SAN FRANCISCO — As Brandon Belt addressed about a dozen reporters late Friday night, Brandon Crawford and Matt Duffy snuck in behind the cameras. They kept a straight face while Belt recounted his game-winning, bases-clearing double in the seventh, and as he moved on to discuss the team’s winning streak, Derek Law joined the scrum. Other teammates started to inch over, but Belt didn’t flinch.
“Pro-fess-ion-al,” he said emphatically, looking at his teammates. “I can’t be rattled. I knew y’all were back there.”
Belt stood proudly for a second. His teammates smiled and dispersed.
Such is life when you’ve won 31 of your last 40 games.
“Wow,” Belt said after a tense 5-4 win over Philadelphia. “I didn’t know that. That (streak) is pretty impressive. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun when you’re winning.”
It certainly looked that way Friday, as the hottest team in baseball returned to AT&T Park with a flourish and carried that swagger into the clubhouse. The Giants are banged-up. They’re occasionally putting their fans through a next level of their infamous “torture.” But they’re also winning, over and over and over again.
“It comes from the top down,” Belt said. “We don't ever feel like we’re out of games.”
Opponents might say the same at times, and the bullpen certainly has made plenty of these wins — they’re at 12-of-13 the last two weeks — interesting. Three relievers combined to give up two runs in the eighth an inning after Belt’s smash had given the Giants a lead. Santiago Casilla loaded the bases in the ninth as Chris Stratton and Hunter Strickland warmed, but he got a slow roller to third and Ramiro Pena’s charge-and-throw was enough for a thrilling final out that was confirmed by a 36-second review.
“Exciting game,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That game had a bit of everything. You look at the Belt hit and think that won the game for us, but those guys came back.”
The comeback and the rest of this game only solidified what has become glaring in recent weeks: The Giants are deeper than anyone — including themselves — thought, and they can get enough big hits to make up for the loss of a Hunter Pence or Duffy. But they could use another arm or two, and with the way Jake Peavy is throwing, that addition should be in the bullpen, not in the rotation.
Peavy continued his renaissance, giving up two runs over seven. He has a 1.91 ERA in his past six starts.
“I just got more consistent,” Peavy said. “Those (early) games, it wasn’t as far off as the numbers showed.”
Peavy said his return to form is built on two pillars: When you get to two strikes, finish it; When you get two outs, get back into the dugout.
That formula got Peavy his fourth win, but it didn’t come easy. He left trailing, but the Giants loaded the bases in the seventh before Belt’s shot to the wall. With that hit, the team is batting .407 with the bases loaded.
“It’s good concentration and determination,” Bochy said.
Said Belt: “For the most part, it’s just trying to keep the same approach as you would any other time. Get a good pitch to hit and make them come to us.”
These Phillies kept pushing, leading Bochy to make some unusual moves. He pulled Josh Osich in the middle of a plate appearance in the eighth and Javier Lopez, not Casilla, started the ninth. Pitching for the third straight day, Casilla went walk, single, hit-by-pitch with two down in the ninth. Bochy stepped onto the dirt and looked at Stratton, but then he went into a jog.
Bochy’s jog means you get one more batter. When he got to the mound, he looked Casilla in the eyes.
“He’s probably not going to be honest with me, but at least I can look at him to make a determination,” Bochy said.
He saw enough, and the game was soon over. Bochy said Casilla will be off Saturday and Cory Gearrin needs a breather, too.
The timing works out perfectly, as Madison Bumgarner will get the ball in the second game of this series. That, too, could be a lot of fun.
--- Peavy on Trevor Brown, who threw out two runners early: “Brownie, since he has been here, has watched and been attentive and been friends with Buster.” He said it’s getting to the point back there where it doesn’t matter as much when Posey needs a day off, which is about the highest praise you can give a young backup catcher.
--- Bochy doesn’t often pull a pitcher in the middle of a plate appearance, but he said he felt he had to after Osich threw a wild pitch that put a second runner in scoring position with a 2-1 count.
“I was going to do what I could to keep them from scoring,” Bochy said.
Osich didn’t look pleased after the game and you can’t blame him. That’s a brutal way for a reliever to leave a game. Some fences might need mending. Gearrin entered and walked the batter anyway, and the next hitter singled to left.
“It didn’t play out,” Bochy said.
--- Peavy did something somewhat unusual. After answering all the questions from reporters, he hung around for another beat and said he needed to say something else. He wanted to compliment the Phillies.
“They’ve got a lot of good young talent, and you watch how hard they play,” he said. “I respect the way they went about it, and they played awfully hard down to the last out. The old fightin’ Phils! They’ve got a young bunch coming.”
He's right. There are a few teams around the league that could take a lesson from this young team that kept punching back despite what the standings and scoreboard say. You can see some of the talent already — tonight’s starter, Zach Eflin, is just 22 — and waves are on the way. The Phillies aren’t all that far from competing again.