SAN FRANCISCO –- Sergio Romo has been hit much harder in his career than he was Friday night.
He allowed four hits and maybe one was off the barrel. He blew just his third save in 23 opportunities. Sure, there have been times this season his slider lacked the usual snap. Not all of them hit the target this time, either.
“It’s obvious he wasn’t as sharp,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “But I didn’t think he was that far off.”
So what explained Romo’s career-high five earned runs in the ninth inning of a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies Friday night?
It was simple. Romo wasn’t the only one off his game. Center fielder Angel Pagan, who has played such heady baseball this season, made his first significant mental mistake of the year when he threw to the wrong base. Later in the inning, he overthrew the cutoff man. Both times, the trail runner moved up.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Romo blows save, Giants lose 7-4]
Bochy made a reasonable gamble that backfired when he issued an intentional walk that put the go-ahead run on base.
And shortstop Ehire Adrianza received a postgame talking-to from bench coach Ron Wotus after he held onto the ball too long in a rundown, as the Rockies scored their final run of the inning.
“It was just one of those innings,” Bochy said. “What could go wrong went wrong.”
The first eight went well enough. Michael Morse, master of the two-out RBI hit, contributed two more that tied the game and put the Giants ahead. Tim Lincecum used a crisp fastball that topped out at 94 mph to pitch five hitless innings out of six, positioning himself for his first victory over the Rockies since 2012. Three relievers set up the pins for Romo, who entered to protect a 4-2 victory in the ninth.
Then Troy Tulowitzki singled when he poked an outside slider to the outfield. Justin Morneau “soft served it,” as Bochy said, for another single to center. Then on Wilin Rosario’s fly out to medium-deep center field, both runners tagged up.
Charlie Culberson, who was pinch running for Tulowitzki, didn’t matter. He wasn’t the tying run. But that’s where Pagan’s throw went. Morneau, who would’ve been easy pickings at second base, made it easily.
“I’m sure he wishes he could take it back,” Bochy said. “You know what, he’s done a great job.”
Pagan has done a great job. He used to be known for these sorts of things. He made 10 errors in his final season with the New York Mets, before the Giants acquired him. This time, he had a lapse.
Pagan appeared to shake his head after making throw, as if immediately recognizing his mistake. Is that what went through his mind?
“No, no, nothing happened,” said Pagan, as he hustled out of the clubhouse. “I just play with my instincts.”
It was time for Bochy to play his. With first base open, Bochy walked Corey Dickerson, a left-handed hitter who entered with a .347 average. There was one left-handed hitter on Colorado’s bench, Ryan Wheeler, and Rockies manager Walt Weiss pinch-hit him with the bases loaded.
Was it an easy call for Bochy to put the go-ahead runner on base?
“No, that wasn’t easy,” Bochy said. “Believe me, you hate putting your pitcher in that spot. That’s (an everyday player) hitting .360, so I was going to have the other guys beat me, which they did.
“You’re going for the win. I don’t even want them to tie it at that point. I’m looking for better matchups and it didn’t work out tonight.”
Romo understood the message Bochy was sending with the intentional walk.
“That’s a lot of confidence in me,” he said. “You’ve got to get the ground ball there and go for it.”
Wheeler hit it on the ground, but it skipped past Romo’s ankles and through the middle for a two-run single. D.J. LeMahieu followed with a bloop hit to center that fell in front of Pagan to score Dickerson and put the Rockies ahead.
“In the end, it didn’t work,” Romo said. “I competed. I tried. I can’t wait for another opportunity to get out there. Really, I can’t.”
The mistakes didn’t end there. Pagan let the tiebreaking single kick off his glove, then overthrew the cutoff man to allow LeMahieu to take second base. George Kontos gave up an RBI hit and the Rockies capped their rally when Adrianza didn’t properly execute a rundown following a pickoff.
“We’ve been playing so well and we were playing well tonight,” Bochy said. “These are never fun to be in. You’ve got to forget it now. We just didn’t execute the fundamentals in the ninth.”
As much as some folks started to panic about those three consecutive losses to the Washington Nationals earlier in the week, the Giants ran into a hot team with a solid pitching staff. That happens over a 162-game season. They didn’t beat themselves.
This time, that’s exactly what happened.
Opponents come and go, but as Buckaroo Bonsai once said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The teams that don’t beat themselves usually find themselves winning series and climbing to 90-plus wins. So grant them an off night. But understand: a loss like this is far more concerning than any of those three to the Nats.
Despite the mistakes made behind him, there is bound to be some hand wringing over Romo. It’s true, he has hung more sliders than he did in 2012. His strikeout rate of 8.0 per nine innings, while still plenty good, is the lowest of his career, But he also entered having allowed just 15 hits in 27 innings, and a 24-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
This is not the time for a closer controversy.
“There was no lack of confidence or stuff,” Romo said. “I was surprised Bochy felt I was a little off because I didn’t feel off at all.
“Gotta give them credit. They found a way to find the holes. I’ve really got no explanation. I thought I made some good pitches. I guess it was their night, or their inning.”
Besides, this game wasn’t only lost in the ninth. Second baseman Brandon Hicks struck out in each of his first three at-bats, including in the second inning with two runners in scoring position and one out. The Rockies intentionally walked Adrianza, retired Lincecum and escaped. In the third, Hicks had a 3-0 count against an obviously ailing Jorge De La Rosa, but eventually struck out to strand two runners. De La Rosa didn’t return. He left the game with back spasms.
In 18 games since his last home run May 23, Hicks is batting .127 with 26 strikeouts in 55 at-bats.
You can usually count on Giants GM Brian Sabean to find an arm at the trade deadline. Games like this can only intensify the search for a second baseman, too.