PHILADELPHIA — Cueto means “hill” in Spanish, a “fortified settlement.” In slang, it means a bad dude who leads by his actions, a man of fortitude, a man of emphasis.
Johnny Cueto is that, but after a stellar first half of the season in which he went 13-1 with a 2.47 ERA, the right-hander is winless in his last three starts, recording losses against the Padres and the Nationals. Over that three-game span, he has allowed 20 hits in 16 innings of work.
On Wednesday night against the upstart Phillies, Cueto did everything he could to live up to his namesake. He held the Phillies scoreless through six, and at one point struck out five in a row. But in the bottom of the seventh, he gave up back-to-back solo shots to Ryan Howard and Cameron Rupp, their 15th and 12th homers of the year, respectively. Both were first-pitch homeruns.
And in the following inning he surrendered a two-run single to Maikel Franco that tied the game at four.
Asked whether he sensed a difference between his first six innings and his last two, Cueto responded, “I felt normal. I made all off my pitches. All I can say is, they beat me.”
The offense, which got to pitcher Phil Klein early for four runs on six hits, vanished in the later innings. The Phillies bullpen, led by left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, was busy with a hill of their own.
“We couldn’t tack on,” said Bochy. “You want to add on as much as you can. The difference was their bullpen. They shut us down.”
The game remained tied until the bottom of the 12th, when Phillies right fielder Aaron Altherr slapped a grounder off Jake Peavy, who was making his second career appearance as a reliever. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez flubbed the throw, allowing Altherr to reach. With the bases loaded and the stands gutted, Franco hit a walk-off single to win the game, dropping the Giants to 4-13 since July 15th.
“Give them credit,” said Bochy of the Phillies. “They battled back off a tough pitcher. We had our guy out there.”
Cueto pitched his 12th double-digit strikeout game of his career, an ambivalent milestone given the extra-innings loss. Commenting on the team’s recent slide, Cueto said, “It’s hard to believe. We’re a good team. We just have to keep grinding, and putting our best effort out there.”
Bad dudes don’t often express disbelief, but it seemed fitting on Wednesday.