Johnny Cueto, Giants survive bizarre sixth inning, edge Dodgers

Alex Pavlovic
·4 min read

Hunter Pence said he was mad and that he felt terrible. The disappointment was still clear in his eyes as he sat down for a Zoom call with reporters, and a few minutes in, he said a misplay in left field had made him feel sick to his stomach. 

This, it should be noted, all came after the Giants won 5-4 at Dodger Stadium. But this was one of the stranger wins in recent memory. 

There was so much to celebrate. Austin Slater homered off Clayton Kershaw twice, Mike Yastrzemski did once, Johnny Cueto pitched well, and the bullpen was brilliant in locking up a two-hitter, just the ninth for the Giants at Dodger Stadium since the teams moved west. 

But the Giants shouldn't have had to hold on in the first place. Gabe Kapler let Cueto face Justin Turner with two on and a blister hobbling him on the mound. Turner hit a three-run homer, and this all came a few minutes after Pence completely lost a fly ball to left, costing Cueto and the bullpen a shot at a no-hitter and starting the four-run rally. The ball dropped far behind his outstretched arms as Kiké Hernandez cruised into third for the first hit of the night to lead off the sixth. 

"Johnny had the magic going, the rhythm going, had everything working, it was a special night that doesn't always come around and you could just feel it," Pence said. "To spoil that feels awful ... he deserves better."

Cueto still got the win, and the Giants did, too. Some saves are worth more than others, and when Trevor Gott made it through the ninth for the second victory of this tough trip, he saved a teammate and the coaching staff from some serious pain. 

Pence was still feeling it afterward. Kapler was able to shake it off, because he pushed all the right buttons with his lineup against Kershaw -- the Giants hit three homers off him for the first time in 50 tries -- and because of his management of the bullpen. 

It was only that sixth inning that was precarious, but the trouble really started at the end of the fifth. Cueto has a blister on his right big toe and he hobbled off the field after the final out of the fifth. With one on in the sixth, he got Mookie Betts to pop up and limped off the mound as he tried to cover his position. 

Kapler and trainer Dave Groeschner came out to check on Cueto, who threw some warm-up pitches and said he was good to go. But he walked Cody Bellinger, missing badly on ball four, and then hung a curveball to Justin Turner that was smashed into the seats for a three-run shot. 

"I thought Johnny was the right guy," Kapler said, noting that the injury was not one that could lead to long-term issues. "He certainly let us know that he wanted that opportunity. He had earned it. He was the right man for the job."

There's context here, and it's why the decision was so interesting. The Giants have been extremely cautious with their starting pitchers through two weeks, and Cueto himself complained publicly after getting a quick hook at Dodger Stadium 16 days ago. But Kapler was always planning to ramp his starters up to a more normal workload, and on this night he felt that Turner was Cueto's batter. 

It backfired, but the Giants held on, with Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Gott picking up where Cueto left off. They had a lead in large part thanks to Slater, the first Giant to homer off Clayton Kershaw twice in one game. 

Those early blasts partially obscured what Cueto was doing, but Pence certainly was paying attention. He has been a part of no-hitters before and made a play that once saved one for Tim Lincecum, which is why he felt so awful as he stood there in the sixth and thought about his mistake. 

This was a win, but Cueto could have taken a shot at more. 

"That's part of the game," he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "My teammate just lost a baseball and those things happen. It's part of the game."

Johnny Cueto, Giants survive bizarre sixth inning, edge Dodgers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area