No baseball players feel the physical tolls of the sport more than catchers, and no Giants player felt the wear and tear of Wednesday’s extra-inning affair more than Buster Posey.
Days before Posey is scheduled to receive a cortisone shot in his right hip, Posey injected his own shot of life into the Giants dugout with a walkoff single off the right field wall to cap off a 5-4, 13-inning win over the Chicago Cubs.
After playing through pain that’s zapped his power for several weeks, Posey still found enough strength to catch 13 innings and provide the closing salvo as the Giants secured their 30th win of the season at AT&T Park.
“Catchers are a whole different breed,” reliever Dereck Rodríguez said. “They get banged up back there and they go like it’s nothing. To be feeling something for the majority of the season with his hip and still go back there every day and hit the ball as well as he is, he’s just a whole different animal.”
Rodríguez understands the challenge better than most, as his Hall of Fame father Ivan “Pudge” Rodríguez spent 21 seasons catching major league pitching.
The younger Rodríguez is in his first professional season, but he proved once again Wednesday why it should be the first of many as he tossed three scoreless innings of relief to pick up his fourth win of the season.
“I thought the way he’s handled himself all year has just been really impressive,” Posey said.
Posey entered the day hitting .211 in his last 21 games, but he recorded three hits including the game-winning opposite field single to plate Brandon Belt and end an 11-inning scoring drought for the Giants.
“It’s all about how bad you want it and I think he wanted it pretty bad,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s probably as good of a hitter in baseball with two strikes and for him to drive the ball with two strikes, that’s what’s impressive.”
By taking two extra-inning games from the Cubs this week, the Giants haven’t lost a home series since dropping two of three to the Diamondbacks April 8-10. The victory also marked their league-leading eighth walkoff win of the year and their first victory against a left-handed starter this month.
After dropping 11 of 16 against left-handers, the Giants raced out to an early lead against Cubs southpaw Mike Montgomery thanks to the first career leadoff home run of Chase d’Arnaud’s career. After earning a start at third base, d’Arnaud collected a pair of extra base hits and made a game-saving defensive play with the bases loaded to rob Anthony Rizzo of a hit in the sixth inning.
“I feel a lot more calm right now than in comparison to past years and I feel a lot more confident at the plate,” said d’Arnaud, who is playing with his sixth different major league franchise.
The Giants built on the lead d’Arnaud provided as left fielder Gorkys Hernández and center fielder Steven Duggar drove in first-inning runs. Duggar’s single to bring Hernández home was the first RBI of his career and pushed San Francisco ahead 4-0.
Armed with a big lead, starter Johnny Cueto made like an officer whistling and waving cars through an intersection with a broken stoplight. The right-hander operated in traffic throughout his five-inning stint against the Cubs, allowing at least one baserunner in every inning he pitched.
Cueto wiggled his way out of more significant trouble by missing bats, as he racked up seven strikeouts Wednesday. However, his second start back from the disabled list ended after 86 pitches and a brief scare following a fourth-inning at-bat.
“I hit the ball and I think I hit it at the end of the bat and my hand went numb,” Cueto said through translator Erwin Higueros.
The early advantage began to evaporate after Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant hit home runs off of Johnny Cueto to cut the Giants lead to 4-3. It disappeared altogether in the top of the seventh when Javier Báez ended Tony Watson’s major league-best scoreless streak at 18 innings with a game-tying solo shot to right center field.
The Giants had 14 runners reach base without bringing any home between the second and 12th innings, but they hung in to take a series from the second-place team in the NL Central thanks to excellent work from six relievers, including Rodríguez, who was prepared to throw up to 100 pitches if necessary.
“It’s been five days since my last start so today probably would have been my next start,” Rodríguez said. “I felt good, warming up was a little shortened but with the adrenaline going I felt fine.”
Rodríguez will rejoin the Giants starting rotation after the All-Star break after lowering his ERA to 2.89 Wednesday.