SAN DIEGO -- During the Giants’ implausible rise in less than a month from last-place outsiders to Wild Card contenders, there has been a constant: Turn the ball over to the bullpen, and something good is likely to happen.
There’s a fair chance that good thing will come from a Panda.
As the bullpen delivered five scoreless innings Friday night at Petco Park, Pablo Sandoval blasted his second extra-inning home run in a span of three games, lifting the Giants to a 2-1 victory over the Padres in 11 innings.
Sandoval, who had a walk-off homer in the 13th against the Cubs on Tuesday, hit a two-out homer off rookie left-hander Logan Allen on a 1-2 count.
“I got a good pitch to hit, fastball up,” Sandoval said. “I put a good swing on it.”
Said manager Bruce Bochy: “Pablo, with two out and nobody on, it doesn’t get any bigger than what he did.”
The Giants have had plenty of big moments during their rise to contention. They are 7-0 in extra-inning games since the All-Star break, and the drama is becoming a regular occurrence. Six of those extra-inning victories have come in the past 10 games. The Giants are the first team in the live-ball era to win six extra-inning games in a 10-game span, according to research by STATS.
“That tells me we have a great bullpen,” said Jeff Samardzija, who handled the first six innings Friday. “To win extra-inning games, you have to be throwing up zeros with guys who aren’t starters. ... They’ve been so efficient, just so solid with their work that they’ve made these extra-inning games be not too taxing on them.”
The Giants have won 18 of 22 games since June 30, and their relief pitchers are a combined 11-1 in that time. Mark Melancon got the win Friday, but it was very much a group effort by the bullpen. Reyes Moronta, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson, Melancon and Will Smith each pitched a scoreless inning, with Smith earning his 25th save. The quintet allowed only one hit total and issued no walks.
Samardzija departed with no decision after showing the Padres a mix of sliders, moving fastballs and cutters for six innings. The right-hander held the Padres to one run, four hits and three walks while striking out six. Austin Hedges touched him for a home run in the fifth inning.
Padres starter Joey Lucchesi was also sharp, allowing a single run in six innings. Bochy went for the win in regulation, using all his position players by the ninth inning. But the way the bullpen has been throwing, he still held a strong hand even with his lineup locked in when the game went to extras. The relievers kept the Padres off the board until Sandoval delivered.
“This stretch has been fun,” Melancon said. “Everybody jelling together, it’s been great. We feed off each other. The bullpen, everybody has pulled his weight pretty well.”
Even as the Giants enjoy the moment -- night after night, it seems -- the question will remain until the July 31 Trade Deadline passes: Is it enough to keep this team intact for a postseason run? Reliable bullpen arms are among the most coveted pieces this time of year, and they’re also often the easiest to move. In the Giants’ case, the bullpen depth could convince management to move at least one arm with confidence there will be enough left to remain in contention.
“Sometimes, that chemistry comes into play,” Melancon said. “That plays a big part, and I think the front office knows that. ... I’ve been really impressed by how everybody handles their role and passes the baton. It’s a real unselfish atmosphere down there.”
Sandoval, who knows a thing or two about deep postseason runs, also is impressed by what he has seen from the late-inning arms.
“Man, this bullpen is unbelievable,” Sandoval said. “They’re doing a great job. They never complain. They’re always ready to attack.”