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Johnny Cueto ‘was just so happy’ as Giants find something else to play for

Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs? The Giants are eight games back. It’s not happening.

For Bruce Bochy? He moved four wins from 2,000. It is happening, but it’s less leaping a hurdle and more slightly raising their foot over the bar.

For their futures? Of course, but it’s easy to start looking ahead toward 2020 when 2019 doesn’t matter.

How about fun? Johnny Cueto night might have given the most enjoyable answer to what the Giants can still play for.

Cueto was as advertised, all slips and shimmies and slides and starts and stops, pitching perhaps the most enjoyable five innings of the Giants’ season — and the only five innings thus far for Cueto in his first start back from Tommy John surgery.

He baffled Pirates hitters, keeping them off-guard, while keeping Giants fielders on constant alert in their 5-4 victory at Oracle Park on Tuesday.

“It’s fun. You gotta be on your toes,” was Mauricio Dubon’s analysis from second. “He does the shimmy, the quick pitch. It’s fun, I love it. The energy he brings. His aura.”

“It’s nice to be on this side of it because you see the joy he’s out there with,” said Stephen Vogt, the former Athletic, who caught Cueto. “The one thing that really blows my mind is whatever you call, he’s going to execute. It sounds funny. But he pitches, he hits his spots. He’s an artist, he really is. It was really, really fun.”

“It’s just great to see him back. And what a game he threw,” Bruce Bochy said. “… You think back, it’d be nice to have him here all year. But to have him pitching now, it’s big for him, big for us. And what a lift he gave us.”

So that’s two out of three in “fun”s. How about Johnny?

“That’s my game,” was the report from Johnny Cueto, as translated by Erwin Higueros. “Every time I pitch, I just want to have fun.”

And he did. The energy was different, and the clubhouse celebration was notably loud for Cueto’s first major league start since July 28, 2018.

It was a different type of Giants game from the onset, Cueto opening with an 11-pitch first in which he struck out one and went 1-2-3. The crowd, as it would until he fist-pumped off the mound in the fifth, rose to its feet and he gestured his thanks.

“That was Johnny like we know,” Bochy said.

Cueto had a pitch target of 70, and his number was rising in the fifth, through which he gave up a single hit. Kevin Kramer, who has bothered the Giants through two games, would not stop fouling off pitches. Pitch 68 was a 91-mph four-seamer. Cueto and Vogt could sense this was it if they couldn’t get him.

What else would Vogt call but a changeup for pitch 69.

“I think we both kind of got that feeling and it turned into, all right, we’re going to get this guy. Whatever we need to do to finish off the inning with this guy, we need to do it,” said Vogt, who caught an 81-mph offspeed pitch that Kramer swung through. “It was awesome.”

As were the quick pitches that came on a dime. The slow windups that seemed to take minutes to complete. Baseball by brains and not by brawn.

“I don’t think that gets talked about enough, how much that disrupts us as hitters when pitchers can vary their rhythms and timing like that,” Vogt said.

There was a different vibe throughout for everyone apparently except Cueto, who said he felt “normal … like I was pitching Opening Day.”

He did not want to get into the struggles of not pitching in the majors for 13 months. Of falling and getting back up. Of finding something he couldn’t before.

But his face told the story.

“He was just so happy today,” Vogt said.


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