Velez, Molina help Giants defeat Reds
Catcher falls triple shy of cycle to support Zito's quality outing
SAN FRANCISCO -- With his spindly build, Eugenio Velez might seem like an unlikely substitute for Barry Bonds. Yet, Velez is stimulating the Giants' offense as few players have since Bonds' heyday.Velez scored twice while delivering his second home run in as many games Saturday, helping the Giants outlast the Reds, 4-2. San Francisco's 38th home victory, one more than its total for the entire 2008 season, assured the club of maintaining at least a first-place tie with Colorado in the National League Wild Card standings. The most productive Giant was not Velez but catcher Bengie Molina, who also homered for the second successive game while going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. The resurgent Molina is batting .500 (7-for-14) with seven RBIs in his past three games. The most decorated Giant was Barry Zito (8-10), who muzzled Cincinnati for six innings and won his third consecutive decision for only the second time since joining San Francisco in 2007. And the most resilient members of the orange-and-black were the relievers, who blanked the Reds for three innings after walking six and allowing seven runs in the final two innings of Friday night's loss. But Velez was easily the most startling Giant, as he has remained since his July 27 recall. He extended his personal-best hitting streak to 14 games, a stretch in which he's batting .433 (26-for-60) with three homers and 11 RBIs. Moreover, the 6-foot-1, 162-pounder planted his latest homer in a place typically reached only by the strongest of power hitters. With the Giants trailing, 2-1, Velez belted a 1-1 pitch from Bronson Arroyo (10-11) into the right-center-field stands above the 421-foot marker to open the bottom half of the sixth inning. When the Giants summoned Velez from Triple-A Fresno, they figured that he could provide outfield depth and speed off the bench. Slugging wasn't supposed to be part of the equation, given Velez's 27 homers in 1,960 Minor League at-bats and one long ball in his various Giants stints at the time of his recall. "I'll be honest, we weren't looking for power," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But he's strong. ... He came back [from the Minors] with a lot of confidence, and it shows." Velez, who received a chance to play when Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres went on the disabled list, also has impressed teammates, who have seen him excel in Spring Training but not to this extent in the Majors. "He's bringing some serious arsenal," closer Brian Wilson said, noting that Velez manufactured a first-inning run by singling, advancing on a pair of groundouts and scoring on Molina's double. "He has come back a different player," Zito said. "He's really making a case for himself. Having him in the leadoff spot is huge, because he puts immediate pressure on the opponent. He's a guy who can hit for power, for average, he has speed -- he's got it all." "I don't know what happened to him when he left," veteran reliever Bob Howry said, referring to Velez's May demotion to Triple-A, "but he doesn't look like the same guy." Most importantly, Velez feels different -- more focused, to be specific. Already on record as saying that thousands of extra swings off a tee sharpened his stroke, Velez noted Saturday that sharper focus has spurred his improvement. "If you concentrate and play hard, you're going to do fine," Velez said. He acknowledged that he took this approach in previous Giants stints, but added, "When you don't play every day, it's hard." After Velez's monstrous homer, Freddy Sanchez singled and it appeared that he would be doubled off first base on Pablo Sandoval's looper. But Sanchez wound up at third as Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch of Sandoval's bloop in the outfield, fired a throw that skipped past first baseman Joey Votto and into Cincinnati's dugout. Votto might have been able to snare the ball, but hoping for a double play, he remained anchored to the base. Molina then singled through a drawn-in infield to deliver Sanchez with the go-ahead run. Molina slugged his second homer in two games with one out in the eighth inning off reliever Carlos Fisher to pad San Francisco's lead. Meanwhile, the bullpen was busy redeeming itself. Howry contributed 1 2/3 innings, surviving Jonny Gomes' seventh-inning drive to left field that Velez caught a step in front of the wall while battling the sun. Jeremy Affeldt struck out Votto to end the eighth inning before Wilson pitched an easy ninth for his 28th save. It was nothing like Wilson's performance Friday, when he walked three and allowed two hits to the seven batters he faced while absorbing the losing decision. "That's the beauty of being a closer," Wilson said. "You get to come back the next day."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.