SAN FRANCISCO -- Baseball's stretch drive is supposed to be grueling, unforgiving and pressure-packed. It's not meant to be aesthetically pleasing.But shortstop Brandon Crawford turned the Giants' pursuit of the National League West title into a thing of beauty Monday night in the Giants' 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies. The outcome widened the first-place Giants' lead over idle Los Angeles to eight games and trimmed San Francisco's magic number for clinching the division championship to eight. Crawford smoothly recorded three putouts and assisted on six more, including a third-inning gem that might attract the attention of any of the managers and coaches who cast votes for the Gold Glove Awards. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Crawford's performance was that none of it was truly new to the Giants. They've witnessed the 25-year-old's fielding excellence for most of this year. "I don't know who's playing better," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, referring to Crawford's infield wizardry. Crawford seemed moved by the mere prospect of winning the Gold Glove Award.
"That would be awesome," he said. "I don't even know what my reaction would be, because I'm not even thinking about that right now."Crawford's glove and arm complemented Hunter Pence's clutch hitting and Madison Bumgarner's gritty effort. Pence's sixth-inning single off Rockies reliever Guillermo Moscoso (3-2) scored Pablo Sandoval to break a 1-1 tie. It was Pence's 35th RBI in 44 games with the Giants and his 27th go-ahead RBI of the season. After Bumgarner survived issuing a career-high five walks in six innings, five Giants relievers contributed three hitless innings, most notably Santiago Casilla (1 2/3 innings) and Sergio Romo (12th save). The Giants' successful launch to a 10-game homestand wouldn't have been possible without Crawford, who sparkled for virtually the entire evening. He started a second-inning double play and flawlessly handled grounders to account for three of Colorado's final five outs. In between, Crawford strengthened his Gold Glove bid with breathtaking execution. With Josh Rutledge on first base, Dexter Fowler on second and one out in the third inning, Crawford prevented a run by ranging to his right for Jordan Pacheco's grounder. Crawford snared the ball, then made an impossibly strong cross-body throw to first base for the out. Even for Crawford, who can make the spectacular look routine, it was an extraordinary play. "There was kind of a lot going through my head, with the runners and [deciding] where to throw the ball," he said. "I knew the two guys on base had pretty good speed." Though such gems often seem instinctive, Crawford said, "That's a play that we practice during batting practice every once in a while, just kind of messing around sometimes, because it's a tough play to make. Credit [bench coach Ron] Wotus, I guess, for hitting me those balls in the hole." Crawford added that unleashing the throw was more difficult than fielding the ball, "because it's one that you don't make a lot." The Rockies couldn't help but notice.
"They played good defense, and that's why they won the game," said Colorado starter Jhoulys Chacin. "We couldn't score a run whenever we got a chance."
The Giants denied Colorado those chances in the first inning, as catcher Buster Posey threw out Fowler on an attempted steal of second base, and in the sixth, when Sandoval dove to his left for Wilin Rosario's sixth-inning smash and straightened to throw him out.Gold Glove voters tend to favor candidates who add a dash of offense, so maybe it helped Crawford that he opened the scoring in the third inning by tripling and scoring on a passed ball. Crawford's drive caromed back into play when it struck the top of the barrier, recalling Ian Kinsler's luckless double for Texas in Game 2 of the 2010 World Series. Crawford also doubled in the fifth inning but was thrown out at home plate on Angel Pagan's single. Lacking his usual control, Bumgarner didn't share Crawford's elegance. But the left-hander allowed just four hits while holding the Rockies hitless in their first six at-bats with runners in scoring position. "My mechanics were probably as bad as they've been all year," Bumgarner said. "I was fortunate to make pitches when I needed to." Bumgarner (15-10) became the first Giants left-hander to win as many as 15 games since Shawn Estes in 2000.
"That's pretty cool. I didn't know that," said Bumgarner, who was 0-3 with a 7.29 ERA in his previous four starts.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.