SAN FRANCISCO - Brandon Belt has spent most of this decade publicly lobbying for his shot on the mound. Two days after Belt was passed over for Pablo Sandoval, he once again came just short of his MLB pitching debut.
He didn't mind one bit.
The Giants were so short on relief pitching for the opener against the Padres that Belt was the likely choice to pitch the 11th inning if the game got that far. Nick Hundley made sure it didn't, lining a two-run single into the gap to cap a three-run rally off Brad Hand in the ninth and give the Giants a 6-5 win.
Hundley flexed his chest and screamed as 24 other men rushed to engulf him in front of second base. In the home dugout, Bruce Bochy smiled. He was the most relieved man in the building given the mental gymnastics he had been through for the previous couple of innings.
The bullpens was taxed after facing the Dodgers four times in 48 hours over the weekend, and Bochy entered the game without the services of Tony Watson and Sam Dyson. Both were due a rest day. When a high pitch count knocked Jeff Samardzija out after five, Reyes Moronta came on for two planned innings. He came up an out short, giving way to Cory Gearrin, who was followed by D.J. Snelten and then Pierce Johnson.
It was at that point, trailing by a couple of runs, that Bochy started to become concerned. Hunter Strickland was available for one inning, but that was all that was left in the pen. The next day's starter is usually on deck, but Andrew Suarez had not been added to the roster yet after coming up from Triple-A Sacramento. Even Pablo Sandoval, the emergency pitcher, had been burned as a pinch-hitter.
"Believe me, my wheels were spinning there," Bochy said. "I don't know what I would have done, really, to be honest."
As the Giants got a run back in the ninth, Bochy settled on a plan for extra innings. Strickland would go one and then Belt would likely take the mound, with a starting pitcher playing the field. The lineup, Belt included, never let it get that far.
The Padres called on Hand, a tough left-hander, to get the final two outs in the eighth, but he gassed out in the ninth. Giants hitters helped make sure that happened. Hand hit Austin Slater to start the inning before getting two strikeouts. That's when Buster Posey worked a 10-pitch walk that seemed to deflate Hand. He still would have gotten the save if not for a decision from the bench, though.
The Padres were playing their outfielders in a no-doubles alignment, their heels practically on the warning track. That allowed Evan Longoria's bloop to drop in left and get the Giants within one. Brandon Belt then worked a six-pitch walk, getting Hand up to 35 pitches. That loaded the bases for Hundley, who had been preparing for a bases-loaded situation since the start of the inning.
"That's that quick University of Arizona math on my part," he said, smiling. "I knew if I came up it's two outs and bases loaded, if the game isn't tied. That was my mindset, to get ready for a two out, bases loaded situation."
Hundley lined the second pitch into the outfield, setting off the celebration and clinching a first career win for Johnson. The Giants finished April above .500 for the first time since 2014. They have won 7 of 9 after a slow start. Hundley called it a "big win," no matter what the calendar says. A relieved Bochy was happy to watch the escape act on a night that could have been a lot worse for the bullpen and the team.
"We were covered if it all went well, but it didn't go too well in the sixth," he said. "But the guys didn't let that bother them."