Giants close satisfying month with win
Castillo's homer, strong bullpen deliver victory vs. Rockies
SAN FRANCISCO -- Given their dreadful 1-6 start, the Giants could feel encouraged by the 13-16 record they built through April.Dismissed before the season began as destined for last place in the National League West, the Giants firmly believe that they can exceed expectations beyond anybody's wildest notions -- a conviction they could revel in after Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies. "It's the media who expects us to finish last, not the people in this clubhouse," center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "Everybody in this clubhouse expects to make the playoffs. That's what we come in here every day to do." The Giants sealed their 2-1 series triumph over the reigning NL champions in precisely the way they must survive. They incorporated stifling pitching, holding the Rockies hitless through the final four innings as relievers Merkin Valdez, Tyler Walker and Brian Wilson backed starter Jonathan Sanchez. They relied on stellar defense, as left fielder Fred Lewis robbed Willy Taveras of a game-tying hit with a diving eighth-inning catch. And they mustered barely enough offense, as Aaron Rowand and Jose Castillo homered. Castillo's drive was as unexpected as it was timely. It broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and ended his personal streak of 450 at-bats without a home run. Thus, the Giants gave themselves a fitting ending to the season's first month. Although the team wouldn't want to maintain their .448 winning percentage, they sense that they're beginning to jell. "Coming out of Spring Training, I know there were a lot of naysayers," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think the ballclub is developing some confidence [and thinking] you know what? We're a better club than we're given credit for and I think we match up great against anybody. If we put together a good ballgame, we expect to win." Rowand pointed out that due to the presence of the numerous rookies and near-rookies, along with the handful of newcomers such as himself, the Giants needed this month to learn to function as a unit. "It's a good period of coming together, getting to know each other and finding out what kind of team we're going to be," he said. "I think it's pretty apparent what kind of team we're going to be now. We can move forward from there." They took another step against the Rockies. Trailing, 2-1, they pulled even in the sixth against Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, the man who surrendered Barry Bonds' final home run last Sept. 5. Lewis walked, advanced to second base on Eugenio Velez's grounder and scored on Randy Winn's single. Leading off the seventh, Castillo lined the first pitch from right-hander Ryan Speier (0-1) into the left-field seats. It was Castillo's first home run since Aug. 14, 2006, when he played for Pittsburgh. On Monday, Castillo struck out against Speier on a sinking fastball with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. So he strode to the plate with that delivery in mind, and got it. "I was looking for one pitch," he said. The Giants needed more than that, and Lewis provided it. With two outs in the eighth and Scott Podsednik on second base, Taveras lined Walker's 1-2 pitch to left field, where Lewis flung himself headfirst toward earth and plucked the ball from just above the grass. As fortune would have it, the Giants' outfielders moved in a few steps before Walker's final pitch to Taveras, hoping to deny an RBI single. Nevertheless, the catch was a challenging one for Lewis. "'Go get it' -- that was the first thing that was on my mind," he said. "Right off the crack of the bat I thought it was a base hit," Walker said. "My hat's off to Freddie. That was a phenomenal catch." Lewis' teammates mobbed him as he returned to the dugout. Walker was particularly exultant. "He told me I'm on his Christmas list," Lewis said. "I thought I was on there from the beginning." Wilson opened the ninth by walking leadoff batter Todd Helton but recorded his ninth save in 10 chances to preserve the decision for Valdez (1-0), who struck out two in 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Having missed the 2007 season to recover from Tommy John elbow surgery, Valdez savored the moment. "It's very special for me, especially after all that I went through," Valdez said. "I'm just using the ability that God gave me and trying to help this team win."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.