SAN FRANCISCO–There are September baseball games, and then there are baseball games in September.
There’s an extraordinary difference between the two, and for the past two weeks, the Giants have played far too many of the former and not enough of the latter.
On Friday evening, though, Giants’ right-hander Jeff Samardzija and Diamondbacks’ southpaw Robbie Ray treated fans to a baseball game in September, as both pitchers handled their opposing lineup with efficiency in Arizona’s 3-2 win over San Francisco.
“He’s (Ray) tough, he’s having a great year, he’s got great stuff,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said. “Velocity, great breaking ball, I mean he’s really had a tremendous year but our guy threw the ball well. Really well. A couple balls we couldn’t quite get to.”
All too often, a Giants team that entered Friday’s contest with a 57-91 mark has navigated through brutal late-season games featuring upward of 10, and in rare cases, 15, pitchers. Since Major League teams were allowed to expand their rosters to 40 players on September 1, the Giants have played five different games lasting at least three hours and 20 minutes. There was the 11-6 loss to the Cardinals, the 9-6 loss to the Rockies and of course, the 8-6 win over the Dodgers that featured more than three hours of rain delays and concluded at 2:11 a.m.
On Friday, Samardzija and Ray combined to navigate the first six frames in a calm 1:40, in large part due to their ability to keep their respective pitch counts down and their willingness to work quickly. While there’s no telling how games will devolve in September when one team heading for 90 wins battles another that already has 90 losses, Samardzija and Ray did their part to make the baseball more watchable than some of the early-month brutality Giants fans have witnessed.
Of course, not every good game is a fast game –the Red Sox and Yankees know that– but of the early September contests the Giants played, it’s hard to pick too many that qualified as compelling.
Neither Samardzija or Ray was perfect on Friday, but they both pitched well enough to put their teams in position to win. And when that happens, the team that makes the fewest mistakes is bound to win. And when the game comes down to that, the Giants are destined to lose.
San Francisco did draw first blood on Friday after Joe Panik and Hunter Pence recorded back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the first inning, but the lead didn’t hold. In the top of the second, Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt led off with a single, and came around to score when the very next batter, Bay Area native Daniel Descalso, tripled just past the outstretched glove of Pence in right center field.
The Giants wound up taking a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning when Pence beat out an infield single that led to an error on Ray who was covering first base and dropped Goldschmidt’s throw. As the ball rolled away, Samardzija rounded third base and scored an unearned run, but again, the Giants lead only lasted so long.
For the second time in as many chances, Samardzija failed to record a shutdown inning, as Pollock slammed a two-run double down the left field line in the top of the seventh to put the Diamondbacks ahead for the first time on Friday.
Samardzija’s inability to keep Arizona off the board after the Giants scored crushed the team’s chances against Ray, who entered the game leading all Major League starters in shutdown inning percentage (88). Though he pitched reasonably well, recording eight innings of six-hit ball with no walks and seven strikeouts– Samardzija exited in line for his career-high 14th loss of the season.
Though pitcher decisions aren’t a great indication for how a starter performs these days, Samardzija had lost exactly 13 games in four other seasons during his career, so the No. 14 does carry some significance.
“I hate to lose, everybody hates to lose,” Samardzija said. “It’s just the way it goes. It’s just where we’re at right now and it’s frustrating. It’s easy to get frustrated about a lot of different things but that’s the way it is when you’re in this situation. But it also shows true colors, too. If you can channel it and keep it together and use it in a positive, that’s what it’s all about. You learn a lot about yourself and people around you in this game and you know, you just remember that and learn from it and go on. But there’s going to be another game in five days for me and we’ll go out and leave it all out there again.”
Samardzija’s 197.1 innings this season lead all Major League pitchers, but for the first time in four outings this year in which he’s pitched at least eight innings, the Giants lost. As Bochy will say, eight innings and three runs should be more than enough for the Giants to win. On Friday, though, it wasn’t. But this season, that’s nothing new.
“The defense hasn’t quite been as sharp,” Bochy said. “The hitting. Just little things. That’s why we’re where we’re at. But this is a game I think we can look at and say, we should have won this game. It got away from us.”