SAN FRANCISCO -- Curt Casali had not started a game since last Sunday, and with the way the Giants had Buster Posey's schedule set, Casali wasn't supposed to see the field again until this Sunday. Knowing that he would have a full week off between appearances, Casali went hard in the weight room and on the field before Friday's series opener against the A's -- and then he found out he would be starting.
Posey's back tightened up a bit as he took swings in the cage before the game, so the Giants turned to Casali about two hours before first pitch. If Casali was feeling any fatigue, it all went away the second he stepped into the remodeled home bullpen at Oracle Park.
For the first time in 21 months, the Giants opened up their jewel of a ballpark with no restrictions. The fans arrived early and in huge numbers, and they were already lathered up by the time Cueto started throwing warm-up pitches to Casali. The catcher soaked it all in and knew Cueto was in for a good night.
"He's a showman," Casali said. "He feeds off high-energy situations. I could feel it in the bullpen. He was nodding his head a lot like he was happy that there were a lot of people in the crowd."
Cueto took that energy to the mound, overpowering the A's in a 2-0 win that was the 11th shutout of the year for the Giants, their ninth win in 10 games, and their 49th of the season. They are 23 games above .500 and appear to only be getting stronger. And perhaps they are.
At their peak, the Giants had a big homefield advantage on the shores of McCovey Cove, and not just because the cold and windy nights make opponents uncomfortable. They sold the place out for more than 500 consecutive games and fed off that energy. They did the same Friday night in front of 36,928, the biggest crowd at Oracle Park since Bruce Bochy said goodbye.
Cueto was the perfect person to be on the mound as the Giants celebrated their "reopening." He pitched seven shutout innings in one of his sharpest outings since he returned from Tommy John surgery, and the Giants gave him an early run and then a second one on Casali's homer. Both veterans tried to soak in the atmosphere, particularly Cueto, who has always gravitated toward the spotlight. He pumped his fist after big strikeouts, made a show of his first foreign substance check by an umpire, and twirled on the mound after striking out Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to get out of a jam in the fifth.
"Fans can really give us energy. It's truly incredible. For Johnny, who might have been struggling his last couple of starts, kind of grinding, that gave him an extra level of adrenaline to go out there and give us his best stuff," Casali said. "He pitched so well. It's funny how well he responds to big situations and cheers in the stands. It was really fun to be a part of."
In the tightest spots, Cueto went to his fastball, repeatedly blowing it by A's hitters with runners on. He threw 50 fastballs overall, catching the A's by surprise. Casali said he thought it was Cueto's best fastball life of the season.
San Francisco Giants
"He was mixing the four-seam in with the two-seamers and it had some serious bite to it," he said. "It just felt like the A's kind of waited for changeups and slow stuff the entire day. They weren't getting too many good swings on the heater so we kept throwing it and getting easy outs, ground balls, quick innings."
Cueto got through seven innings for just the third time in a dozen starts this year. He pumped four-seamers in the seventh, getting a couple of soft flyouts to cap his night. After his 102nd pitch, Cueto took his cap off and walked slowly off the mound. He looked up at the roaring crowd the entire way back to the dugout, nodding and then giving a quick salute.
"I looked around," Cueto said. "It felt really good. I saw the fans and that's what we like."
Cueto wasn't the only one to sneak a peak at the packed house. After Casali hit his second homer in his last three starts, he looked up at the fans behind the home dugout and raised a hand to salute his wife. Two innings later, Gabe Kapler stood on the top step and watched Chad Pinder walk out to pinch-hit against Jake McGee.
This was Kapler's first time managing the Giants without any restrictions at the ballpark, and the crowd was twice as big as any other at Oracle Park in his tenure. He snuck a peek before settling in to watch McGee strike out Pinder.
"We saw last year how (Pinder) can change the game with one swing of the bat and I think the fans recognized that and recognized how big the moment was," Kapler said. "I think Jake felt that. I did take a pause and look around at the very end and saw all our fans on our feet and saw most every seat filled, if not all of them, at the end there. I think it was special for the players in the dugout and all of us as staff, as well."