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SF@SD: Crawford lays out to make a dazzling play

SAN DIEGO -- Brandon Crawford has taken steps to prove that he's a capable defender. Those steps became leaps and bounds Wednesday in the Giants' 6-5 triumph over the San Diego Padres.

Defense made the difference as San Francisco won for the eighth time in 10 games. The Giants rank second in the Majors with 51 errors after leading all teams in that category for much of the season. But they've played six consecutive error-free games and have been charged with one error in their last nine games.

"This is more like the club we saw out of Spring Training," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Crawford contributed a pair of breathtaking plays to the Giants' effort. He ranged up the middle for Chris Denorfia's grounder and made a no-look, backhanded toss to second baseman Ryan Theriot for a forceout that ended the second inning. Then Crawford dove to his right to smother Jesus Guzman's grounder, quickly rose and flung an impossibly strong throw to first base to open the fourth inning.

"They're fun to watch," Bochy said of Crawford's dynamic plays.

The Giants also excelled on routine conversions. Crawford assisted on four other putouts, including one of the two double plays San Francisco turned. Third baseman Joaquin Arias smoothly recorded four assists, including one on Nick Hundley's eighth-inning grounder that would have challenged many infielders.

By contrast, Padres second baseman Logan Forsythe allowed Gregor Blanco's weak sixth-inning grounder to slip under his glove with two on and two outs in the sixth inning, enabling two runs to score and hiking San Francisco's lead to 6-3. And Hundley committed a passed ball that allowed Melky Cabrera to score the last of the Giants' three first-inning runs.

The Giants' defensive efficiency wasn't as attention-grabbing as Blanco's fifth-inning home run, which ended the team's skid of eight games and 289 at-bats without a long ball. Or the first-inning sequence in which San Diego starter Clayton Richard yielded back-to-back singles by Blanco and Theriot and Cabrera's RBI double in his first seven pitches.

And the defense's deeds weren't as dramatic as the work of relievers Clay Hensley, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo, who preserved the lead one day after the Giants lost for the first time when leading after seven innings. Lopez stranded two runners by coaxing pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay's weak grounder up the first-base line to end the eighth before Romo overcame physical impediments to pitch a perfect ninth for his third save.

But Crawford's defensive prowess has sparked considerable debate, which might subside in the wake of his most spectacular fielding effort of the season.

"I'm playing like I know I could," said Crawford, who extended his errorless streak to a season-high 12 games.

Crawford said that his favorite moment of the afternoon was the diving stop of Guzman's grounder.

"I've dove a few times lately and haven't made the play," said Crawford, who's still tied with the Dodgers' Dee Gordon for most errors by a shortstop in the Majors (10). "So it was nice to finally get one of those."

When somebody mentioned that throwing out Guzman might have been more impressive than grabbing his grounder, Crawford said, "There was a little anger behind the throw. I had just grounded out to the pitcher."

The Giants led 3-2 at that juncture, and whenever they scored afterward, the Padres responded by restoring the one-run difference. With Madison Bumgarner (7-4) at less than his best through six innings, Bochy had to rely on his undermanned bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt needed rest and Santiago Casilla still wasn't quite ready to pitch, though Bochy said he might have been able to perform in an emergency.

Bochy might have felt the necessary urgency in the seventh inning, when Romo, who injured his right knee last Saturday, tweaked his left knee while stretching. He was quickly fitted for a left knee brace that matched the one he already was wearing on his other knee.

Romo struck out two of the three Padres he faced. But as he rose to talk to reporters at his dressing stall in the Giants clubhouse, with icepacks strapped to both knees and his throwing elbow, the overwhelming sense developed that the job he performed wasn't easy.

But, Romo said, "You have to cart me off the field to make sure that I can't go. That's the mentality I take. I'm ready to rock, regardless of whether I feel good or not. I get paid to play. You don't feel like you're earning your paycheck unless you're on the field, performing, contributing."

Romo ended the game by striking out Chase Headley on a 3-2 fastball -- not the slider that has made him one of baseball's top setup relievers. Romo didn't overanalyze his pitch selection. He simply felt it was the right one to throw.

"I don't know what he was looking for, what he was thinking," Romo said. "I just knew I had to make my best pitch of the night."

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