ATLANTA – Sergio Romo walked all the way to the dirt in front of home plate, making sure umpire Jerry Meals got the message.
“That’s a strike!” Romo yelled, as catcher Guillermo Quiroz and Giants manager Bruce Bochy rushed to turn their impassioned closer back towards the mound.
Romo’s 3-2 pitch to Justin Upton appeared to be right on the black, but it was not good enough for Meals. Upton walked to force in the tying run and Freddie Freeman followed with a line single to right field as the Atlanta Braves rallied in the ninth to beat the Giants 6-5 at Turner Field Saturday afternoon.
The Giants will have to win Sunday behind Tim Lincecum to clinch the series as well as a winning record on this nine-game, three-city trip - an achievement, since this trip had the potential to send them swooning into June.
The Giants had been poised to win after their outfielders absorbed most of Chad Gaudin’s mistakes, two home runs from B.J. Upton aside, running down one fly ball after another.
But dangerous pinch hitter Evan Gattis, who has four homers in eight pinch at-bats, drew a one-out walk in the ninth. Then Andrelton Simmons’ grounder trickled under the glove of third baseman Joaquin Arias for an error, and Jason Heyward reached out and lined a single to left field to load the bases.
Then came the disputed pitch to Justin Upton, and a feel-good game turned in an instant.
Starting pitching report
The grounds crew probably should have dragged the warning track between innings, because the Giants’ outfielders left plenty of cleat marks while Gaudin was on the mound.
Yet Andres Torres, Juan Perez and Hunter Pence made every difficult play, and despite plenty of loud contact by Atlanta’s lineup, Gaudin led 5-2 entering the sixth inning.
B.J. Upton hit his solo shot in the second inning; the Braves added another run in the fourth when Upton reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second base and No. 8 hitter Chris Johnson hit a two-out single.
That was a pitch Gaudin had to regret, since it came with the pitcher on deck and first base open. Minor entered as a .085 lifetime hitter.
Those are heady numbers compared to Gaudin’s own record at the plate – 1 for 49, including a streak of 32 at-bats without a hit. But in a controversial decision, Bochy let the right-hander bat for himself in the sixth.
Gaudin had thrown 79 pitches in five innings, approaching his workload (79 and 84) from his previous two starts. Perhaps the manager had hoped to build Gaudin’s pitch count a bit, since it’s obvious the right-hander is going to remain in the rotation through the All-Star break, at least.
But Gaudin had reached his limit. He only faced two batters in the sixth. Brian McCann doubled and the elder Upton brother connected again, hitting a two-run home run over the wall in right-center to cut the Giants’ lead to 5-4. It was Upton’s sixth career multi-homer game, and his first as a Brave.
Jean Machi provided the bridge to the late-relief crew, getting a double-play grounder from Andrelton Simmons to escape his own jam in the sixth, then retiring the Braves’ 2-3 hitters in the seventh.
Javier Lopez set down Freddie Freeman in the seventh and then came back from a 3-1 count to strike out another dangerous lefty hitter, Brian McCann, in the eighth. Left-handers are batting .171 against Lopez this season.
Jeremy Affeldt got B.J. Upton to ground out while working the rest of the eighth.
Romo was pitching in his first save situation since June 4. He’s converted 16 of 19 this season.
At the plate
Braves left-hander Mike Minor entered on a hot streak, but the Giants applied plenty of pressure.
They took a 3-0 lead in the third inning when Brandon Crawford singled (off a pitcher holding lefties to a .175 average), then the top of the order came through again. Torres and Tony Abreu hit consecutive doubles, although Abreu’s was a ground ball that hugged the line and went between the legs of third baseman Chris Johnson. After an intentional walk to Buster Posey, Hunter Pence blooped an RBI single to complete the rally.
Torres and Abreu the table again in the fifth, then Posey followed with an RBI double that hit high off the wall in dead center. Pence fought off an 0-2 pitch and managed a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.
The Giants’ new Nos. 1-3 hitters, a group that now includes Buster Posey, are having a tremendous trip. They have combined to hit .394 with nine walks, 20 runs, 22 RBIs, 14 doubles and three home runs.
Torres, Abreu and Posey combined for all four of the Giants’ extra-base hits Saturday.
The Giants are not only making up for Pagan’s absence atop the lineup, but they aren’t missing his outfield defense. Even with Gregor Blanco on the bench, the pairing of Torres, Perez and Pence was dynamic all the way around.
The Braves weren’t as strong with the gloves. Simmons, one of Crawford’s main competitors for a Gold Glove, was charged with two errors. First, he got caught between hops when he tried to start a double play on Tony Abreu’s grounder in the fifth, and his Dunstonesque throw to first base was a step too late. Then Simmons juggled Juan Perez’s ground single and threw wide to allow him to advance to second base.
The Braves announced 47,178 paid. And since I lack any local atmosphere to add, I’ll share a fact with you instead: Lyman Hall, an early governor of Georgia and one of the state’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence, was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
The Giants and Braves complete their three-game series at Turner Field on Sunday night. It’ll be right-hander Tim Lincecum (4-6, 4.70 ERA) pitching one day after his 29th birthday, against right-hander Julio Teheran (4-3, 3.62). First itch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. PDT.