PHILADELPHIA -- The Giants' starting rotation receives most of the credit for the team's stellar pitching. But the bullpen is closing the gap.
Game 1 of the National League Championship Series strengthened the reputation of the Giants' relief corps. After Tim Lincecum worked seven innings and bequeathed a one-run lead to the bullpen, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson preserved the edge Saturday as San Francisco outlasted the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-3.
Lopez, the left-hander the Giants use primarily to neutralize left-handed batters, retired two of the NL's best, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, to open the eighth. In came Wilson, who yielded Jayson Werth's single before striking out Jimmy Rollins.
Wilson, whose 48 regular-season saves led the NL, picked up his third postseason save by striking out the side in the ninth, though he put the tying run on base with one out by grazing Carlos Ruiz with a pitch.
Recording a four-out save was nothing new for Wilson, who converted 10 regular-season saves of 1 1/3 innings or more to lead the NL. But he felt grateful that Lopez didn't force him to get five or six outs.
"I can't thank him enough for doing that," Wilson said. "He went in and pitched perfectly. He's Mr. Consistent."
Indeed, Lopez held left-handers to five hits in 45 at-bats (.111) after the Giants acquired him from Pittsburgh in a July 31 trade. But though the sidearmer looked dominant while coaxing Utley's grounder to second base and striking out Howard, he can't guarantee such results all the time. Opposing hitters, especially left-handed ones, have studied his approach.
"That's the chess game that we play," Lopez said. "They know what I'm going to throw and I know what they like and don't like."
Brian Wilson led the Majors with 10 regular-season saves of more than one inning
Hitters also know what Wilson's going to throw them. Usually it's a searing fastball exceeding 95 mph. He increased his degree of difficulty by falling behind on all four of his strikeout victims: 3-1 on Rollins, 2-1 on Raul Ibanez and Ross Gload and 3-0 on Shane Victorino.
Wilson remained unfazed through it all.
"I'm not going to give in," Wilson said. "You're going to work. I'm going to work. It's a battle. I'm not going to lay one in there. They know that. And you know what? I've got three chances to get you out on strikes. I've got four chances to walk you. I like my odds. And if I can't get that guy, I'll get the next guy. The last thing I want to do is throw 15 strikes in one inning and blow the game. I think percentage of strikes helps but at the end of the day, unless it says 'W' next to the team, it doesn't matter."
Along those lines, Wilson took his four-out save in stride. He attributed his success in these situations to positive thinking: "I've been there before. I've done it. It's nothing new."
What's new is the Giants' surge through their first postseason appearance since 2003.
"This is fun," Wilson said. "I feel like I can't get to the ballpark early enough."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.