Baggs' Instant Replay: D'backs 8, Giants 6 (11 inn.)


Baggs' Instant Replay: D'backs 8, Giants 6 (11 inn.)


SAN FRANCISCO Youll hear Giants manager Bruce Bochy say it: These are must-win games the rest of the way.

Heres how you know he means it: The Giants used 11 pitchers for the first time in at least 94 years.

But for all their fight in erasing a four-run deficit, and for all of Bochys strategizing, the Giants werent able to pull out another late-inning victory. The Arizona Diamondbacks got to George Kontos and Javier Lopez in the 11th inning, Jason Kubel hit a triple over the head of right fielder Hunter Pence and the Giants couldnt get the late magic they needed in an 8-6 loss at AT&T Park Tuesday night.

Their archrivals lacked that magic, too. The Dodgers lost in extras to the San Diego Padres, at least ensuring the Giants wouldnt lose anything off their four and a half game lead in the NL West.

Pence didnt look graceful as Kubels triple fell a few inches from his glove as Aaron Hill scored. Miguel Montero followed with an RBI single to beat the Giants on a night they busted their San Francisco-era franchise record of nine pitchers used in a game.

Until then, the story was all about the San Francisco Rallybacks. Brandon Belt splashed a two-run home run and Pablo Sandoval had clutch at-bats to lead them back from a four-run deficit, and the bullpen made a couple of huge escapes after being pressed into early service.

But the seagulls got Hitchcockian as the game continued late into the night. The Giants got their first two hitters aboard in the 11th, but Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro flied out and Sandoval grounded out to end it.

Starting pitching report
Ryan Vogelsong is a major concern, officially. Despite throwing consistently in the 92-93 mph range, the right-hander was hit hard for a fifth consecutive start while giving up six runs in 3 13 innings.

Vogelsong had multiple baserunners in every inning, and while he minimized the damage in the first two frames, the Diamondbacks punished his pitches in the third and sent him to an early exit in the fourth.

So heres the deal: Vogelsong had a 2.27 ERA in his first 21 starts and held opponents to a .215 average.

He has a 10.13 ERA over his last five starts and opponents are hitting .385 against him.

Perhaps a regression was in order for Vogelsong, who posted a .250 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over those first 21 starts. Thats over 40 points below the league average not the most sustainable rate. And boy, has that script ever flipped. Over his last five starts, opponents are hitting a whopping .542 on balls in play.

Vogelsong gave up nine hits and walked two (one intentional) while retiring just 10 of 20 batters faced.

He simply is not hitting spots as he did before or getting late movement on his fastball. He threw an 0-2 heater as straight as a string to Paul Goldschmidt for a tiebreaking, RBI double over Pences head in the third inning. An intentional walk loaded the bases and Vogelsong hit his mark on an inside fastball to break Ryan Wheelers bat on a pop fly, but John McDonald grounded a seeing-eye, two-run single through the right side to give Arizona a 4-1 lead.

First baseman Brandon Belt cut off the throw home and the Giants managed to get an out on the basepaths to escape the inning, but trouble began anew for Vogelsong in the fourth. Adam Eaton doubled for his first major league hit and Aaron Hill, who isnt missing many mistakes these days, crushed a hanging, first-pitch curveball for a two-run home run.

At least Vogelsong will get an extra day of rest before his next scheduled start Monday at Coors Field.

Bullpen report
The Giants could call up 30 relievers and Bochy would find a way to use them. Dan Otero and Shane Loux made their contributions by tossing 2 23 scoreless innings between them, and Jose Mijares benefited from some sensational defense while completing the seventh.

Things got dicey after the Giants tied it in the seventh, though. Jean Machi issued a leadoff walk, and with one out, Jeremy Affeldt made a mess of Eatons infield single. The left-handers desperation toss to first base wasnt even close, skipping into Arizonas dugout to put runners at second and third with one out.

Enter Santiago Casilla. (Why, is that a reference to Enter the Dragon on Bruce Lee Night? Of course it is.)

Casilla got a pop-up from Justin Upton to first baseman Brandon Belt and then another from Kubel, who owns 27 home runs this season. The second pop was in foul ground, and although Posey had trouble seeing it, Belt raced to the rescue to secure the ball and preserve the tie.

Sergio Romo needed just 17 pitches to dispatch the six hitters he faced, but Kontos gave up a leadoff single to Aaron Hill -- his career-best fifth hit of the night -- and Lopez's scoreless streak ended after 23 appearances.

At the plate
The Giants showed once again that they do not fear coming from behind.

In the early innings, only Marco Scutaro seemed to be getting good swings against Arizonas Ian Kennedy. He tripled in the first inning and scored on Pablo Sandovals ground out, then Scutaro doubled in a run in the third. But Hunter Pence lined out to strand the bases loaded, and Kennedy struck out the next four hitters to carry a 6-2 lead into the sixth.

Thats when it started to get loud. Sandoval and Pence hit ringing doubles and Brandon Belt lofted a two-run home run that splashed into McCovey Cove.

It was Belts fifth homer of the year but his first in 238 at-bats against right-handed pitching.

Brandon Crawford just missed tying the game when he hit a two-out double that struck the bricks just a foot or two short of the metal roof atop the arcade. The Giants stranded him, but they werent done hitting.

Angel Pagan doubled to start the seventh, and after a Scutaro sacrifice moved him to third, Pablo Sandoval executed with a brilliant bit of two-strike hitting. He took an outside pitch and lined it crisply to left field for a tying single, pumping his fist all the way up the line.

Sandoval went for the game winner with a 3-0 count and two outs in the ninth, taking a huge cut and sending a drive to the deepest part of right-center field. It wouldve been a walk-off shot in at least 27 big league ballparks, but Justin Upton ensured Sandoval wouldnt even get a double. The right fielder made a running catch before smacking against the wall.

In field
Its not everyday you can write a 9-6 forceout in your scorebook. Hunter Pence alertly threw to second base after Arizonas Jason Kubel got a bad read on Miguel Monteros line single past second baseman Marco Scutaro in the seventh inning. Shortstop Brandon Crawford was alert, too, to cover second base and treat Kubel to a long, embarrassing trot back to the dugout.

Crawford stayed alert while creating one of the most remarkable double plays of the season. He fielded Wheelers high chopper, did a 360-degree spin while tagging out Montero (who shouldve stopped running) and threw to first base in plenty of time as the crowd roared.

Sandoval earned the next ovation in the eighth when he sprawled on his belly while catching a popped up bunt attempt following Machis leadoff walk.

It wasnt all superlatives for the Giants in the field, though. They had a clear shot to throw out a runner at the plate in the second inning, but catcher Buster Posey set up ultra conservatively outside the batters box on the first base side.

Pences throw, which was on target and wouldve beaten the runner to the plate, short-hopped Posey and he couldnt secure the ball and reach back for a swipe tag. If Posey had stationed himself a little closer to the plate, he wouldve gotten a longer hop and a realistic chance to apply the tag and save Vogelsong a run. Its understandable that the Giants dont want Posey blocking the plate, but their group strategy must be reevaluated if the Giants make the postseason.

The Giants announced 41,038 paid, not including the kayakers in the cove who finally had a splash homer to chase.

Up next
The Giants play the rubber match of their three-game series with Arizona on Wednesday night. Madison Bumgarner (14-9, 3.07) will oppose right-hander Trevor Cahill (9-11, 4.02).

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."