Kruk & Kuip: The Giants found another way to lose
The Giants’ 15-30 road record is the second worst in the majors, better than only the Miami Marlins. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
CINCINNATI – The Giants lost another game Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. And if they lose one more, they’ll finish up their worst road trip since they traveled by train.
How appropriate for a team that’s gone totally off the rails.
The Giants lost 3-2 and fell to 1-8 on this three-city trip, this time trudging off after Shin-Soo Choo singled home the winning run off Javier Lopez in the 11th inning.
The Giants have never lost nine of 10 on a road swing. One more defeat would make it their worst winning percentage on a trip this long since 1956, when they rode the Twentieth Century Limited, the National Limited, the B&O and whatever else was billowing coal smoke between New York and St. Louis and Cincinnati and Milwaukee and Chicago and back.
The Giants’ 15-30 road record is the second worst in the majors, better than only the Miami Marlins – and there’s a sting there, too, since the Marlins took three of four from them the last time they played by the shores of McCovey Cove.
Clutch hitting, or lack thereof, continued to be the most glaring issue. The Giants didn’t score outside of Tony Abreu’s two-run home run in the fifth inning. They were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and are hitting just 2 for 30 (.067) in those situations over their last seven games. (It’s .130 over their last 13 games.)
Starting pitching report
Effort isn’t the problem for Barry Zito. He tries out there on the mound.
The problem is that every inning, every batter requires such a hugely labor-intensive effort – especially on the road.
It’s never easy. He never breezes. His every outing away from AT&T Park has been a tightrope and a dizzy drop, and the North Rim is forever too far away.
Zito wobbled through his seventh road start without a win this season, and the best you could say is that his blast zone didn’t take up the entire sidewalk. He handed over the baseball without retiring a batter in the fifth inning, and although he departed with a 2-1 lead, he didn’t last long enough to qualify for the decision.
If Zito was upset that Giants manager Bruce Bochy pulled him after two singles to start the fifth, and he certainly looked displeased, the left-hander only had himself to blame.
You couldn’t call it a good start. Not when Zito allowed nine baserunners in four-plus innings. And not when the Reds were 7 for 17 against him. That’s good for a .411 average – which is actually an improvement. Hitters had knocked him for a .423 average in his first six road starts.
He needed good defense and good luck to hold the Reds to just a run in the second inning. The Reds put runners at the corners with no outs after Jay Bruce got plunked by a two-strike curve and Todd Frazier singled. Chris Heisey followed with a loud sacrifice fly and Devin Mesoraco reached on an infield single when third baseman Pablo Sandoval couldn’t make a clean stop of a ball down the line.
Pitcher Tony Cingrani followed with a bunt and Zito made a deft barehand pickup and a daring throw to cut down the lead runner at third base. Then Sandoval redeemed himself by making a diving stop of Choo’s hard grounder and throwing in time for the third out.
The fourth inning was even nuttier. Mesoraco hit a two-out single and Zito, for some reason, got cute with a 2-2 curve to Cingrani that nearly plunked the pitcher. Zito had to come back with a 3-2 fastball that Cingrani anticipated, hitting a double that nearly split the defenders in right-center.
Mesoraco ran through the stop sign at third base, stopped, started again, stopped when he realized Abreu’s relay throw would beat him by 40 feet, then started again when the ball squirted away from Buster Posey for a moment. Posey recovered it and gave chase back to third base, one speed-challenged catcher running down another. Posey applied the tag as Mesoraco stumbled short of third base, ending the inning.
But the Reds made it four consecutive hits off Zito when Choo and Zack Cozart started the fifth with singles. And Zito’s night was over. At least he lowered his road ERA from 10.41 to 9.38.
Jose Mijares and George Kontos went through the heart of the Reds’ order to strand both of Zito’s runners. Mijares struck out Joey Votto, the Reds’ lethal former NL MVP, and Kontos survived a pair of fouled off sliders over the plate before striking out Brandon Phillips.
