Two of the most devastating sliders in the sport betrayed the Giants on Friday night in Oracle Park.
Jakob Junis’ slider had registered a -5 run value entering the series-opener against the Padres. Tyler Rogers’ slider, often featured on popular baseball Twitter accounts for its eccentric UFO-like movement, confounds hitters more often than it finds wood.
But each of the Padres’ first six runs came on sliders from Junis and Rogers. The four-run third inning? Three hits and a wild pitch — all sliders. Wil Myers’ go-ahead two-run double in the eighth inning? A high and outside Rogers slider.
Despite those crooked innings, the Giants still had a chance. They came back from a 4-1 hole early, then a 6-4 deficit with a two-out, ninth inning rally.
But two home runs from Darin Ruf, plus a furious late comeback, weren’t enough to overcome San Diego’s offense. San Francisco needed a third comeback that never came. Without it, the Giants (22-16) dropped the first of a three-game series, 8-7 in extra innings. The National League West showdown featured four lead changes, but San Diego ultimately found the biggest ones with Myers in the eighth and two decisive runs in the 10th.
The Giants used six pitchers on Friday, starting with Jakob Junis. Heading into Friday’s start, a chasm of 7.00 worth of earned run average separated Jakob Junis the minor leaguer from Jakob Junis the major leaguer.
In the Pacific Coast League, admittedly a hitter-friendly atmosphere, Junis allowed 11 earned runs in 11.1 innings over three starts. In four starts with the Giants, he provided a 1.74 ERA and much-needed rotation depth with Anthony DeSclafani shelved on the 60-day injured list.
The true Junis, like most pitchers, is somewhere in between. Starters with a 1.74 ERA typically aren’t also in the 18th percentile in hard hit rate or allow a .500 batting average on their secondary pitch.
But that’s where Junis was when he carried an impressive résumé into Friday’s series opener. The numbers only got shinier as he retired the first six Padres he faced. Junis struck out Manny Machado, the National League leader in batting average and on-base percentage, with a 3-2 slider.
Yet Junis, and that trusty slider, ran into trouble in the third inning. A single, a double, a two-run home run and wild pitch gave San Diego a 4-1 lead. All three hits, and the awry one that scored Machado, came on the slider that Junis had held opposing hitters to a .157 average on before Friday.
Two Darin Ruf home runs tied the game 4-4, and three scoreless frames from Junis kept it that way. The four third-inning runs was the only damage Junis succumbed to; it was neither 1.74 nor 8.74 ERA ball.
The Giants couldn’t break the tie, though. A 1-2-3 sixth preceded two runners stranded in the seventh. Ruf’s second career multi-homer game — and first since 2012 — was a spark but not a full-on conflagration.
Then Myers somehow drilled a 2-2 slider from Rogers off the brick in right field. The 72 mph faded away from the right hander and crossed home plate at the letters of his jersey, but Myers flicked it for two crucial runs anyway.
Rogers’ slider isn’t a gimmick. He had allowed just four home runs in 845 career offerings. Opponents were hitting .138 against it this year.
The hand-eye contact and sheer power necessary to drive that pitch was quite shocking from Myers, who has one home run on the year.
Rogers, anyhow, watched as Myers’ double soared over Luis González’s head. Then he watched as the Giants stranded Thairo Estrada on second base in the eighth and Luis Garcia took the mound for the ninth.
García recorded two quick outs — fanning Joey Bart and González. But then Mike Yastrzemski singled. Ruf and Joc Pederson walked to load the bases.
The door was open. The Giants could actually win it. Thirty-one thousand, three-hundred and fifty-nine fans rose to their feet. Then they left their feet, leaping in the air with joy as Flores deposited a two-run single into shallow left field.
But the impressive ninth-inning rally proved to be a tease. San Diego scored two in the 10th off Camilo Doval with a leadoff double from Machado and chopped single off the mound from Profar.
The Giants needed one more comeback in the bottom of the 10th. Brandon Crawford singled home Tommy La Stella to make it 8-7, but that was all SF could muster. They had two comebacks in them, but a third was futile.