LOS ANGELES — Since Andrew Suarez came up to the San Francisco Giants from Triple-A Sacramento on April 11, he’s been part of a youthful staff that has somehow held the line while three starters spent time on the disabled list.
Suarez found his curveball in Colorado during a bullpen session on May 28, and over his next eight starts, the Giants went 5-3, as Suarez posted a 2.28 ERA and held opposing batters to a .240 average. Over his last five starts, though, Suarez had come off the rails, to the tune of a 7.43 ERA.
The 25-year old left-hander looked on track to have yet another head-scratching start when he walked two men to load the bases with two outs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom fo the first on Tuesday. Then he got a grounder back to the box, and settled in for his best start in two months — a 2-1 Giants win punctuated by the largest brawl between the two clubs since 2016 and the club’s second late-inning comeback in two nights.
Los Angeles (64-57) has now lost seven of its last 10 and dropped to third place in the NL West, and San Francisco clinched a series win with its second late-inning win in two nights — its fourth victory in its last five games.
“This is one of those things that can springboard us into a nice little run,” said catcher and Monday night hero Nick Hundley, whose argument with Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig emptied both benches in the seventh inning.
With two outs, the combustible Puig — who sparked the last brawl between the Dodgers and Giants in September of 2016 — took exception to something Hundley said after Puig fouled off the third offering from reliever Tony Watson. Puig got into Hundley’s face, nose to mask, and then shoved Hundley in the chest, sparking a bench-clearing donnybrook. At one point, Puig reared back over a teammate and took a swing at Hundley’s face as George Lombard pulled the Giants catcher away and tackled him to the ground.
Both principles were ejected, and Brandon Belt — just activated from the disabled list — entered the game at first, with Buster Posey moving from first to catch.
The fight seemed to energize Los Angeles. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Justin Turner — who had both of the Dodgers’ two hits over the first seven innings — slugged his third double of the night into the left field corner, over the outstretched glove of Austin Slater. Shortstop Manny Machado then sent a liner over short to bring him home and tie things up at 1-1 with his first RBI since July 30.
The fight also got San Francisco’s blood up. After Evan Longoria and Belt singled with no outs, a bunt by Austin Slater cut down Longoria at third. Steven Duggar struck out looking, and then Alen Hanson — 17-for-46 with runners in scoring position on the season — dunked a single into center. Kiké Hernandez came up throwing, but his throw to the plate was mishandled by Yasmani Grandal, allowing Belt to lumber around third and score, giving Hanson his second RBI of the game.
“I wasn’t going fast enough for anything to hurt,” said Belt, who had been laid up since July 25 with a hyperextended knee.
“When he rounded third, I said, ‘It’s gonna be close,'” Bochy said. “I don’t know if he didn’t get a grip on the ball, hesitated, throw was a little wide, or else they probably do get him. But, hey, what a great game. It started with what Suarez did. What a beautiful game he pitched.”
After Hansen’s second RBI hit of the night put the Giants (61-60) ahead again, Will Smith, pitching for the third time in three days, struck out two in the ninth, earning his 10th save of the year.
The fight overtook Suarez as the story of the game, but he nevertheless seemed to turn a corner — a major development if the Giants are to continue to make some noise in the NL West.
Suarez retired 15 of the next 16 men he faced after loading the bases in the first, striking out four, and at one point retiring 10 straight, before walking Hernandez with two outs in the sixth.
“I thought my last few games, I had one bad inning, and other than that, I’ve been working on pitch location,” Suarez said. “I thought I did a good job today … [I’m] just staying closed as long as I can with my front side, and that helped me get on top of the ball and keep the ball down.”
Suarez relied heavily on his slider — throwing it as many times as his fastball — taking advantage of the same low strike zone as Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner benefitted from a night before.
“It feels great, coming out of the game, and it’s 1-0 in the sixth,” Suarez said.
The Giants gave Suarez the lead in the second, when a two-out RBI single by Hanson brought home Longoria, who reached after being hit with a 2-2 offering from Alex Wood. The Dodgers lefty — the second of three southpaws the Giants see in Los Angeles — went just five innings in his first start off the disabled list, striking out six but throwing 92 pitches, with four three-ball counts.
Suarez went six shutout innings, striking out four and allowing just two hits and throwing 99 pitches (58 for strikes) in his best start since he went seven shutout innings on June 2. He even recorded his third hit in his last nine tries, beating out a slow roller to short in the top of the fifth.
Suarez also got very timely defense. Third baseman Evan Longoria picked a 108-mph on-hop shot up the third base line to retire Machado for the second out in the sixth. Two batters later, he got a running grab at the warning track by left Austin Slater to end the frame.
“I don’t know if I was in control,” Suarez said. “They hit the ball hard, and our defense did a lot of good, made great plays, but it feels good. I think I had them a little off-balance, mixing my pitches.”