With Kevin Gausman and Luis Castillo, a pair of aces, on the mound, Giants-Reds on Tuesday was set up to be a fascinating duel.
It turns out the aces were more like a pair of twos — as in the number of two-run home runs allowed by each in the first inning alone, before order was restored in a strange showdown that was memorable for other reasons.
After eight total runs in the first inning, the Giants and Reds traded both zeroes and blows in a seesaw 7-6 Giants victory at Oracle Park in front of 3,673 fans on a chilly Tuesday night. San Francisco expects a more-filled park for Wednesday’s matinee.
The Giants (7-4) had been averaging 2.25 runs per game in their previous eight tilts, frustration building for a team that had plenty of questions entering this campaign, but few with its offense. They had both struck out too much and run into bad luck with hard contact ending in gloves, but that changed in an 11-hit, three-home run outburst.
And they needed every bit of it.
The deciding seventh inning began with a bold decision by Gabe Kapler, who pinch-hit Donovan Solano for Tommy La Stella, who was 3-for-3. But lefty Cionel Perez was on the mound, and it worked out when the righty-hitting Solano walked. Mike Yastrzemski followed with a hard-earned, nine-pitch walk of his own. Mauricio Dubon pinch-hit for Alex Dickerson and reached on a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners, and Wilmer Flores’ deep sacrifice to center gave the Giants the go-ahead run.
So on a chaotic and offensive night, the game was decided without a base hit being involved.
Tyler Rogers pitched an electric eighth — yes, you read that right — in striking out Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas, all swinging. Some of the best hitters in baseball could not hit his 72-mph sliders and 82-mph fastballs.
There was little drama — or at least the littlest there can be in a one-run game — as Jake McGee earned his fifth save of the year.
Kapler had emptied his bench, apart from reserve catcher Curt Casali (and even he would pinch-hit later), before the seventh inning was finished, looking for every possible matchup advantage.
Speaking of matchup advantages, Evan Longoria’s solo blast in the sixth off lefty Sean Doolittle tied the game in the sixth. The long-ball to left-center made the third baseman 7-for-14 with all four of his dingers off southpaws, seeing the ball so well against pitchers from the opposite side.
The Giants then went ahead when Kapler pinch-hit Slater for LaMonte Wade Jr., the outfielder lining a triple to Triples Alley and Buster Posey’s 34-year-old legs carrying him all the way from first to home.
Good ol' Triples Alley. pic.twitter.com/TXdLltS8nH
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) April 14, 2021
Before the Giants went ahead in the bottom of the inning, the Reds tied it again in the seventh because of Giants sloppiness.
Jonathan India’s swinging bunt — Longoria laid off in hopes it would go foul — put him on first. Wandy Peralta’s balk put him on second. A wild pitch that nutmegged Posey put India on third, and then Cincinnati’s Alex Blandino blooped one to shallow left-center with the Giants’ defense in. Brandon Crawford was within inches, but he and second baseman La Stella collided, the ball falling and the game knotted again.
The matchup began with stunning fireworks, two-run shots by Votto and Moustakas for Cincinnati, followed by two-run shots from Yastrzemski and Crawford.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time four (or more) homers were slugged in the first inning of a game at Oracle Park.
Gausman settled after the first, but not immediately. In the Reds’ second, Castellanos doubled in Jesse Winker to take a 5-4 lead, but that would be the last hitter Gausman allowed to reach.
He finished his outing with 13 straight batters retired, reassuming the ace form. He struck out seven in his six innings on four hits with two walks, and his splitter was again untouchable. It has the most drop of any splitter in baseball, and of the 17 swings from Reds batters, 10 were whiffs.
He picked the right night to start poorly.