Then, since it was far too early in the game for Bochy to get every matchup, Kontos had to face Jay Bruce. The confrontation wasn’t quite as long as the memorable, 12-pitch battle with Sergio Romo last October. This one lasted nine pitches, and it ended with a slider that Bruce swung through to end the inning.
Kontos didn’t get away with every mistake, though. His slider just hasn’t had the same bite this season, and his 0-1 looper to Chris Heisey landed in the left field seats for a tying home run in the sixth.
The Giants held serve, though, but their sixth reliever of the night finally gave way in his second inning of work. Javier Lopez made two spectacular defensive plays in the 10th, snagging a line drive and throwing from his knees after fielding a nubber.
But a leadoff walk to Todd Frazier in the 11th set up the winning run. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Choo lined a clean single to right field and the Reds walked off as winners.
At the plate
There really no sense in crying a river of shame over getting no-hit, or at least shut down, by Homer Bailey Tuesday night.
But it was a different story against Tony Cingrani, a live-armed rookie who really struggled to throw strikes with anything but his fastball. The Giants let him off the hook more than once, and although they managed much more traffic than they did against Bailey, that only served as a reminder of how badly they’ve struggled to hit with runners in scoring position.
Abreu’s first home run as a Giant and fifth of his career, was a two-run shot that reached the second deck in the fifth inning. It gave the Giants a momentary 2-1 lead – a rare position on this long, lost trip.
Gregor Blanco had walked to precede Abreu’s shot. But Blanco could not break a hitless streak that reached 22 at-bats. Neither could Brandon Crawford, who was 0 for 21, including a pop-up to strand two runners in the sixth, before he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth.
And Pablo Sandoval struck out three times to run his streak to 1 for 26. Before this road trip, Sandoval had struck out three times in a game on just four occasions in his career. He’s done it twice on this trip.
The Reds nearly gave the Giants the game in the eighth, when Sandoval struck out on a wild pitch and his posterior blocked the throw from catcher Devin Mesoraco. Brandon Belt walked and pinch hitter Hector Sanchez absorbed a fastball to this thigh to load the bases.
But hobbled infielder Joaquin Arias, who hadn’t batted since straining his hamstring nine days earlier, flied out.
Arias finally got the first hit off the Reds bullpen, after they threw 4 2/3 innings. He hit a one out double in the 11th. But Juan Perez struck out (his sixth strikeout in eight at-bats) and Abreu fanned as well.
The fans cheered when Aroldis Chapman hit 101 mph on the stadium gun in the ninth inning – and also because he recorded the Reds’ 11th strikeout of the game, entitling them to free pizza.
Even the infield fly rule is working against the Giants. They might want to measure the pine tar on their bats, too, just to be safe.
A breakdown in communication, plus some craftiness from Phillips, led to a double play that killed a rally in the third. Cingrani had walked Blanco and Posey, and with one out, Hunter Pence hit a floating pop to the grass just behind second base. Phillips took note of the runners and let the ball drop as umpires signaled that the infield fly rule was in effect.
But Posey apparently didn’t hear the umpires and first base coach Roberto Kelly apparently didn’t do enough to make sure he did. According to the rule, Pence is automatically out and runners can advance at their own peril. Phillips tossed to Cozart, the shortstop, who tagged out Posey to complete the double play.
Bochy came out to argue and Posey had a scowl as he turned back to yell something to the umpires. But the play was clear-cut.
Another mistake in the field almost cost the Giants. Zito had Choo picked off first base in the fifth, but Brandon Belt’s throw to second base clipped the runner on the shoulder. Choo had to hold at third on Cozart’s single and the bullpen managed to strand both runners.
The Reds announced 40,757 paid. And I’ll tell you, I had Cincinnati baseball fans all wrong. Why, the place stayed packed through extra innings. That’s determination for you. That’s commitment for you. That’s … what? There were postgame fireworks?
The Giants not only complete their three-city, 10-game road trip on Thursday, but they’ll also mercifully end a brutal portion of their schedule that included 23 out of 32 away from AT&T Park. Matt Cain (5-4, 4.29 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound against right-hander Mike Leake (7-3, 2.52). First pitch is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. PDT.