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Giants make most of opportunities

Giants make most of opportunities

SAN FRANCISCO -- Plenty has been written and said about what's wrong with the Giants. Monday night was an opportune time to notice what they're doing right.

The Giants won for the fifth time in seven games, outlasting the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-4. Arizona entered the game with the National League's best record at 9-3, but the Giants scored twice in the seventh inning to erase a 4-3 deficit, complementing four shutout innings by the bullpen.

This was the sort of game that the Giants would have blown last year, when they finished 39-55 in one- and two-run decisions. Either they wouldn't have mounted that late offense or the relievers would have sagged. But catcher Bengie Molina, who's often so disconsolate after defeats, was nonplussed in victory when asked to point out the difference in these Giants, who are 4-3 in one-run decisions, from last season's.

"It's kind of hard to point out one specific thing we're doing different," Molina said.

Molina's correct. When the Giants (6-8) have thrived, there's more than one reason for their success.

Their speed is a definite factor. The Giants stole four bases to hike their league-leading total to 17, and the irrepressible Eugenio Velez galvanized them again during the go-ahead rally against Chad Qualls (0-1). Velez chopped a grounder up the middle for an infield single, then sped to third when Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew was unable to handle Randy Winn's one-hop smash for an error. After Aaron Rowand walked to load the bases, Ray Durham's fielder's-choice grounder and Molina's sacrifice fly delivered the tying and winning runs, respectively.

"He runs like a gazelle," Rowand said of Velez. "He puts pressure on the catcher, he puts pressure on the pitcher, he distracts him from throwing the kind of pitches he wants to throw. Him going from first to third on that ball Randy hit was huge, too. He ran right in their face. That changes the inning right there."

Being fleet helps these Giants seize opportunities more readily than last year's club. Each of their runs was unearned, although they generated their own luck by putting the ball in play. After Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds mishandled Jose Castillo's grounder to christen the third inning, San Francisco needed two-out hits from Winn, whose two-run bloop single was a pop fly to shallow left that shortstop Stephen Drew couldn't hold, and Rowand, who hit a groundball RBI double that Reynolds was unable to backhand.

"We hit a couple of balls that were hit in the right spot, and that helps," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

The bullpen, which never jelled in 2007, fended off Arizona after starter Jonathan Sanchez allowed six hits and all of the D-Backs' runs in five innings. Keiichi Yabu worked two innings, Tyler Walker needed just nine pitches to fashion a perfect eighth and Brian Wilson converted his third consecutive save opportunity.

"I've said since Spring Training that the bullpen is going to be fine," Molina said. "These guys love to pitch when the games matter."

This one mattered to Yabu (1-1), who may have been pitching for his spot on the roster with Vinnie Chulk expected to be activated from the disabled list as early as Tuesday. Speaking through an interpreter, Taira Uematsu, Yabu said he was "motivated" to pitch after allowing runs in each of his previous four outings.

Yabu's victory also had historical significance, since it was the first one recorded for the Giants by a Japanese pitcher since Masanori Murakami beat Cincinnati on Sept. 30, 1965. "Mr. Murakami is one of his friends, so he's glad he was able to win and reach the same status," Uematsu said.

It wasn't a painless victory for the Giants, who vaulted into third place in the NL West past idle Colorado and Los Angeles, a 6-4 loser to Pittsburgh. Rowand, who's playing with an injured right groin and bruised left ribs, was caught grimacing in pain by television cameras in the fifth inning after diving into second base while being doubled off and after bumping the center-field wall in the process of catching Eric Byrnes' seventh-inning drive. Rowand insisted that he'd be able to play Tuesday, but Bochy said that he'd check on him first.

"It was a rough one tonight," admitted Rowand, who had ice packs strapped to his injured areas.

But it also was a satisfying one for the Giants, ultimately.

"It's a building block for us," Rowand said. "We were down, we were up, we were down, we were up and we held on. That's a confidence builder for this group as a whole. It shows character to come back."

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

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