SAN FRANCISCO - In the bottom of the eighth inning Monday, with the Giants finally running away with one, Johnny Cueto started blowing into a giant wad of bubble gum. He held two hands out, ready to catch remnants of an explosion as Brandon Crawford and Kelby Tomlinson looked on and smiled.
A few minutes later, players started migrating to the dugout rail as they have done in each of the three starts Ryder Jones has made. They are ready to cheer on a rookie's first big league hit, even if the wait has been an excruciating one for the third baseman.
Bruce Bochy likes to say that your personality is better when you're winning, and his players certainly showed that Monday in snapshots here and there. They woke up to a report that there were fractured in the clubhouse, caused in large part by the new closer. They denied it, they met as a group, and then, finally, they won.
Jeff Samardzija pitched as he has for two months, the top of the lineup came through over and over again, and Brandon Crawford paced a golden night with the gloves. A 9-2 win over the Rockies was just the second since June 11 and it snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rockies. Any win is meaningful at this point, but this one seemed to mean just a little bit more given the drama of the day.
"Despite what people might think, we still have a pretty good group here and we get along just fine," Crawford said. "We're all rooting for each other."
It's one thing to support teammates off the field, and there's been no indication that the Giants aren't doing that. It's quite another to be hand-in-hand between the lines, and for much of this season, Samardzija has been on an island.
The right-hander has been Bochy's best pitcher since Madison Bumgarner went down in the hills outside Denver. But he entered Monday with a 2-9 record and 4.74 ERA inflated by faulty defense. He hasn't grumbled, but he has grown accustomed to the worst, and when Nolan Arenado bounced a ball deep to the hole in shortstop with two on and two outs in the third, Samardzija figured the game was probably tied.
"I'm thinking maybe they charge it in the outfield and maybe make a play at home," Samardzija said. "But with a guy like that at shortstop, things change so fast."
Crawford scooped the ball on the edge of the grass. He would have liked nothing more than to make an otherworldly throw to first to nail his World Baseball Classic teammate, but he knew the best chance was at third. A couple of days ago, Crawford and Jones discussed how the rookie should cover third on such a play. Jones played it perfectly, retreating in time to catch Crawford's inning-ending throw.
"The best thing (about Crawford) is he doesn't even talk about it," Samardzija said.
No, Crawford put the spotlight on Jones.
"That's a pretty heads-up play," he said. "We talked about it and he was there. It was a funny coincidence."
The play held the lead, and the Giants kept pushing. The top four hitters in the lineup finished with 10 hits, six RBI and six runs. Brandon Belt had an RBI triple in the five-spot. Crawford drove in a run behind him. Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson added insurance from the bottom. Bochy watched it all from the top step and saw a group collectively relax.
"Just quit fighting it so much," he said. "There's a lot of talent in this offense. There's no reason they can't put consistent runs on the board. Tonight I just thought the at-bats were so much better and the focus was. Once it started rolling, guys felt better about themselves, and it just got contagious."