SAN FRANCISCO — Yusmeiro Petit's last name is pronounced "petite," which is not exactly truth in advertising, because Petit is anything but. He's officially listed at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, and he has legs that look more like they belong to a right tackle than a righthanded pitcher. Despite his size, Petit doesn't put up the big numbers on the radar gun that you might imagine. With a fastball that strains to reach 90 mph, he's a finesse pitcher in a power pitcher's body. You expect huge with Petit, and he consistently surprises you with something less.
Except, that is, for his performance for the Giants in the postseason. Petit's contribution as a long reliever has been massive, and never more so than Wednesday night, when his three scoreless innings in relief of struggling starter Ryan Vogelsong cooled the Cardinals long enough for the Giants to erase an early 4-1 deficit on their way to a 6-4 victory. The win gave the San Francisco a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS and put them within one win of their third World Series appearance in five years, where the newly crowned AL champion Kansas City Royals will be waiting.
The Giants' bats finally became useful, with Buster Posey driving in three runs and the offense producing 11 hits, their most of the postseason. But they still might be staring at a 2-2 series if not for the quiet but crucial efforts of Petit. He entered in the fourth, after Vogelsong had been tagged for four runs on seven hits, including what is becoming the obligatory Kolten Wong extra-base hit (a solo home run this time). Only a couple of hard-hit double-play grounders had kept the Cards from scoring more, and they looked ready to break the game open until Petit arrived. He allowed only two baserunners and fanned four in his three innings, delivering the Giants safely to the sixth, when they scored three times to tie the game at 4 apiece.
"The bullpen was phenomenal again," said Giants second baseman Joe Panik, "starting with Petit. He bridged that gap from Vogey to Jeremy (Affeldt) in the seventh and really kept the game from getting away from us."
It was the second time in the playoffs that Petit, 29, has provided the Giants with a string of zeroes when they desperately needed them. In their 18-inning win over the Nationals in the NLDS, he threw six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, allowing the Giants' stagnant offense to muddle along until Brandon Belt's game-winning home run.
"Just doing my job," Petit said, shrugging. Though he has been a starter for virtually all of his career, the game has humbled him enough during his seven-year career for him to grateful and prepared for any role.
Once a highly regarded prospect signed out of Venezuela by the Mets, Petit was traded to the Marlins for Carlos Delgado in 2006 and never became the front-line starter many expected him to be. After the Marlins waived him in 2007 he was picked up by the Diamondbacks, where he spent three nondescript seasons before he was waived again and spent 2010 in the Mariners' minor-league system. A year with Oaxaca in the Mexican League followed before the Giants signed him in 2012.
"This is the most comfortable I've been in my career," he said. "The Giants gave me another chance to be in the big leagues, and I'll do anything, whatever they want me to do."
Of such selfless attitudes are championship teams made. There are those who think Petit has pitched well enough that he should be in the postseason rotation, but even though he prefers to start, he would never agitate for such a role.
"Everything is working as it is," he said.
But he did help the Giants get to the postseason when he replaced Tim Lincecum (remember him?) in the Giants' rotation down the stretch, with an 0.63 ERA in August.
Petit is as good an example as any of how the Giants have been so successful, so able to overcome their mistakes. The two-year, $35 million contract they gave Lincecum last winter looks like a colossal blunder now, but they have survived it because of the emergence of Petit. Losing starter Matt Cain to elbow surgery didn't doom them because Jake Peavy arrived with a 1-9 record and was instantly reborn as a solid No. 2 starter. Call it good fortune or good scouting, but it's one of the main reasons the Giants are here.
Another reason is their well-documented way of scratching out strange runs, and that was in evidence yet again in Game 4, starting with a fly ball by Gregor Blanco that Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay inexplicably dropped, leading to a Posey sacrifice fly. But the real weirdness began in the Giants' three-run, game-deciding seventh. With runners on second and third and one out, Giants manager Bruce Bochy allowed the lefthanded hitting Blanco to face lefty reliever Marco Gonzales instead of turning to righty pinch-hitter Michael Morse. It was a curious move, but if you didn't think it would work out just fine for the Giants, you haven't been paying attention.
Blanco rapped a grounder to first baseman Matt Adams, who was playing in, but Adams' rushed throw to the plate was in the dirt, allowing the tying run to score. Then, with runners on first and third, Panik hit another groundball to Adams, who didn't distinguish himself defensively this time, either. He stepped on first and threw high to second, too late to double up Blanco. Meanwhile, Brandon Crawford, on third, broke for the plate and scored to give the Giants a 5-4 lead. Giants baseball, ladies and gentlemen.
Petit was finished with his night's work by then, and though it might have been overshadowed by another dose of the Giants' offensive oddities, his teammates didn't take it for granted.
"He ate up a lot of quality innings that gave Bochy a chance to start working the situation game in the late innings that he does so well," said fellow reliever Javier Lopez.
The Giants' relievers out-pitched the Cardinals' bullpen for the second straight game. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny has to hope he won't need to lean as heavily on his relievers in Game 5 on Thursday, when his ace, Adam Wainwright, will try to keep the Cards' season alive against the Giants' No. 1 starter, Madison Bumgarner. Wainwright has struggled in the postseason, but that doesn't worry Matheny. "Nobody else we'd rather have on the mound," he said. "We don't look at it as a series, we look at it as a game."
That's the way the Giants are looking at it, too, including Petit, who is ready to go to work again on Thursday. Someone asked him if he would be able to pitch again so soon after his three innings on Wednesday; he said he would. The next question: How many innings can you go? Petit said simply, "As many as we need."