Sean Hjelle

Bullpen brilliant as Giants keep run going against Wheeler, Phillies

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For eight innings Tuesday night, Sean Hjelle watched as one Giants reliever after another put up a zero. 

First it was Erik Miller, the former Philadelphia Phillies prospect who has turned into a powerful lefty for the Giants. Then it was Taylor Rogers, who pitched two easy innings early in the game, carving up a lineup filled with left-handed bats. After that, it was Spencer Howard, a former Phillies top prospect who showed a firm fastball in four shutout innings as the bulk innings guy. Tyler Rogers was next, and he got through the dangerous top of the order in the eighth, bouncing back after an ugly walk-off loss Sunday in New York. 

Finally, it was Hjelle's turn. Ryan Walker and Camilo Doval were both down because of heavy recent workloads, so manager Bob Melvin turned to the tall right-hander, who quickly has gone from long relief to high leverage. In the ninth inning of a scoreless game against the team with the best record in the league, it was Hjelle Time. 

"I did not have that on my bingo card," he said later, smiling.

Perhaps he should have. When the Giants were playing like one of the worst teams in baseball earlier this month, Hjelle struck out 10 in four scoreless relief innings in Philadelphia. It wasn't enough to prevent a sweep, but weeks later, Hjelle and the other relievers put the Giants in position to get revenge with a sweep of their own. 

Five Giants relievers combined to throw 10 scoreless innings, countering a strong performance from Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. In the bottom of the 10th, after Hjelle stranded the automatic runner, Luis Matos hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to bring the night's only run home. 

With a 1-0 win, the Giants clinched their first series victory over a winning team since the beginning of April. They are 10-2 since a demoralizing blowout loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers exactly two weeks ago, and a lot of that success is because of a bullpen that is much deeper than anyone anticipated at the start of the season. 

"We were talking down there early on, like, 'The boys are locked in,' " Hjelle said. "It's one of those things where you see the guy in front of you go out there and execute pitches and get outs and do it efficiently, and I don't want to be that guy that breaks it up. It's contagious from the guy in front of you and then you just take that and pass it on to the guy behind you. 

"It was really fun to watch the guys go out there and do that and carve the path for everybody coming after them. I'm just going to keep going back to it: It's contagious. It's awesome."

That contagious feeling usually is something teams talk about when they're hot at the plate and racing to the bat rack. Right now, the Giants are riding a hot bullpen and a defense that continues to make game-swinging plays. Matt Chapman added to his highlight reel early, but on this night it was Brett Wisely who had the biggest contribution. 

Wisely alertly went to third on a Bryce Harper grounder with a runner on second, getting J.T. Realmuto out by a couple of steps. That kept the go-ahead run from reaching third with one out, and Howard got through the rest of the inning.

Howard ended up scattering five hits and striking out four. Against their own former first-rounder in Wheeler, the Giants got five shutout innings from Howard and Miller, both of whom were high draft picks by the Phillies. Howard said he's not spiteful about being traded from Philadelphia to Texas earlier in his career. He simply was happy to finally build some momentum in the big leagues. 

"I always felt like this was in there," he said. "I never really got a chance to show it."

It's unclear what the immediate future holds for Howard, who was called up because Keaton Winn remains on the IL and Mason Black was not eligible to return from Triple-A. But he contributed to a win on his first night in (City Connect) orange and black, and right now that's a theme. The wins are coming from up and down the roster. 

The biggest inning might have been pitched by Tyler Rogers, who got through Realmuto, Harper and Nick Castellanos in the eighth and shook off his rough outing Sunday. 

"Nothing is going to get us off Tyler," Melvin said of his faith in Rogers. 

The winning run came from Tyler Fitzgerald, who basically was put on ice after getting picked off on the last homestand and later was optioned to Triple-A. Fitzgerald kept his head up, winning PCL Player of the Week honors and then returning to San Francisco when LaMonte Wade Jr. got hurt. He was placed on second in the 10th and twice advanced on fly balls. 

"I don't think there's a better guy to have in that situation," Melvin said. 

The sprint home made a winner of Hjelle, who a month ago would have been an unlikely choice for the ninth. He smiled late Tuesday and said maybe he should have put the possibility on his bingo card. Melvin trusted him in a big spot and Hjelle delivered, helping the Giants win a bullpen game against one of the league's best pitchers. Like many of the others the last two weeks, this win came in the late innings. 

"We're doing a lot of our best work late in the game," Melvin said. "As long as we have a chance, we feel like we're going to win the game if it's late."

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