MLB

Javier Lopez in perfect setup as late-inning reliever for Giants

FOX Sports By Cam Inman cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com, Contra Costa Times (California)
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He made his debut in 2003, bounced around to five clubs, joined the Giants this summer and delivered more postseason success Tuesday.

Outfielder Cody Ross? Oh yeah, him, too.

Working at sold-out ballparks and retiring a few left-handed sluggers looked easy yet again for reliever Javier Lopez as the Giants won 3-0 in Tuesday's Game 3 of the National League championship series.

Lopez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and set up Brian Wilson's ninth-inning save and a 2-1 series lead over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Lopez and Wilson also made for a magnificent duo in shutting the door on Saturday's Game 1 victory.

While Wilson may be more celebrated, Lopez is no longer under the radar as a left-handed setup man acquired at the July 31 trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"He's certainly been a shot in the arm for this club," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Not just in the playoffs, but getting here.

"We worked him pretty hard there, and he's just been terrific."

Lopez, an eighth-year major league veteran, got first crack at protecting a three-run lead for the Giants and starter Matt Cain.

The Phillies opened the eighth by sending out their Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters, having inserted right-handed hitting Placido Polanco between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for a second straight game in hopes of neutralizing Lopez, a lefty specialist.

Lopez got Utley to pop out, Polanco to ground out and Howard to strike out. Wilson finished off the Phillies in the ninth.

The last time Cain walked off the AT&T Park mound, Lopez came in to strike out Atlanta Braves phenom Jason Heyward in the division series. But setup man Sergio Romo gave up a couple singles, and Wilson couldn't hold a 4-1 lead in an eventual 5-4, 11-inning loss.

"It's great going in those situations, especially the way Matt Cain threw the ball today," Lopez said. "You just want to, kind of, move it along."

Lopez pitched to only two hitters in the Giants' playoff-opening series against Atlanta, striking out Heyward to close out the seventh and eighth innings of Games 2 and 4, respectively.

In the NLCS opener, Lopez replaced Tim Lincecum to start the eighth and retired the two batters he faced -- Utley on a ground out and Howard on a strikeout.

"He does such a great job changing arm angles and speed," catcher Buster Posey said of Lopez. "He's around the plate so much. He's really a fun guy for me to catch. He gives batters such a different look."

The playoffs are a familiar sight to Lopez, who pitched in the 2007 Boston Red Sox's run to the world title in 2007.

"It does help that I played in Boston and had that postseason run," he said. "More than anything, I've been in this situation before, in general during the season where you face a couple lefties and get the ball to the next guy."

Added Wilson, "He knows how to get guys out, he stays consistent, he's extremely intelligent and has a personality that jells well with our bullpen."

That bullpen is filled with characters. So how does the unassuming Lopez and his mere goatee fit in among those sporting costume-esque beards?

"I'm probably the calm guy of the bunch," Lopez said.

Tagged: Braves, Phillies, Giants, Chase Utley, Javier Lopez, Ryan Howard, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson

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