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07/29/09 3:21 AM ET
Velez's hot bat pushes Giants past Bucs
Utility man gets two big hits for Majors' best home team
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nothing Eugenio Velez accomplished Tuesday night will end speculation that the Giants are closing in on another hitter to fortify the club's lineup. But for a few hours, at least, Velez deflected the attention surrounding Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez toward himself by lashing a homer and an RBI double that lifted the Giants to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though it's still a tad early for this sort of thing, the Giants' second victory in a row hoisted them back into a tie with Colorado for the National League Wild Card lead. It also improved their home record to 33-15 (.688), moving them ahead of Boston (34-16, .680) for best in the Majors. Right-hander Brian Wilson, who converted his sixth save opportunity in a row and 26th overall, found significance in the Giants' home excellence, given their three sub-.500 records by the Bay in the previous four seasons. "That's something all teams strive for, especially us," Wilson said. Those details, while attractive to the Giants, took a back seat to current events. Friday's Trade Deadline drew a day closer as intrigue continued to swirl like fog around AT&T Park. In the wake of general manager Brian Sabean's remarks about pursuing a companion deal to Monday's trade for first baseman Ryan Garko, rumors intensified regarding the Giants' interest in Sanchez, the 2006 NL batting champion and three-time All-Star second baseman. Sanchez is batting .296 despite a current 3-for-34 skid. The 31-year-old has missed three of the last five games with a tender left knee. But the injury is not considered serious. He'd fit nicely toward the top of San Francisco's batting order and would fill the club's immense offensive void at second base. Giants second basemen entered Tuesday ranked last in the NL with 23 RBIs, a .585 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and a .225 batting average, besides standing next-to-last with 35 runs. The respective league averages in those categories are 44, .744, .268 and 52. Better yet, Sanchez is neither overpriced nor a rent-a-player -- criteria the Giants have avoided. His 2009 salary would appear to be affordable. San Francisco should be able to afford the prorated portion of the $6.1 million he's earning this season, and his $8 million club option for 2010 would be well within the club's budget, particularly since the Giants could be shedding the seven-figure salaries of several free-agent eligibles, including Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia, Noah Lowry, Juan Uribe and the already retired Dave Roberts. The Giants likely would have to part with prospects, but not top ones such as left-hander Madison Bumgarner, catcher Buster Posey or first baseman Angel Villalona. Otherwise the buzz involving Sanchez wouldn't have reached its current volume. While the Giants took batting practice, Sabean, scouting director John Barr, vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans and president Larry Baer sat about a dozen rows behind the team's dugout, chatting among themselves for close to an hour. It's unlikely they were discussing grain futures. Until Sanchez joins the Giants -- if that deal indeed reaches fruition -- Velez provided an acceptable substitute at second base. Velez, who entered the game with one extra-base hit in 39 at-bats spanning three previous stints with the Giants, tied the score, 1-1, by delivering his first homer of the season with two outs in the second inning off Pirates starter Charlie Morton (2-3). Velez broke the deadlock in the sixth by doubling home Fred Lewis, who singled and stole second base. Velez, who opened the season with the Giants, relied on simple means to sharpen his stroke at Triple-A Fresno. He said he worked more extensively on hitting off a tee, the better to focus on the ball. "If you keep your eye on the ball, everything's going to be fine," Velez said. Moreover, Velez remained upbeat, even while other farmhands received promotions to San Francisco. "If you play hard, something's going to happen," Velez said. "I just have to play my game." The Giants needed more than Velez's deeds, however. They widened their lead to 3-1 in the seventh as Andres Torres doubled, advanced on Winn's sacrifice bunt and scored on Pablo Sandoval's single. San Francisco needed that run to offset Andy LaRoche's double and Luis Cruz's sacrifice fly in the eighth, which ended Jeremy Affeldt's Major League-high streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings. "I guess that's something I'll always remember," Affeldt said. "Now that it's over, it's all about winning."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.