Gausman looks like first-half self as playoffs near for Giants


DENVER -- The Giants, particularly manager Gabe Kapler, have gone out of their way in recent weeks to keep the focus on each day's game. They loathe the big picture and any talk about what October might look like, and that's fine.

They have 102 wins in part because they come in and grind every single day. 

But October is coming, and they're closing in on the top seed in the National League. Their magic number to clinch the NL West is five after Sunday's 6-2 win at Coors Field, and doing so would allow the Giants to properly set their rotation ahead of their first postseason game in five years. 

It once again appears they have a veteran capable of leading that group.

After two inconsistent months, Kevin Gausman -- an ace, All-Star and Cy Young candidate in the first half -- appears to have found himself. Gausman struck out 11 in six one-run innings on Sunday against the Rockies, which tells you a bit about where he's at. The 25 swinging strikes tell you a bit more. But the most important piece of evidence came 20 minutes after the final out, when Gausman, who is as honest as any player in a postgame setting, appeared with a smile on his face. 

"I think today was a big step forward," he said. "I could just tell from the get-go that I was back to my normal self and back to when I was going good. Then the confidence came back and I felt I could throw any pitch whenever I needed to."

That was particularly evident on his last one. With a 2-1 lead in the sixth, runners on the corners and Trevor Story at the plate, Gausman threw a 3-2 splitter that darted so far down and away that catcher Curt Casali had trouble catching it. Story swung way over the top and then briefly glanced out at the mound. Gausman, usually as laid-back as anyone on the team, screamed as he walked toward the dugout, and then pumped his fists and screamed again. 

"I felt like especially recently I haven't thrown my best pitch in those situations," Gausman said. "I would get beat with guys in scoring position late in my outings. For me, it was just kind of a sigh of relief. I was just pumped up and fired up that I got through six."

Gausman started the trip by throwing four innings in San Diego, and the next four Giants starters each recorded exactly 12 outs. But it was clear early on Sunday that this was a different Gausman. He said he has been poring over video in recent weeks and found a mechanical adjustment that helped get him back on track. 

The 25 swings-and-misses on Sunday tied a career-high and marked the most by a Giants starter this season. The previous high was 20, set by Gausman in April, when he was at his best.

"Going into today, I just tried to simplify things and get back to what I was doing earlier," he said. 

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That should simplify things for manager Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Andrew Bailey. Gausman is scheduled to pitch just once more in the regular season, and while he would be lined up for a potential Wild Card Game, the Giants would much rather see him on the mound on Friday, Oct. 8 for Game 1 of the NLDS. 

For most of the second half, there have been questions about whether Gausman would be up to that assignment. But the pitcher who led the way Sunday at Coors Field once again looked like an ace.

"I thought it was as good as Gausman's looked in quite some time," Kapler said. "The split had great action to it. It's always a little tricky to get additional movement on a pitch here at Coors and sometimes this ballpark tends to kill movement. His fastball had good carry through the zone, he threw a ton of strikes early on and established that he was going to attack the zone. I thought it was a great outing for Gaus."

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