SAN DIEGO -- For the Giants, Thursday night's spotlight fell on their 12th inning, when they scored five runs to snap a tie and cruise to a 6-2 triumph over the San Diego Padres.But San Francisco's winning rally wouldn't have been possible without Aubrey Huff, who preceded the Giants' big 12th with what could prove to be one of the season's key moments. Huff christened the ninth inning by homering off Heath Bell, San Diego's All-Star closer, to erase a 1-0 deficit and force extra innings. That enabled the Giants to fend off the Padres until Mike Fontenot's bases-loaded walk delivered the go-ahead run and Pablo Sandoval's two-run single helped San Francisco pull away for its fifth victory in six games. Luke Gregerson, San Diego's fifth reliever, doomed himself in the 12th by issuing a trio of four-pitch walks, including Fontenot's two-out free pass. Gregerson also misplayed Eli Whiteside's sacrifice-bunt attempt for an error that loaded the bases with nobody out. But Huff's homer was widely considered the evening's key moment for the Giants, who hiked their National League West lead to 3 1/2 games over idle Arizona. "He woke us up," said Sandoval, who lengthened his hitting streak to 22 games. "That's impressive." Sandoval's praise actually might have been an understatement. After fouling off a pair of 0-2 pitches, Huff planted a drive in the right-field seats to hand Bell only his second blown save opportunity in 28 chances. Not only did Huff end a stretch of 125 at-bats without a home run, dating back to his three-homer binge June 2 at St. Louis, but it also was the first long ball Bell had yielded since then-Giant Juan Uribe connected off him on April 19, 2010. Since then, Bell went 99 games and 102 innings without being taken deep. Said Bell, "It was a pretty good pitch, but I think Huff was expecting it or saw it come out of my hand pretty good, and he just tattooed it. I've been going really well. You know, sometimes you've got to be humbled, and personally I like to think runs are humbling, not blown saves. This will just make me work harder and try to be better." "The guy's so good," Huff said. "He's one of the best in the game. [But] he's not immune to making a mistake. I'm sure he'd want that [pitch] back. But I don't feel bad for him." None of the Giants' opponents felt bad for Huff during his first-half offensive struggles. But his history of surging in the second half suggests that homering off Bell was an indication of things to come and not just an aberration. Lifetime, Huff entered Thursday with a .269 batting average, a .332 on-base percentage, a .446 slugging percentage and 117 home runs in 3,569 plate appearances before the All-Star break. Those pale alongside his corresponding career numbers after the break: .293, .354 and .497, with 120 homers in just 2,912 plate appearances. "When I'm doing what I'm supposed to, we roll a little bit better," said Huff, whose ninth homer of the season rescued Giants starter Madison Bumgarner from an undeserved 10th loss. Bumgarner yielded one run in six innings and trimmed his ERA to 3.74. Sustained by another excellent effort from the bullpen, which held San Diego hitless from the seventh through 11th innings, the Giants broke through in the 12th. Gregerson walked Cody Ross and Brandon Crawford before botching Whiteside's bunt. Gregerson nearly escaped the inning as pinch-hitter Miguel Tejada fouled out and Andres Torres struck out. Then Fontenot's free pass pushed across pinch-runner Emmanuel Burriss with the go-ahead run. Sandoval, who lengthened his hitting streak to 22 games with a first-inning single, lined a 3-2 pitch into left field to score Crawford and Whiteside. Nate Schierholtz, who earlier hit two drives to the center-field warning track, and Huff added RBI singles. Sandoval moved a step closer toward Jack Clark's franchise-record consecutive-hit streak of 26 in 1978. Predictably, Sandoval preferred to discuss his success, or club history regarding similar streaks, as little as possible -- the better to avoid overanalysis or simply jinxing himself.
"I just go out there and swing the bat," Sandoval said. "I don't want to know anything about it."After relieving Javier Lopez with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th, Brian Wilson surrendered a sacrifice fly and walked Chris Denorfia to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Then Wilson coaxed Jason Bartlett's comebacker to seal his 27th save. Asked if he feared that Wilson might squander San Francisco's lead, Giants manager Bruce Bochy referred to the provocative outfit Wilson wore at the ESPY Awards and said, "I was more worried, a day after wearing that spandex, whether he'd have his blood circulating."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.