Misplay in center is costly for Giants, who again fall short of a comeback

Misplay in center is costly for Giants, who again fall short of a comeback

SAN FRANCISCO — The rain arrived in the late innings Tuesday night, swirling around the field and soaking a home team that was trying to come back and a visiting squad that was desperately trying to keep a hot start to the season going. 

For the Giants — especially center fielder Gorkys Hernandez — the rain and the accompanying wind arrived a few innings too late. Hernandez couldn’t haul in a Jake Lamb blast that kept carrying to the wall in the third inning. The three-run triple was the deciding play for the Diamondbacks, who gave up three in the eighth and ninth as the ballpark got smaller but held on for a 4-3 win. 

“I thought he had a bead on it, I did,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s so good out there. He was upset with himself. That’s a big play obviously. He’s a gifted center fielder and he just didn’t quite come up with it. That’s not an easy play. He just didn’t come up with it and that was the difference, probably.”

For Hernandez, starting in place of Denard Span, it was a night where the inches never went his way. He scalded a ball the other way in the first but right at Paul Goldschmidt. In the bottom of the second, he came a few feet from a grand slam. That ball settled into a glove. Hernandez couldn’t say the same after Lamb’s shot. 

“I was pretty close, I almost got it,” he said. “It happens. I was trying to do the best I could for (Jeff) Samardzija and the team. It happens. I jumped and tried to catch the ball, and it didn’t get in my glove. Sometimes that happens.”

The Diamondbacks added a little salt to the fresh wound in the bottom of the inning. Aaron Hill lined what looked to be an RBI double to left-center, but center fielder A.J. Pollock made a spectacular grab. It was that kind of night for the Giants, who hit several balls hard but left 13 on base. 

They finally inched closer in the eighth, getting a run back. In the ninth, Nick Hundley and Eduardo Nuñez drove in runs, and Nuñez swiped second with Brandon Crawford pinch-hitting. The Giants couldn’t finish the rally against Fernando Rodney. 

“We’ve done that three times where we battled back to get within one run and just couldn’t finish it,” Bochy said. 

--- Samardzija was much better in his second start, allowing just the three runs on the Lamb triple. He struck out seven in 6 2/3, stretching it out to 112 pitches. 

“It’s good to get there and feel good,” he said of the pitch count. “I still felt I could attack them there in the seventh and I was still using all my pitches.”

Bochy has pushed his starters early. For all the holes that are opening up, the Giants still have a strong starting staff, and they certainly intend to ride those guys hard. 

--- Nuñez had four hits, raising his average to .389. He stole his fifth base, so he’s already one-third of the way to last year’s Giants leader. Bochy said he will continue to hit sixth for now. It’s a spot Nuñez likes. 

“I just like him there,” Bochy said. “It breaks up the lefties and puts him in a position where he’s driving in runs or stealing bases. I could put him in the leadoff spot, but I just like him in that area. It doesn’t mean I won’t change it (at some point).”

--- Look, it was clear that Samardzija got a bit of revenge on the day Buster Posey went on the DL. The Giants did not feel Taijuan Walker was throwing at Posey, and they don’t generally throw at hitters themselves, but there are unwritten rules and all that. So, Paul Goldschmidt -- the Buster Posey of Arizona -- got one right on the backside. If you follow the unwritten rules, an early plunking somewhere around the waist is exactly how you do it. 

Samardzija did not answer a question about it and Bochy cut one off, which is fine. No point in getting on the commissioner’s radar. But good for Goldschmidt for understanding the situation and not escalating it, and good for the umpires for not freaking out with a series of warnings. This beef now seems squashed.

 

Down on the Farm: From College World Series hero to Giants Triple-A

roth-giants-us.jpg
USATSI

Down on the Farm: From College World Series hero to Giants Triple-A

Some Twitter bios are better than others. 

Baseball is something I do, not who I am. 

"Our jobs can't define us as who we are," Michael Roth says from the Raley Field clubhouse before a Sacramento River Cats win. "For me, that's really just what it means. My identity is not my sport. 

"That doesn't mean that if I go out there and I get shelled, that I don't get upset, but it just means that I'm not going to take that home with me. That's the biggest thing and that's what it means to me. Baseball is not my identity, I'm not going to wrap my life in it. While I love it and enjoy it, I'm just not gonna hinge on every game as to whether I'm a failure or success." 

Every June, college baseball's elite come to Omaha, Neb. aiming to do what Roth accomplished at the College World Series. As a team, that would be winning the national championship — twice in Roth's case. As a player, that would be turning into a superstar. 

Long before he earned a single cent for playing the game, Roth was signing autographs for more than just fans of his South Carolina Gamecocks on his way into the record books. 

"You’re pretty much famous while you’re there," Roth said. "The College World Series is about as big league as it gets when you’re not in the big leagues. Playing in front of 25,000 people, the fans are really good fans, they’re really into the game no matter if it’s your fans traveling or just the people in Omaha." 

Roth's College World Series career ended with three straight trips from his sophomore season to his senior season (2010-12) and was crowned a champion twice with legendary numbers. They are as follows: 10 appearances (third most ever), eight starts (record), three starts in a championship game (record), four wins (second most ever), 60.1 innings pitched (record), and a 1.49 ERA (fourth best ever with minimum 30 innings pitched). 

Roth's collision course to domination was not an excepted one, especially on the mound. In fact, he wasn't even recruited to South Carolina as a pitcher. 

"I was recruited to South Carolina as a first baseman and didn’t really perform well enough in fall to even merit much contention so I really pitched out of necessity my freshman year," Roth said. 

