PHOENIX -- The Giants' catcher thrived offensively Saturday. His 3-for-4 evening featured a two-run, tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, which surely will help his chances in the Most Valuable Player balloting.San Francisco's catcher also excelled on defense. He ushered Barry Zito and three relievers through Arizona's lineup and threw out two would-be basestealers, including a breathtaking peg from his knees to retire the second runner. That catcher, who did so much to forge the Giants' 3-2 victory over the D-backs, actually was a pair of people. You've guessed their identities, of course -- Buster Posey, who made one of his occasional shifts to first base, and Hector Sanchez, who actually donned the tools of ignorance as the Giants won their fourth game in a row. Combined with Los Angeles' 4-3 victory over St. Louis, the outcome enabled the Giants to maintain their 7 1/2-game lead in the National League West over the second-place Dodgers. San Francisco also trimmed its magic number for clinching the division to 10. "We're not taking anything for granted," Zito said. "We knew that, especially when the Dodgers made all those trades, they had the talent there to put on a pretty darned good run. We're not going to be comfortable until Oct. 4." "I think what's been nice seeing on this road trip is guys are continuing to go out with that fire and play each game hard," Posey said. Posey wasn't referring to himself, but he could have been. Lacking a triple to hit for the cycle, he hiked his batting average from .329 to .333 and delivered yet another clutch contribution with his 22nd homer, an opposite-field drive to right off D-backs left-hander Wade Miley (15-10). The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year got the best of the potential 2012 award winner by belting a 2-0 pitch.
"I made a bad pitch to Posey and he capitalized on it," Miley said. "I threw a fastball over the middle and he did what he was supposed to with that pitch. I was trying to throw a sinker down, down off the plate, and if I walk him, I walk him."Sanchez helped preserve the lead. The first thief he apprehended was Paul Goldschmidt in the fourth inning -- a key event, since it preceded a Justin Upton home run that tied the score, 1-1. Sanchez's next throw to second was nothing short of stunning. He flung the ball from his knees to catch speedy pinch-runner Tyler Graham, a former Giants farmhand, to open the ninth. "It's instinct," Sanchez said of the unorthodox, difficult and effective technique few catchers employ. "I just tried to throw quick." Posey was duly impressed with his fellow receiver.
"That's about as good as it gets," Posey said. "From the knees, with the zip he had on it, right on the money, it doesn't get much better."Someday the Giants will have to decide whether to let Posey continue to catch or move him to first base to accommodate Sanchez. For now, with Sanchez completing his first full Major League season, the organization is content with the status quo. "It makes it easy to rest your cleanup hitter, Buster, when you have a backup like Hector," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's done a great job this year." The primary beneficiary was Zito (12-8), who allowed one run and six hits in 6 2/3 innings. Zito established a personal single-season high for victories during his six-year San Francisco tenure. More importantly, the Giants lengthened their winning streak in his starts to eight. "It's great to be out there and be part of a win, regardless of how you get it," Zito said. "It's not really about personal stats, it's about team stats. Especially [while] making a playoff run." Arizona manager Kirk Gibson praised Zito, who's 3-0 in four outings this year against Arizona. "He locates great. He really does," Gibson said. "He's got great sequences. He throws the ball at the top of the zone a lot, he drops his curveball in there, he's got a cutter, he's got a slider, changeup. He's thrown the ball very well this year every time we've seen him. I don't want to give him too much credit, because at the same time I think we should be able to make better adjustments and get more runs off him than that." Angel Pagan began the game in memorable fashion by lining his 13th triple, the most by a Giant in one season since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. Pagan had shared the record with Willie Mays (1960) and Steve Finley (2006). "It's neat to see the history of the game here with the Giants," Bochy said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.