Programming note: Nationals-Giants coverage starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (Channel Locations)
SAN FRANCISCO – There really isn’t such a thing as an unmasking in baseball. Not in one night, anyway.
The 1927 Yankees lost 44 games. Nobody called them frauds after any of those.
So it’s not like any great truths were learned after Stephen Strasburg shoved, the Giants tumbled back and the Washington Nationals handed the team with baseball’s best record their worst loss of the season Monday night.
Does the Giants’ 9-2 loss prove that they can’t beat a legit ace? Not when they’ve already beaten Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw this season. Does it prove they can’t stand on equal footing with another first place club? Not when the Atlanta Braves – a team the Giants made to look very small -- entered tied with the Nats atop the NL East.
The takeaway Monday night was more basic than that: when you make mistakes to a good hitting club, they often don’t fluke their way into the catcher’s mitt. And when a kid barely out of umpiring school decides to call a tight zone, the job doesn’t get any easier.
“I can’t say anything about that,” said Ryan Vogelsong, “because the Commissioner’s office will call me.”
No sense feeding the beast or the fine box. The viewing was enough. Vogelsong had Ryan Zimmerman struck out on a 3-2 pitch with two out in the third inning and did not get the call. Wilson Ramos walked after that. And Ian Desmond, the Nationals’ hitting star for the night, followed with a two-run single that opened up a 2-1 game.
That’s not to suggest that one squeeze job was the root of all Vogelsong’s problems. When you give up five extra-base hits, tying the most you’ve allowed in three seasons as a Giant, it’s a game that has put down suckers and will be a bitch to dig out.
Especially against Strasburg.
“I just had a bad night,” Vogelsong said. “That’s all. It just wasn’t my night tonight. They’ve got guys who are hot and they can swing the bat, so that changes things. I thought I had a pretty good game plan going into it and just didn’t make enough good pitches, really.
“I’m a perfectionist and I want to be perfect every time, but sometimes you’ll have nights like this.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been such a bad night if Giants manager Bruce Bochy had gone to his bullpen after six innings in a 4-1 game. But he had Vogelsong start the seventh against Denard Span, who already had doubled and tripled. Span doubled again, Kevin Frandsen threaded a single and Vogelsong’s activity the remainder of the inning was to watch George Kontos allow both his inherited runners to score.
Why did Bochy stick with Vogelsong so long?
“He got us to a good point there,” Bochy said. “He deserves a shot to get a win there. I thought he did a nice job.”
Under normal circumstances, it's unnatural for that thought – “get my pitcher a win” – to occur to a manager when he’s down 4-1 in the seventh. But most 42-21 teams begin to get the sense they can do no wrong. The Giants' previous three games were all come-from-behind victories against the New York Mets. For once, perhaps Bochy was a touch overconfident.
Maybe he had every right to be. When Kontos allowed the first run to score on his watch, it marked just the second time in 33 games that a Giants starting pitcher was charged with five or more earned runs. And get this: it was the first time a Giants starter was charged with five earned or more at AT&T Park since April 9, when Tim Lincecum faced Arizona.
April 9. June 9. Two months. Easy math.
And now you begin to understand just how the Giants are 42-22, and have the best record in the major leagues.
The Nationals are just four games over .500, good enough to lead the NL East, but they dogpaddled for a stretch without difference maker Ryan Zimmerman and they continue to operate without Bryce Harper or Gio Gonzalez. They are a dangerous and talented club, and nobody knows that better than Michael Morse, who used to swing in their midst.
“They’re a very aggressive hitting team and that’s a good lineup,” said Morse, who stopped short of calling them the best offensive team he’s seen this season. “It’s a lineup that’s made to do some damage, like they did today. It reminds me of our lineup. A lot of things are similar.”
Back when Morse was crushing in the middle of that Nationals lineup, the Giants’ scouting reports were to pound inside fastballs. Don’t let guys like Morse and Desmond extend their arms. It’s becoming clear that’s the message being sent when facing the Giants these days.
Morse got hit with an 0-2 pitch in the seventh inning. A night earlier, the Giants saw clear intent when Hunter Pence got drilled by the Mets’ Zack Wheeler.
They did not believe the Nats were throwing at Morse, a popular player during his time in Washington who had fouled off an 0-2 pitch before he got plunked. But there’s definitely a growing sense of frustration as opposing pitchers take license to back them off the plate. We’ll see how that manifests itself the remainder of this series. It’s not like Washington manager Matt Williams -- yes, that Matt Williams -- is the type to back down, either.
In any event, these last three games should be entertaining – beginning with a rematch of Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, when Madison Bumgarner faces Doug Fister on Tuesday. Remember, the Nats were a strike away from being the Giants’ opponent in the NLCS that season. Perhaps this will be the year these two teams lock eyes in October.
The postseason is a time for masquerade balls. Not in June.
Besides, the Giants don’t wear masks. They wear medieval helmets. Or haven’t you been paying attention?