Former D-backs hurler nearly makes history against former team
SAN FRANCISCO -- Yusmeiro Petit barely missed baseball immortality, but gained legitimacy.
One strike away from becoming the second San Francisco Giants pitcher to pitch a perfect game and the 16th in franchise history to record a no-hitter, Petit yielded a single to pinch-hitter Eric Chavez that onrushing right fielder Hunter Pence dove for and caught on a heartbreakingly short hop.
Petit finished with a one-hitter in the Giants' 3-0 victory Friday night over the D-backs, continuing his quest to establish himself in the Major Leagues and end his 12 professional seasons as a journeyman.
The right-hander fashioned the 15th perfect game in Major League history that dissolved with one out left. Yu Darvish of Texas was the last pitcher to endure this fate on April 2 earlier this year against Houston.
Despite experiencing his near-miss, Petit raised both arms in triumph after the final out, his right index finger extended.
"I felt the same as if I would have thrown a no-hitter," Petit said, speaking to reporters through an interpreter, roving infield instructor Jose Alguacil.
Indeed, the adrenaline rush Petit gave his teammates and a roaring AT&T Park crowd couldn't have been stronger.
"It felt like a playoff game, how hard they were pulling for him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the fans.
Bochy sensed the same energy from his players.
"We won the game, but you could see disappointment in the guys coming off the field, because they were pulling so hard for him."
It's easy to root for somebody with Petit's perseverance.
The 28-year-old from Maracaibo, Venezuela, has pitched for five organizations. He has made substantially more appearances in the Minor Leagues (189) than in the Majors (76). His statistics with Triple-A Fresno this year -- 5-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 15 starts -- were decidedly mediocre.
"I know I've gone up and down in my career," Petit said.
Petit even was cut loose twice by the Giants this year, most recently on July 28 when he was designated for assignment. Each time, he opted to re-sign with San Francisco.
"I'm very comfortable with the Giants," Petit said. "They're honest people and I like how they work."
Petit's work against the D-backs, for whom he pitched from 2007-09, was nothing short of enviable. Having faced them just last Sunday, when he struck out a career-high 10 over six-plus innings in San Francisco's 8-2 triumph, he knew he had to vary his pitching pattern. So he added more offspeed deliveries into the 95-pitch mix he fed the D-backs, instead of relying primarily on fastballs.
Petit also kept his pitches low, resulting in 13 ground-ball outs, seven popups or fly balls and seven strikeouts in his first Major League complete game. He didn't go to a three-ball count until Miguel Montero worked the count full with two outs in the eighth inning. He improved to 3-0 since replacing the injured Matt Cain in the Giants' rotation.
"It was a beautiful game, a tremendous display of pitching," Bochy said. "He was pounding the strike zone all day, quality strikes with all his pitches. I couldn't be happier for him. He's fought his way to get back up here. He's done a tremendous job. He's trying to send a message that this is where he belongs and should be pitching."
The only D-backs who came close to mustering a hit off Petit through eight innings were Paul Goldschmidt, who was thrown out at first base after shortstop Joaquin Arias slid on one knee to backhand his sharp grounder that ended the first inning, and opposing pitcher Patrick Corbin, whose sixth-inning bloop to left field was corralled by a diving Juan Perez.
Perez's catch reinforced the notion that timing is everything. Bochy replaced Brett Pill, whose natural position is first base, with the slick-fielding Perez before the sixth began.
"Perez is so good out there," Bochy said. "You can't let something happen out there with a guy who hasn't been out in left field quite a bit."
The delicious tension steadily mounted in the Giants' dugout as each inning passed.
"[Rookie outfielder Roger] Kieschnick told me he didn't move for six innings [though] he wanted to go to the bathroom," said Pence, who supplied San Francisco's offense by scoring each run and going 3-for-3, missing a triple for the cycle.
No-hitters have become almost common for the Giants. Tim Lincecum silenced the Padres earlier this season on July 13, Cain pitched a perfect game on June 13, 2012, against Houston, and Jonathan Sanchez no-hit San Diego on July 10, 2009.
So the AT&T Park spectators fully appreciated what they were witnessing as Petit strode to the mound for the ninth inning. He secured the first out in theatrical fashion by striking out Chris Owings on three pitches. Petit fell behind on the count to Gerardo Parra, 2-0, before coaxing a weak grounder to second base.
Up came Chavez, who beat the Giants with a ninth-inning single last Saturday in Phoenix. He took Petit's first four pitches -- two balls, then two strikes. Chavez also took the fifth pitch, a tantalizing curveball that skirted the strike zone.
"I didn't think it was a strike, but what surprised me was how he didn't swing at it," Petit said.
Chavez swung at Petit's full-count pitch, a fastball toward the outside corner, and sent a sinking liner to right field. Pence flung himself headlong at the ball, which lodged in his glove -- but only after it skipped off the grass. A.J. Pollock grounded to third base for the final out two pitches later.
"I wasn't up there trying to break his heart, I just wanted to break it up," Chavez said. "It was a pride thing."
Pence was composed, but frustration crept into his analysis of the play.
"I said this to a couple of teammates: I felt like when it was hit, it was like one of those dreams where you just can't run fast enough," he said. "It was a little too far. I gave it my best effort and it was just a little bit shy."