Giants in first after eighth straight win

Giants in first after eighth straight win

LOS ANGELES -- Often criticized as being too old, the San Francisco Giants made their experience count Thursday night.

It took proven hitters such as Ray Durham and Bengie Molina to thrive in the clutch, each collecting two-out, run-scoring hits in two separate innings to help the Giants overcome a three-run deficit.

Only a veteran pitcher such as Russ Ortiz could have put 10 runners on base in the first three innings yet allow just three runs.

Instead of surrendering to pressure and fatigue, Armando Benitez focused solely on his job to convert his third save opportunity in three days and improve to 7-for-7 overall.

These were among the latest highlights for the Giants, who lengthened their winning streak to eight games with a 5-4 decision over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A paid crowd of 56,000, matching a Dodger Stadium regular-season record, watched the Giants record their first three-game sweep at Chavez Ravine since April 2-4, 2002. That enabled the Giants (12-8, .600) to inch past the Dodgers (13-9, .591) into first place in the National League West by percentage points. That's reason to celebrate in October, not in April.

"You don't put as much stock in it, obviously," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But that should be the goal of every club."

These days, the Giants are indeed the envy of every team. They have recorded a 2.04 ERA and limited opponents to a .208 average during the winning streak, the team's longest since a 10-game binge from May 20-31, 2004. San Francisco has scored only 35 runs in this stretch, but with that kind of pitching, the offense doesn't have to be spectacular.

The offense belonged to the Dodgers early in this one. They led 3-0 after two innings, but the gap easily could have been larger. Luis Gonzalez's double-play grounder rescued Ortiz from a two-on, one-out jam after Nomar Garciaparra stroked an RBI single in the first, and a botched squeeze play that trapped Andre Ethier off third base helped hold Los Angeles to a pair of runs in the second.

With the bases loaded and one out in the third inning, the Dodgers were poised to make it a rout, particularly after Ortiz fell behind Wilson Betemit 3-0 in the count. Then Ortiz rebounded to strike out Betemit before coaxing Ethier's inning-ending fly ball.

Ortiz maintained faith in himself despite his rocky start.

"I wasn't all over the place," he said. "When I was missing, it was down."

By then, the Giants' recovery had started against Los Angeles starter Brad Penny. They scored in the third on Randy Winn's leadoff double and Dave Roberts' one-out single. San Francisco made the Dodgers regret an intentional walk to Barry Bonds with Omar Vizquel on third and two outs in the sixth inning when Durham and Molina lined RBI singles.

Making his first appearance since April 17, Kevin Correia (1-1) finished the sixth and struck out two in a scoreless seventh, which ended with Winn catching up to Gonzalez's line drive with Jeff Kent on first.

"When he hit it, I thought it was going to get in the corner," Bochy said.

Fittingly, the Giants followed this with a pair of eighth-inning runs to break the tie.

Vizquel drew a leadoff walk from Joe Beimel (1-1) and moved to third base on Ryan Klesko's single, a grounder that scooted under Garciaparra's glove at first base.

Bonds grounded into a double play as Vizquel held his ground, but Durham doubled to right-center field off Juan Pierre's glove to break the deadlock. Pierre ran hard and long and appeared to have a chance to make the grab until the last instant.

"That's a ball I gotta catch," Pierre said. "You gotta make plays, and I didn't make the play."

Asked if he thought Pierre would snare his drive, Durham replied, "Actually, yeah. I hit that ball pretty good. It kept tailing away from him. I'm glad he ran out of room."

Durham, who hit a 1-0 fastball from Beimel, explained that he tends to narrow his focus in two-out RBI situations.

"I almost cut the plate in half. I either look in or I look away," Durham said. "At that time, I didn't think he'd throw me something in to where I can turn on it and possibly hit it out, which is smart on their part. But I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it."

Molina followed with a ground ball that scissored between Garciaparra and Kent, scoring Durham. Such handiwork reminded Ortiz of the successful Giants teams he played for during his 1998-2002 tenure with the club: "You have veteran guys who put together good at-bats at the right time."

Completing the reversal of Los Angeles' three-game sweep April 6-8 in San Francisco was up to the bullpen, but not without some drama as Ethier homered off Brad Hennessey with two outs in the eighth. On came Benitez for the ninth, which ended with Garciaparra being called out on a slider after fouling off three full-count pitches.

Logically, Benitez should have been tired after working the previous two nights. But, he said, "You have to be ready for anything."

His teammates share that outlook.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.