The lefty still managed to hit in 13 games as a freshman, batting just .154. On the mound, he turned out a solid 4.22 ERA with a 1-1 record after pitching in 16 games and starting two.  

That next season in 2010, the legend began. 

When he came back to campus as a sophomore, Roth was still plenty focused on trying to be an everyday first baseman. One day while turning double plays at first, then pitching coach Mark Calvi saw a way to make Roth into a force on the hill.

"He saw me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about dropping down?’ I’m like ‘Hell no, what are you thinking?’ He made me do it right then and there, go throw sidearm in the bullpen," Roth said. 

That lefty sidearm slot saw Roth, who is far from a flamethrower, sling unhittable pitches to the tune of an ERA just above one. He was the ultimate lefty specialist until South Carolina needed him the most for much more than a quick outing out of the ‘pen.

With South Carolina facing elimination against rival Clemson in the College World Series, the starting rotation was out of arms. Before he knew it, coach Calvi came up to his All-American reliever and named Roth the day's starting pitcher for the first time that season with one simple message: "Hey, just go out there and pitch." 

The plan was for Roth to go a couple innings so South Carolina could use a bullpen by committee approach. Next thing you know, Roth is through three innings. The plan seems perfect. Then five innings. Okay, this is a lot better than any plan. He's dealing, keep him in. Roth not only perfected the plan, he was more than perfect, better than any expectations that were placed upon him. He saved the season with a complete game, allowing only three hits in a 5-1 win. 

South Carolina went on to beat UCLA in the championship, starting its run of three straight appearances in the finals, winning again in 2011 before losing in 2012.

Now at 27 years old and pitching with the Sacramento River Cats as part of the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A team, Roth knows the questions are coming around this time of year. His left arm earned its legend as an amateur and instead of run from the past, his eyes are set on the present while appreciating how he came to this point. 

"I guess in a sense my career did take off in the College World Series because if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure if I’d even be here as a starting pitcher or as a pitcher in general," Roth says. "It’s kind of interesting how life’s events take you with things like that in big moments.” 

Less than a year after being selected by the Angels in the ninth round of the 2012 draft, Roth made his MLB debut against the Astros, pitching two perfect innings while striking out four straight at one point. The dream was made, but he also learned the realities of pro baseball compared to college. 

"As far as from a career perspective, college baseball really teaches you how to go out there and compete and go out there and win," Roth explains. "Pro baseball is much more individualized. 

"It still sucks if you come to the park every day and get your ass kicked. But it’s just more individual in its nature, it’s more of a business." 

After the 2014 season, the Angels released Roth. He has made it to the bigs with two teams — the Angels and Rangers — but the Giants signing him in November 2016 made them Roth's fourth organization since 2012. 

The Giants were particularly intriguing to Roth in the offseason as they weren't set on him being a starter or reliever, creating flexibility and hopefully another path to the majors. Roth has pitched in 13 games this year for Sacramento, starting nine, and holds a 4-4 record with a 4.12 ERA in the highly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. 

The journey has been stardom in college with peaks and valleys as a pro. For Roth though, it still comes down to that message coach Calvi said to him as he started his status among the College World Series greats — make pitches, throw strikes, get outs. 

"Whether you throw mid to upper 90s or 88 to 92 like I throw, I think it's really just attacking the zone," he says. "That's something I focus on every time out there. It's going right at them and not trying to be too fine and make a perfect pitch. A good pitch is good enough, I don't need to make a perfect pitch."

The stats will always be there. The memories too. Records are meant to be broken, but plenty of his might as well be etched in stone. The game, the numbers have been how others see him yet it's not all who Michael Roth is — just like he showed by spending three months in Spain after winning the 2011 national championship — no matter how many South Carolina fans sit around bars talking about what his left arm did in Omaha, no matter when he's back in the big leagues and no matter how long he toes the rubber.

Baseball is something I do, not who I am. 

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The kid who raced The Freeze on Thursday night blew a tire as he hit center field, hobbled for about 50 feet, and then went down for good. He still had a better night than the Giants. 

They blew all four tires in the fifth, giving up eight runs in a nightmare frame that turned a two-run lead into a 12-11 loss. The Giants finished 1-7 on the swing through Denver and Atlanta, and they have lost 18 of their last 23 games. 

But, let’s face it, you’re here already. So here are five more things to know from the night … 

—- Matt Cain was hanging in there until the fifth, and then … disaster. The inning started with Brandon Phillips’ solo shot that cut the lead to one. Then it went single, single before Cain was relieved by Bryan Morris. After that, it was single, single, single, sacrifice fly, homer, flyout, walk, single, pitching change, single. 

—- Morris had to wear it in the fifth because the bullpen is short, and boy, did he wear it. Morris gave up five runs on five hits and a walk. His ERA jumped two full points in two-thirds of an inning. 

—- Kyle Crick made his MLB debut in that horrendous bottom of the fifth. The Giants surely did not want to bring him in with runners on, but Bruce Bochy had no choice when Morris blew up. Crick’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater. After giving up a hit in that inning, he pitched a perfect sixth and perfect seventh. Crick topped out at 97 mph. Pretty, pretty good stuff there. He needs to get a long look the rest of this year. 

—- In the second, Buster Posey hit a ball that went 311 feet and had a hit probability of just six percent. Cain hit a ball 357 feet. Posey got a homer that bounced off the top of the wall; Cain just got a double. Baseball is such an odd game.  

—- On a positive note, Javi Lopez, who calls Brandon Belt “Sparky,” repeatedly referred to Posey as Gerald. He’s going to be good at this job.