Get 30 outs? Allow no runs? No problem as Giants topple Phillies

SAN FRANCISCO — Brett Wisely knows something about radar screens and quick thinking.

He is the son of retired air traffic controllers. His father, Bob, kept an office in the tower at Jacksonville International Airport. His mother, Kelly, worked as an air traffic controller in the Navy and traveled the globe on the deck of an aircraft carrier. They formed a Brady Bunch family of eight boys on Florida’s Gulf Coast and Brett was the youngest. He learned at an early age: If you want something, you’d better grab it before it’s gone.

When the pivotal moment arrived for the Giants in the sixth inning Tuesday night, Wisely had the entire play in front of him. He was stationed at shortstop, shaded up the middle and behind Phillies baserunner J.T. Realmuto, who had reached on a leadoff double. Bryce Harper scorched a groundball 102.5 mph off the bat. Wisely had to stagger to his right and deal with a screen from Realmuto but fielded the ball cleanly. Then he had to make a decision. He had to direct traffic.

“I was thinking anything to my right, I wouldn’t have a shot at Harper at first,” Wisely said. “He’s too quick. My instincts took over a little bit as it played out in front of me. I felt my only shot there was at third base.”

The decision was made without hesitation but the execution was far from routine. Wisely had to thread the ball to third baseman Matt Chapman like a quarterback leading a receiver on a crossing pattern. Chapman couldn’t risk running afoul of new rules that prevent infielders from blocking the baserunner’s path while awaiting a throw. So he had to receive the feed from Wisely and hope to lunge to the spot where Realmuto would be reaching for the base.

Chapman made a safe and timely landing, the Giants cut down the lead runner, and it might have made all the difference in what became a 1-0, 10-inning victory over the Phillies on the shores of McCovey Cove.

“Luckily it worked out,” Wisely said, “because that could’ve gone a whole different way there. It’s a zero-run game. That play might have saved the day, it might’ve not. But at the time, it got me fired up. It was a really big out.”

Every out is big when you are facing the National League’s best team and one of the league’s best lineups and need to run an impossibly clean sheet to win. They had to record no fewer than 30 outs and yield nothing.

Holding patterns don’t get more complicated than that.

The Giants used two former Phillies pitching prospects, among others, to keep it up. Left-hander Erik Miller pitched an opener, and after left-hander Taylor Rogers contributed two scoreless innings, newly promoted right-hander Spencer Howard held the Phillies scoreless from the third through the seventh. Tyler Rogers recovered from his blown save last Sunday in New York to hold down the Phillies in the eighth. Then Sean Hjelle, who dazzled earlier this month in an otherwise forgettable series for the Giants at Philadelphia, furthered his Philly-killing role as the pitching equivalent of Cody Ross. Hjelle retired three batters in the ninth and stranded the automatic runner in the 10th to give the Giants a chance to win with a situational at-bat or two.

The Giants got those at-bats from Wilmer Flores, whose deep fly ball to center advanced Tyler Fitzgerald to third, and from Luis Matos, whose fly ball to medium left field was deep enough to score Fitzgerald with the winning run.

The Giants threw a bullpen game against Phillies ace Zack Wheeler and came out on the right side of an apparent mismatch to clinch the three-game series and set themselves up for a chance to sweep the team that entered with baseball’s best record.

“It’s one of the best teams in the league, so to take the first two games of the series is huge,” Chapman said. “Sometimes when you have a lot of new guys, it takes a while to get rolling. But we’re starting to get used to each other. We’re playing good baseball now.”

Against good teams, too. The Giants were coming off a spirited road trip in which they rallied to take two series in Pittsburgh and at New York’s Citi Field. But neither of those opponents had a winning record. The Giants entered this homestand having won just six of 20 games against teams that were .500 or better. And earlier this month at Citizens Bank Park, there were moments when the Phillies appeared to completely outclass them.

Maybe the Giants didn’t need to prove to themselves that they could take a series against the best the league can throw at them. But they are still learning about the players they have. And because every scoreless game in the 10th is a pressure cooker, there’s no better milieu for a manager or front office to determine which players will break down and which will maintain their structural integrity when it matters most.

