SAN FRANCISCO–It was the hottest night game in AT&T Park history, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Yet on an evening when the first pitch of the game came when the temperature read 93 degrees –a full nine degrees warmer than the previous record for a night game– the weather was hardly the only aspect of Friday’s contest that was out of the ordinary.
How different was Friday night? Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina (yes, brother of the fleet-footed Bengie) legged out a triple, the Giants turned a 1-5-4 double play and a rookie hit his first career home run off of Johnny Cueto. All odd, and all memorable. The only aspect of the game that shouldn’t come as a surprise? The Giants coughed up a late lead, as a 5-2 advantage turned into a 11-6 loss at the beaks of the Cardinals.
“It just got away from us,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said. “They mounted quite a comeback and swung the bat well against our guys and it’s a tough one because we’re going through another tough streak there and Johnny (Cueto) threw so well. Things were looking good there and it got away.”
Thanks to four Cardinals’ triples and three St. Louis home runs, the Giants lost for the fourth straight day and fell for the seventh time in eight games. A bullpen trio San Francisco expects to rely on in 2018 –Hunter Strickland, Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson– all allowed runs in the late innings in what will go down as one of the worst collective efforts the Giants’ bullpen has strung together in recent memory.
“I can’t recall one that was as tough for us as tonight,” Bochy said. “And that’s because I think you look at the extra base hits. I think they had six there in the last three innings against our set up guys and closer and you’re probably not going to win a ballgame like that and that’s what happened. The tough thing is we played so well for six innings and it just got away from us.”
After spending a month and a half on the disabled list, Cueto returned to the mound at AT&T Park for the first time since before the All-Star break, as he last appeared in a San Francisco uniform back on July 14 at Petco Park. Though blisters and forearm tightness kept Cueto out of action for more than six weeks, he delivered 5.1 innings of two-run ball against a tough St. Louis lineup, making just one critical mistake in the top of the third inning.
“Well I mean, it’s very difficult, like you said, I haven’t pitched for awhile,” Cueto said. “But I just kept on working, I did what I needed to do and today I felt really good.”
Sporting a 3-0 lead, Cueto allowed a two-out single to Cardinals’ leadoff hitter Kolten Wong, and then grooved a breaking ball to rookie center fielder Harrison Bader, who smashed the first home run of his Major League career to cut the St. Louis deficit to 3-2.
Bader will never forget his towering shot, but the rest of the fans in attendance at AT&T Park will recall a different home run as the lasting long ball from Friday’s game.
A night after hitting a ninth inning home run that was overturned due to a botched replay review by Major League Baseball, Brandon Crawford stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning determined to make up for the home run that was taken away from him on Thursday.
With catcher Buster Posey aboard on first, Crawford took a Jack Flaherty slider and roped it to the deepest part of the ballpark in right center field. On Thursday, Crawford hit a ball poised to land on top of the right field wall before a fan caught Crawford’s smash on the fly. Despite clear evidence indicating Crawford’s hit was going to land on top of the wall, MLB replay officials overturned the call on the field, and sent Crawford to second base with a double. On Friday, Crawford’s second-inning blast actually did land on top of the right center field fence, before it caromed into the stands for a two-run home run.
“It was pretty amazing, really,” Bochy said. “His first time up he does that. Like I said, we played well, had some big hits and Crawford really did some good things there. But what came back to get us tonight, is we’ve got to get these runners in.”
As Crawford circled second base, he took a long look at second base umpire Mike Everitt, the crew chief who delivered the news that Crawford’s Thursday home run was merely a double.
After all the irony unfolded, the Giants held a 2-0 lead, and eventually added to it later in the frame thanks to a Denard Span single that plated Hunter Pence.
Bader cut into the 3-0 lead in the top of the third, but San Francisco responded with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning that scored on a two-run triple Pence mashed into the right center field alley that helped the Giants to a 5-2 advantage.
By the end of the third inning, the five runs the Giants had tallied represented the team’s most since August 19, when San Francisco scored nine in a loss to the Phillies. Since that game, the Giants have been shut out twice, and scored two runs or fewer in six of the 11 games they played. On Friday, the six runs they did end up scoring wasn’t enough.
The fact they scored five runs at all was a surprise, but the fact it came against a rookie, Flaherty, making his Major League debut, is also stunning. San Francisco typically hasn’t fared well against unheralded starters, but the Giants wasted little time making the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect feel uncomfortable.
Of course, Flaherty wasn’t the only pitcher to feel uncomfortable on Friday. Add Strickland, Melancon and Dyson to the top of that list. While new arrivals to the September roster, Derek Law and Steven Okert, took care of business in their relief stints, Strickland and Melancon each gave up runs while Josh Osich walked the only batter he faced. Dyson, meanwhile, entered a tie game in the top of the ninth and gave up five. For good measure, Albert Suarez relieved Dyson and gave up a home run to the first batter he saw.
A late 5-2 lead evaporated faster than San Francisco’s trademark fog did to start the weekend heat spell, and forced the game into a late frenzy. It was a frenzy San Francisco couldn’t survive, as the Cardinals’ hot bats were too much for a Giants bullpen that remained ice cold.
Photo by Chris Mezzavilla/KNBR