SAN FRANCISCO – In many ways, Johnny Cueto was the easy choice to start the Giants’ home opener in 2021. He is an entertainer on the mound and works best in front of an audience, setting the stage for a memorable afternoon of Friday at Oracle Park.
The ever-entertaining Cueto threw 8 2/3 innings of a run, and Brandon Crawford added a two-run double to lead the Giants to a 3-1 victory over the Rockies in their first game in front of fans in San Francisco since September 29, 2019.
Cueto allowed just four hits, struck out seven and walked one in his longest outing since 2016, becoming the first Giants starter to make a winning decision this year.
“I thought it was as good a start as I’ve seen Johnny throw,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “I just have full control of every situation. Perfectly in sync with [catcher] Buster [Posey]. Just outstanding performance, courageous and efficient. ”
Cueto found himself stuck in a pitching duel for most of the afternoon with Rockies southpaw Austin Gomber, who blocked San Francisco for six innings before Crawford finally broke the scoreless tie.
After mustering just one hit and two walks in the first six innings against Gomber, the Giants managed to chase the 27-year-old southpaw in the bottom of the seventh when he walked Darin Ruf and Buster Posey with one out. Later, Rockies manager Bud Black brought in right-hander Tyler Kinley, who walked pinch-hitter Alex Dickerson to load the bases.
That brought Crawford, who drove a 1-2 slider from Kinley into the gap in right center field to put up two runs and give the Giants their first lead of the afternoon.
“It was definitely special,” Crawford said. “Just being out there with the fans in the crowd, being back home and being able to get a big hit in a great situation. It was all very special and a lot of fun. “
Cueto took a shutout in the ninth, but gave an opening triple to Chris Owings, who scored on a sacrifice fly to cut the Giants’ lead to 3-1. Kapler then ran to the mound to see how Cueto was doing, drawing boos from fans who were eager to see the 35-year veteran turn into a complete game.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been booed, I promise you,” Kapler said, laughing. “I get it. The fans wanted to see Johnny finish that game. He wanted to see Johnny finish that game. Everyone in the dugout wanted to see Johnny finish that game.”
Kapler had closer Jake McGee ready to go to the bullpen, but he decided to stick with Cueto and give him a chance to record the last two outs of the game.
“He asked me how I was feeling and I told him I was feeling fine,” Cueto said in Spanish. “He told me he had his closer ready and he talked to Posey, who said I should take the ball and move on. [First baseman Brandon] Belt said the same thing, so I went back to the mound. ”
Cueto retired Ryan McMahon on a fly, but then gave up a single to Trevor Story on his 118th pitch, prompting Kapler to bring in McGee, who struck out Sam Hilliard on three pitches to end the game.
Giants starters have now pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than three runs in each of the club’s first seven games, reducing the starting staff ERA to 2.28 on the season. Cueto’s start is particularly encouraging, as he posted a 5.40 ERA in 2020, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He is looking to bounce back as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract with the Giants.
“This was one of my best starts in recent times because last year didn’t go very well for me,” Cueto said. “I will continue working as I normally do. There’s still a lot of baseball left, so I have to keep doing what I’m doing. ”
After his season debut in Seattle last week, Cueto said he was eager to pitch again in front of fans because he feeds off the energy of the crowd during his outings. It was shown on Friday afternoon, when Cueto used his trademark shimmies, including a triple shimmy to strike out CJ Cron to finish seventh, to disrupt batters’ time at the plate and provide quality entertainment for fans.
“I think there is a little entertainment aspect to Johnny, and I think that’s a good thing, because he supports it,” Black said. “I think he likes to be out there. I think he likes the big stage. I was excited. I think the most important thing is that he shoots and competes. He knows what his job is and I think it’s okay for him to do it with a little flair. “