They already knew plenty about their bullpen, which quietly made all those comebacks possible on the last road trip when the relievers didn’t allow opponents to keep adding to early leads. The focus after those games, of course, went to the hitters who sparked the rallies and flipped the score. The pedestal Tuesday night, when the Giants’ hitting attack was limited to four singles, was blissfully free for the relievers to occupy.

Giants manager Bob Melvin noted that the bullpen got the job done even without closer Camilo Doval or prime right-handed setup man Ryan Walker, both of whom were behind safety glass.

“We’ve been talking about players in different roles, so this was a huge step for Sean Hjelle as well,” Melvin said. “With all the lefties in their (lineup), we wanted to get our lefties in the beginning where they wouldn’t (pinch) hit. That leaves you a little naked at the end. But you hopefully have a couple runs by then. As it looks now, it worked out really well. But it took significant contributions. Howard and Hjelle ended up with six innings of that shutout, so big credit to them.”

The Phillies hadn’t been shut out since April 9 at St. Louis. They hadn’t been beaten in consecutive games by the same team since April 23-24 at Cincinnati. They’ve lost three in a row for the first time all year.

And now, they’re winless in games when they face their second-round pick in the 2017 draft. Howard, who joined the Giants as a minor-league free agent prior to spring training, pitched parts of the past three seasons with the Texas Rangers, where he ended up following a six-player trade in 2021 that sent right-handers Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy to Philadelphia. His grand total of major-league time with the team that drafted him: 13 starts plus four relief appearances in which he posted a 5.81 ERA.

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Spencer Howard pitched four innings against his former team and didn’t allow a run. (Stan Szeto / USA Today)

“I try not to be spiteful, you know?” Howard said. “I like all the guys over there. Great people. It’s fun to see familiar faces when you’re throwing to them.”

“It was a while ago, but he was a dude,” said Miller, who didn’t play with Howard in the Phillies system but saw plenty of him in spring training. “I don’t know if it was a revenge game for him or what, but he looked great and we needed those innings big-time.

“It always feels good to throw a shutout and it feels even better to do it against a team with an elite offense. I feel like in general the bullpen has been throwing the ball really well the last couple weeks and today was a culmination of that.”

The Giants learned prior to the game that first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. sustained a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring and will miss at least four weeks — an injury that likely deprives him a chance at becoming a first-time All-Star and also likely will make him unavailable to play in the June 20 game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., that is being heralded as a tribute to the Negro Leagues.

Wade had very little to say as he hustled out of the clubhouse following Tuesday night’s win.

“I don’t really have any thoughts,” he said, not breaking stride as he walked to the players’ parking lot. “I just want to get back when I get back, honestly. My reaction was four weeks is four weeks. We’ll see what happens.”

The Giants called up Trenton Brooks, a 28-year-old playing in his eighth professional season who made his long-awaited major-league debut Tuesday. They also brought back Fitzgerald, who had his own atonement to make on the basepaths after getting picked off in a pivotal spot shortly before his demotion. The Giants couldn’t score Fitzgerald after he drew a pinch walk to start the eighth. But he made two good reads on fly balls while making two 90-foot advances to win the game in the 10th.

Nobody walked away from the game with more positive residue than Wisely, who played shortstop in just two of his 32 games for Triple-A Sacramento this year and had started at the position just 29 times in 363 minor-league games. Until his most recent stint with the club, he’d played just two innings at shortstop in the big leagues.

But with top prospect Marco Luciano making three critical errors in the ninth inning of games on the last road trip, and Nick Ahmed still working his way back from a sprained wrist, Melvin was compelled to make a change. Wisely has proven himself to be reliable and even instinctual at the position.

“Anything hit to the left side typically has been good for us,” Melvin said. “More than anything the guy who has stood out here has been Wisely, playing a position he doesn’t play. He looks like a shortstop at this point in time.”

Shortstops must have spatial awareness. They must be able to slow their heartbeat and make decisions under duress. The good ones tend to be pretty good at directing traffic.

“It was just the right play,” Chapman said. “He hasn’t played a lot of shortstop but he’s a smart baseball player. He’s able to do a lot of things on the field. So it didn’t surprise me he was able to do that.”

“Baseball IQ of a million,” Howard said. “It was incredible. Solid all the way around.”

(Top photo of Tyler Fitzgerald sliding into the plate: Stan Szeto / USA Today)

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