game of the World Series that year, fate was on their side.

Now Dusty is on the other side, managing the Reds, and so is good fortune.

Cincy didn’t win the opener of the National League Division Series, 5-2, Saturday night at AT&T Park because it was lucky. 

The Reds hit two homers off of Cain, who did not give up a run in any postseason game two years ago. The Reds had excellent pitching, especially when starter Johnny Cueto left after one batter because of a back injury. And, yes, the Reds had the breaks.

Cain drove a liner with the bases loaded in the second, but it was caught. Brandon Belt smashed a none-out ball with Hunter Pence on first – and Joey Votto leaped and turned it into a double play. Belt hit one to left in the sixth and Ryan Ludwick made a stumbling catch.

“Our guys never stopped going after the ball,’’ said Cain. “You can’t fault them.’’

Not at all. But this is baseball, and there are no style points. The oldest adage is “hit ’em where they ain’t.’’ The Giants hit ’em where they were.

And Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce hit them into the seats for the Reds, who now need only two more victories in this best-of-five playoff to move to the League Championship Series.

“This is one game,’’ said Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager, stubbornly fighting any feeling of despair, a feeling that except for rare moments – a home run by Buster Posey, a couple of wild pitches in the bottom of the ninth – seemed to affect the sellout crowd of 43,492.

“We have a lot of baseball left,’’ Bochy tacked on.

Giants fans can only hope. For certain, they have Sunday night’s game by the Bay – perhaps the last home game of the season – and Tuesday night’s at Cincinnati. Nothing else is certain.

Especially after Cain, the guy who threw the perfect game back in June, the guy who started for the National League in the All-Star Game, gave up the shot to Phillips leading off the second. The disbelief was nearly palpable. So was the disappointment.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he normally is out there,’’ Bochy said of Cain. “He left a couple of off-speed pitches out there. He was missing spots a little bit.’’

Something the Giants, so dependent on pitching, couldn’t afford. Not when they were getting shut out until Posey homered in the sixth. That jolted the crowd out of its misery and torpor.

If you don’t count sing-alongs to the Bee Gees – the Bee Gees, for heaven’s sake – Journey and Cab Calloway, the people in the seats did little other than merely occupy them. Maybe the Blue Angels’ flyovers earlier in the day were too much.

Clearly the Reds were too much for the Giants, although Bochy kept offering the could-have, should-have explanations.

“We hit balls hard,’’ said Bochy. That they did, with little result. “I felt we had better at bats than what it looked like. We had a tough night with balls. We didn’t have a lot of things going for us.’’

What they had was 11 men left on base, and that can be credited to Reds pitchers – six different ones, including Cueto who had only eight throws to home plate before hobbling off – as well as the Giants’ inability. San Francisco was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“We nearly had the tying run on in the ninth,’’ said Bochy. True, but nearly doesn’t mean much. “I’m proud of the guys. We found a way to battle back, and we had two pinch hitters up there, and they got some good swings off. But we came up short.”

In the inning before that, with runners on first and second and two out, Gregor Blanco, playing in his first postseason game and having reached base three times, didn’t get a swing off. He watched a Jonathan Broxton pitch for strike three.

“It looked like a borderline pitch, and they got the call,’’ said Bochy. “Blanco thought it was outside, and it’s a tough break. Sometimes you have a great pitch thrown, and you can’t do anything with it.

“This is one game, and you hate to lose the opener, but these guys have been resilient all year, and it’s time for us to wash this off and be ready to be back at it (Sunday).’’

Nothing else they can do.