MLB: In epic duel, Giants' reliever Wilson outlasts Kazuo Matsui, Astros
By Andrew Baggarly
San Jose Mercury News
SAN FRANCISCO — It's hard to say which part was toughest for Giants closer Brian Wilson while he protected Tim Lincecum's decision and a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday:
Throwing 39 pitches without allowing a run? Outlasting Kazuo Matsui in a bases-loaded, 15-pitch battle to end the game? Enduring a bobbled, bang-bang play on the base paths and a dropped foul tip, both of which could've ended it sooner?
Or keeping a straight face through it all?
"I couldn't help it," Wilson said. "After a while, it was just comical. What was it, 15 pitches? I had to step off and laugh. It was like, 'What are they thinking (in the dugout) right now?' "
It was rhetorical pondering. Wilson knew exactly what was boiling in Bruce Bochy's gut as the manager paced himself into a trench.
"Willy had the nerve to ask me after the game, 'Were you worried?' " Bochy said. "Nah, I like seeing a bases-loaded, two-outs-in-the-ninth (pitch) 10 times."
Wilson wouldn't have been laughing afterward if he didn't have so much throttle in his right arm. His confrontation with Matsui was so epic, Ridley Scott might have already purchased the film rights.
It started with a called strike and a swing-and-a-miss. Then two balls. Then four fouls, including a slider — the only pitch of the 15 that wasn't a fastball — that rattled out of Bengie Molina's glove. Then another ball to run the count full.
Then five more foul balls. And finally, a fly out that Andres Torres squeezed in left field.
Wilson's tamest fastball was 96 mph. His final pitch was 97.
"It's pretty much country hardball at that point," Bochy said. "I think everybody knew what was coming."
Wilson said: "I don't want to lose a game on my second-best pitch. At 2-2, I'll try to sneak a slider in the back door. But at 3-2, it's, 'Here it is. Here we go.' I've got a lot of confidence in my fastball. Grip it and rip it."
Afterward, Wilson was just as fast with the one-liners:
"I'm at pitch No. 30 out there, and I've still got 10 more that I didn't even know about."
"I feel bad for the crowd to stand that long. They're probably thinking, 'C'mon Brian, let us go home.' "
And this stripped-down pearl: "You can either fail or you can win. Failing isn't that fun."
The Giants are having a lot of fun with Lincecum (5-0) on the mound, winning in seven of his eight starts. But the bullpen had blown his decision in each of his previous three outings, and there was little margin for error after Juan Uribe's two-run home run off Roy Oswalt provided a lead in the fourth.
If the relievers had held firm all year behind Lincecum, he would be 8-0 through eight starts — something no Giants pitcher has done since Billy Pierce in 1962.
This victory was a study in perseverance. Lincecum felt mostly out of whack against the Astros, walked the leadoff hitter in three of the first six innings, decided to scrap the windup in the seventh and pushed every last button to get through the eighth.
Lincecum had two runners on base and already had benefited from a diving stop by Ryan Rohlinger at third base, but Bochy decided to give his ace one more hitter. Lincecum's first two pitches to Hunter Pence were at chin level before he retired him on a fly ball.
"When it's time to make a pitch, he's as good as anybody I've seen," Bochy said. "He found a way there."
Wilson's way usually involves a high wire. But his bases-loaded jam wasn't entirely his fault. Rohlinger bobbled pinch hitter Cory Sullivan's ground ball just long enough to turn it into a charitable single.
Then Michael Bourn walked to load the bases, Matsui walked to the plate, and the safety bar came down.
"Sure is fun," Wilson said. "Couldn't pick a better time to have recess."