Programming note: For all the day’s sports news, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight and every night at 6, 10:30 p.m. and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
This was a game that Bruce Bochy really wanted to win.
That much was obvious in the bottom of the eighth inning, when you scanned the Giants outfield and saw Michael Morse in left field, Hunter Pence in center … and Brandon Belt in right.
Bochy arrived there because he had Morse pinch hit for center fielder Gregor Blanco to start the eighth. Then he sent Buster Posey up to hit for left fielder Juan Perez, even though he didn’t have any more outfielders on the bench.
As a result, Morse went to left field in the bottom of the inning, Pence moved from right field to center and Belt moved from first base to right. It was Belt’s first appearance in the outfield since 2012, and his first in right field since he started one game there in 2011.
Bochy ventured but didn’t gain. Posey, in a rare moment, got caught in front of a 3-2 curveball from hard-throwing Jeremy Jeffress and the Giants lost 4-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers to drop the series opener at Miller Park Tuesday night.
It’s not often you’ll see Posey get caught out in front.
He has terrific balance at the plate and keen pitch recognition skills. Just as important, he has tremendous discipline. If he doesn’t get a pitch to hit, he won’t try to force something to happen.
But while I watched the game from our CSN San Francisco studios, it appeared to me there were several factors that came into play this time. He was facing Jeffress, who dials it up at 98 mph. He was coming off the bench cold. And he had rookie Andrew Susac hitting behind him.
Jeffress threw a curveball that was just close enough to entice Posey, who couldn’t check his swing. The Giants left both of Jeffress’s walks on base and they didn’t manage another hit after Pablo Sandoval’s titanic, tying three-run home run in the sixth.
As a result, they lost 4-3 in Milwaukee despite getting most of the ingredients they needed to win: Tim Lincecum threw the six-inning, three-run definition of a quality start, paying for one mistake that Carlos Gomez crushed for a two-run home run, and Sandoval provided the equalizer with a big swing.
The Giants had to like their chances in a bullpen game. Their relievers hadn’t allowed a run in 22 2/3 innings – their longest scoreless stretch since 2010. And they had both Posey and Morse on their bench.
But Jean Machi threw a first pitch splitter that Gerardo Parra slugged for a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning. Machi (6-1) ended up taking just his second loss in 11 decisions over three years as a Giant. (It’s hard to blame this one on the bullpen when the relievers have been the strongest component of the club since the All-Star break.)
As for the eighth, Morse rewarded Bochy by drawing a 3-2 walk – something he hasn’t done often enough this season. He’s hitting .088 (3 for 34) with a .118 slugging percentage on a full count (with 14 walks as well).
Posey was hitting just .219 with a 3-2 count, also.
But if this game was lost anywhere it was the early innings as rookie Jimmy Nelson plowed through five shutout innings while allowing just three singles. When the Giants have succeeded on the road in the past, most often it’s by scoring early. And sometimes, when you can score a quick TKO on a starting pitcher in the first game of a series, you put your opponent in an innings deficit the rest of the way. The Brewers bullpen is definitely a group you like to see early and often.
That’s why Angel Pagan’s return looms large for the Giants. He’s expected to be active and batting leadoff on Thursday, and he might even be active off the bench Wednesday if all goes well in his final rehab appearance for Triple-A Fresno. Nobody does more to help the Giants scratch out that early run. And at home, well … their offense just hasn’t worked at all at AT&T Park since he took himself out of the lineup June 8 with back soreness.
The Giants just hope they can keep Pagan on the field the rest of the way. While trying to win a game, they found themselves an outfielder short Tuesday night.