Baggs' Instant Replay: Nationals 6, Giants 5

Baggs' Instant Replay: Nationals 6, Giants 5
July 6, 2012, 2:16 am
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SAN FRANCISCO When the Giants stepped off the plane in the predawn, mid-Atlantic gloaming four days ago, they were a first-place team within a whisper of the best record in the National League.And if they could count on one thing, it was their ability to hold a big lead. They were 74-1 over the last two seasons whenever they gained an advantage of three runs or more.But the Washington Nationals exercised veto power. The Nats stamped themselves as the class of the Senior Circuit, roaring back from a three-run deficit for the second consecutive night. They staged a two-run rally against closer Santiago Casilla in the ninth to sweep the Giants with a 6-5 victory at Nationals Park.The Giants had a chance to send the game to extra innings when second baseman Ryan Theriot fielded a bases-loaded grounder from Adam LaRoche. But shortstop Brandon Crawford bounced the throw and Brandon Belt wasnt able to scoop it as the winning run scored.While blowing a 5-1 lead, the Giants were swept in a three-game series for the second time this season. They blew a 3-0 lead a night earlier.Starting pitching reportAlthough it probably wasnt at the forefront of his mind, Matt Cain took the mound with an opportunity to firm up his credentials to be named the NLs starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.He certainly beefed up his case in the first six innings while holding the Nationals to one run, which scored on a double-play grounder.But Cain was taxed in the sixth when he had a spirited, 10-pitch battle with talented 19-year-old Bryce Harper. The young center fielder kept flicking his bat at two-strike pitches before he finally grounded out on a two-seamer that Cain left over the heart of the plate.Impressively, Cain was able to generate power through the heat and humidity to throw an explosive, 93 mph fastball past Michael Morse to end the sixth.But perhaps he wore battle fatigue in the seventh, when Ian Desmond hammered an opposite-way home run and Danny Espinosa followed with another shot. Cain gave up a deep out to Jesus Flores at the warning track for the second out, ending his night.His line: 6 23 innings, six hits, three runs (all earned), one walk, four strikeouts, two homers allowed, 103 pitches, 62 for strikes.And he departed in line for his 10th victory. Cain wouldve joined Madison Bumgarner as the first pair of 10-win teammates in the NL this season. The Giants havent had two 10-game winners at the break since Cain and Tim Lincecum in 2009.Bullpen reportThe Giants havent played many torturous games in the late innings, but this one qualified.Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt replaced Cain with the bases empty and a 5-3 lead, but pinch hitter Mark DeRosa (remember him?) roped a double and Steve Lombardozzi hit a liner to the mound that Affeldt deflected for a single. Harper followed with a tremendous at-bat, patiently taking two tantalizing sliders to get ahead and then fisting a double that barely escaped left fielder Melky Cabreras running attempt. Harper hustled for a double as DeRosa scored to make it a one-run game.Sergio Romo pulled the escape hatch, getting a lineout from Ryan Zimmerman to strand two runners in scoring position.Romo needed to escape again in the eighth after Desmond blooped a two-out single and Espinosa was hit by a pitch. Flores followed with a fly ball to left field, and Cabrera practically waved his arm out of his socket to make sure Angel Pagan would yield to him as he made the catch.Casilla couldnt get the same breaks in the ninth. Tyler Moore led off with a pinch double and Casilla hurt himself when he bobbled a sacrifice bunt for an error that put runners at the corners. Harper followed with a hard-hit single through the left side that tied the game.An intentional walk loaded the bases and the Giants momentarily survived when Theriot fielded Michael Morses grounder and threw to the plate. Catcher Buster Posey barely kept his right foot on the plate to record the forceout.But the Giants came up short while trying to make one more defensive play.At the plateThe Giants created plenty of action against left-hander Ross Detwiler, just as manager Bruce Bochy envisioned when he loaded his lineup with right-handed bats. Detwiler entered the game having held lefty hitters to a .113 average.Justin Christian got a rare start at leadoff and made the most of it, tying his career high with three hits. Angel Pagan also had three hits just his second multiple-hit performance in his last 21 starts. And Melky Cabrera improved to 40-for-92 against left-handed pitchers (thats a .425 average) after going 2-for-3 with a run-scoring double and an RBI groundout against Detwiler.The Giants rapped out 11 hits in five innings against Washingtons starting pitcher. But they couldnt land anything stronger than jabs, and it was just a 3-1 game when the Nationals turned it over to their strong bullpen.The two most egregiously wasteful moments: A) Loading the bases with one out but failing to score in the first inning; B) Stranding Pagan after his RBI triple with no outs in the seventh.In fieldLaRoche essentially said, We dont need no stinking spray charts when he put down a perfect bunt to beat an exaggerated infield shift in the fourth inning. When LaRoche batted again to lead off the seventh, the Giants stationed their infielders in more traditional spots.The Nats had an outside chance at a triple play when Joaquin Arias grounded sharply to third base with runners at first and second in the fifth inning. But Ryan Zimmerman slipped a bit and bounced his throw to second base, resulting in the odd 5-4 fielders choicedouble play.AttendanceThe Nationals announced 29,819 paid. Any fans who wagered on Teddy Roosevelt in the presidents race deserved to be parted from their money.Up nextThe Giants finish the unofficial first half with a three-game series at Pittsburgh. Its actually the fourth consecutive series in which theyll face a first-place club; the Reds led the NL Central when they played at AT&T Park last weekend, but the Pirates occupy the top spot now. Itll be left-hander Barry Zito (6-6, 3.84) against left-hander Erik Bedard (4-9, 4.57) on Friday night. Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum have the following two assignments, when theyll face right-handers James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, respectively.

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