PHOENIX -- "Stranger things have happened," Bruce Bochy was saying late Wednesday night. San Francisco's manager referred to a long-shot rally by the Giants into the playoffs -- not to Jonathan Sanchez stepping up as the rotation's stopper. Although that was strange enough.
In a rotation of marquee pitchers with headlines and honors, you wouldn't expect Sanchez to be the one to put his foot down and call for order, as he did in taking a shutout into the sixth inning of a 5-2 victory over the D-backs that kept the Giants' playoff hearts beating. The conclusion of a 3-3 road trip again pulled the Giants within four games of National League Wild Card leader Colorado. The Giants remained tied with the Braves, also four games behind. "Our starters have been struggling, and it was nice to have a guy go out and put a stop to it for us," Bochy said. "Sanchez pitched great. He was the guy." Sanchez (7-12) went 5 1/3 innings, striking out nine while allowing six hits and two runs, for only his eighth win in 42 starts since June 29, 2008. He wasn't the only guy. Juan Uribe drove in the Giants' first three runs with their only two hits through 6 2/3 innings -- an RBI double in the second and two-run homer in the sixth. Sanchez wasn't even the only guy factoring into stopping the D-backs: Batterymate Eli Whiteside got him over an alarming beginning with a fix-it lecture worthy of Mr. Goodwrench. But the main guy clearly was the left-hander who evidently specializes in the unexpected, such as his July 10 no-hitter. For that, he will get a plaque on AT&T Park's Giants Walk of Fame during the upcoming homestand. For what Sanchez did Wednesday night, perhaps he could get a Nobel Peace Prize. After all, he did restore peace to a pitching staff that had dodged booby traps for most of a week. "I know I wanted to go deeper in the game," said Sanchez, who had set the tone for the rotation's stumble by lasting only 4 1/3 innings in a Friday loss in Los Angeles. Maybe he now sounded a more pleasant tone to follow. "Hopefully, [Brad] Penny can come back tomorrow and go even deeper," Sanchez said, referring to the right-hander who will face the Chicago Cubs in Thursday's opener of an AT&T Park series. "We've been doing well all year, and it's just been weird how everyone had trouble the last time." Sanchez had trouble at the outset of this one, too. He walked Arizona's first two batters, Chris Young and Ryan Roberts. So Whiteside, making one of his occasional starts behind the plate, paid him a mound visit. "I spotted some mechanical glitch," Whiteside said. "He was too tall throwing the ball, and it kept sailing up. So I went out to tell hm that, he fixed it, and he was fine." Was he ever. Sanchez threw 16 of his next 17 pitches for strikes, 22 of 25. He threw as many balls to the first two batters as he did to the next 11. He walked no more, obviously, and struck out nine. Bochy, a former catcher himself, was deeply appreciative of Whiteside's assist. "It's so important for a catcher to help the pitcher. There's a lot more to the job than just receiving," Bochy said. "You have to help your pitcher through the tough spots, and Whiteside does as good a job of that as I've ever seen. I mean that." Sanchez recalled the visit from Whiteside, which also drew Uribe to the mound. While the catcher dealt with the mechanical, the shortstop went to the mental. "'Focus. Think out here,'" Sanchez said Uribe told him. "'Take a deep breath, and do your job.'" Between Uribe's advice and his bat, Sanchez had all the help he needed. Uribe followed a one-out walk of Pablo Sandoval in the sixth with his 14th homer, off Arizona starter Kevin Mulvey (0-2), staking Sanchez to a 3-0 lead. The D-backs made things tight in the bottom of the sixth, when Rusty Ryal chased Sanchez with a triple that scored Miguel Montero, who had led off with a single, and scored on pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra's sacrifice fly off reliever Bob Howry to cut the lead to 3-2. The Giants had jumped into a 1-0 lead in the second, which Sandoval led off with a walk before chugging all the way home on Uribe's double up the left-center alley. Sandoval singled for a run in the seventh, when the Giants got another run on an error at first by Ryal. Following Howry's mid-game "save," the Giants turned to that ideal bullpen shuttle: Sergio Romo in the seventh, then Jeremy Affeldt for his 33rd hold in the eighth, and Brian Wilson for his 36th save in the ninth. By then, the Rockies had lost to the Padres in Denver. The games-behind column shrunk by one. Sanchez knew what to make of that. The math is as simple as is the hope. "I hope we win tomorrow," he said, "and they lose; then it'll be three."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.