SAN FRANCISCO – These past three weeks, the Giants seemingly went backwards in the NL West standings at 100 mph.
Buster Posey showed he can handle 101 Saturday night.
But a stirring comeback against Reds rocket launcher Aroldis Chapman was not the final narrative at AT&T Park. The Giants merely tied it in the ninth after Sergio Romo blew another save in the top of the inning, and the Reds flooded the diamond in the 11th as the Giants lost 7-3 in front of a stunned crowd.
It was their 11th loss in their last 13 home games, and they’ve lost 14 of 18 overall.
The Dodgers won to trim the Giants’ lead to one game in the NL West. The Giants led the division by 9 ½ games just 20 days earlier.
Romo couldn’t save a 1-0 victory for Matt Cain, serving up a two-run home run to Brandon Phillips before retiring a batter in the ninth. He has blown three of his last five save chances, has allowed 15 runs in his last 15 appearances, and the six home runs tagged off him already match his single-season high.
A change in the closer role? That’s not the narrative the Giants wanted, but that’s what they had after this one.
Starting pitching report
The Giants are still completely and horribly sideways, but at least Cain finally set himself right from the stretch.
Cain made a mechanical adjustment with his hand position to combat his considerable issues with runners on base, holding the Reds hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position and logging seven shutout innings.
Cain was tested out of the stretch right away, and by perhaps the fastest player the game has seen since Vince Coleman. Billy Hamilton singled to start the game, and despite a half-dozen throws from the mound to first, he stole second base on a called third strike to Todd Frazier.
Cain remained persistent, though, and caught Hamilton taking off for third base on the pitcher’s first move. Cain ran toward Hamilton, waited for him to commit, then threw to start a rundown that ended with the out.
Cain was able to retire the leadoff batter in five of his seven innings. He got Frazier to ground into a double play with two aboard in the third and used his own self preservation skills when he speared Ryan Ludwick’s line drive up the middle with a runner on second base to end the second.
Ludwick’s liner was the best contact the Reds managed in six hitless at-bats against Cain with runners in scoring position.
Cain walked Ludwick in the seventh but froze Zack Cozart with a 2-2 fastball, then let out a primal scream after catcher Hector Sanchez threw out Devin Mesoraco, who had gotten a running start off first base.
Cain warmed up to start the eighth but Jeremy Affeldt relieved him when the Reds sent up switch-hitter Brayan Pena off the bench. That sequence provided opportunity for the crowd to give Cain a loud ovation as he walked off the mound.
Cain threw 99 pitches (59 strikes). It was his first start with zero runs and at least seven innings since September 26, 2012 against Arizona – four days after the Giants had clinched the NL West.
Romo’s blown save prevented Cain from winning for just the second time this season.
Affeldt and Santiago Casilla retired their three batters in the eighth inning to set up more Romo-Reds theater in the ninth.
Joey Votto drew a leadoff walk after Romo missed with a two-strike changeup and slider. Then Phillips, who entered 3 for 10 against Romo, didn’t miss his 2-2 pitch.
It was Romo’s sixth home run allowed, and alarmingly, that already matches his single-season high. He also has allowed 15 runs over his last 15 appearances.
And to think, the Reds took the lead even before Jay Bruce got a chance to take revenge against Romo for that epic 12-pitch showdown that the Giants’ closer won on the way to clinching the 2012 NL Division Series.
Juan Gutierrez pitched around Cozart’s leadoff single in the 10th, but the Reds’ No.8 hitter struck in the 11th.
Javier Lopez gave up a leadoff double to Joey Votto, who had been 0 for 7 with some awful swings against him. Cat-and-mouse followed with an intentional walk, a sacrifice bunt and another intentional walk that loaded the bases. It appeared the Giants would escape when Jean Machi entered and struck out Ramon Santiago. But Cozart collected his third go-ahead RBI in three games here. He punched a two-run single up the middle, and with the Giants dazed, Chris Heisey and Hamilton stroked extra-base hits amid a five-run inning.
At the plate
Alfredo Simon entered as a surprising 10-game winner, and did you know he was once in the Giants system? They acquired him from Philadelphia along with Ricky Ledee (who was awful) for Felix Rodriguez (who is remembered for one awful pitch) in 2004.
You can’t blame the Giants for letting Simon slip away as a minor league free agent after 2006. He was 0-6 with a 6.75 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A Fresno that year.
He’s doing considerably better now, and the Giants only taxed him for 80 pitches in seven innings. They did manage a run in the fifth when Brandon Crawford singled, Adam Duvall doubled down the left field line and Joe Panik hit an RBI ground out on a liner that bounced out of Simon’s glove.
Oddly, the Reds not only pitched to Panik with first base open but also played the infield back, more or less conceding the run. Still, it would have been a different outcome if Simon had done more than deflect Panik’s liner to shortstop for a 1-6-3 out.
They needed a comeback in the ninth and they might have benefited from Chapman appearing for a fourth consecutive day. Pablo Sandoval definitely taxed the hard-throwing closer, following Hunter Pence’s single through the right side with one of the most impressive plate appearances of his career.
Sandoval drew a 10-pitch walk that included four two-strike fouls and seven pitches in all that reached 100-102 mph. Chapman missed high with a fastball, and perhaps was fatigued when he missed on two sliders to Posey. When Chapman came back with a 2-0 fastball, Posey was geared up for it. He pulled it into left field for his seventh double in eight games, tying the game.
Sandoval stopped at third but the Giants could not come through with three cracks to get him home with the winning run.
Both managers made curious decisions. First, Reds skipper Bryan Price didn’t intentionally walk Hector Sanchez to set up the force at home. The strategy worked as Sanchez hit a weak grounder to shortstop and the runners held. Then Bruce Bochy made an odd choice, pinch hitting Joaquin Arias for Brandon Crawford to get the right-handed matchup even though Crawford has handled lefties well all season and Arias was hitting .176 this season. Arias followed with a near identical grounder to short, with an identical result. Adam Duvall struck out swinging to send the game to the 10th inning.
Arias did get an RBI hit, but it came in the 1th -- far too little to erase a much bigger deficit.
The Giants won a replay challenge in the sixth inning when Brandon Crawford stretched onto the right field grass – yes, right field – to field Bruce’s ground ball and throw for the out.
Bruce was called safe when umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled that Adam Duvall’s foot came off the base. Replays reversed the call to end the inning. The Giants had been playing a shift on Bruce with Crawford stationed just to the right of second base. He ranged halfway to first to pick up the grounder on the outfield grass, spin and throw.
Bochy only had Brandon Hicks left on his bench after the Giants forced extra innings, so Hicks went to left field – a position he hadn’t played on any professional level before Saturday.
Machi had to hit for himself in the 11th and grounded to second base for the final out.
The Giants announced 41,024 paid. In this series, they’ve drawn the two smallest crowds in two seasons at Third and King. Still an *official sellout, though.
The Giants and Reds conclude their four-game series at AT&T Park on Sunday. Tim Hudson (7-4, 2.64 ERA) takes the mound against Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (7-4, 4.80). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PDT.