ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Nobody would call Tropicana Field, with its sloping roof, circulated air and fake grass, one of baseball’s palaces.
But it was the stage for some grand theater Saturday night.
It included two Cy Young Award winners, David Price and Tim Lincecum, locked in a tremendous fight. It included solid defense and great escapes. It included a managerial match of wits in the ninth inning that made Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon into Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer.
It included one of the best plays Buster Posey has ever made, straight out of Derek Jeter’s playbook.
And it included three hits – no, really! – for Jeff Francoeur.
But ultimately, for the Giants, the final act revealed a tragic end. Right-hander Jean Machi loaded the bases on an intentional walk and two unintentional ones in the 10th inning, and Wil Myers sent a spirited crowd into a shriek when he connected for a drive over Francoeur’s head to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 2-1 victory.
The Giants missed a chance to win their fourth consecutive road game – something they haven’t done all season. But they’ve still got a shot to clinch their third consecutive road series win. And they haven’t done that all year, either.
Starting pitching report
Lincecum only struck out five in seven innings and did not have much fastball command early, but he used his curveball to escape a few jams and got lucky when he left pitches over the plate.
After Yunel Escobar flied out to the deepest part of center field, with Andres Torres sprinting back to make the catch, Lincecum had to laugh. “I thought it was gone,” he appeared to say as he received the ball back from shortstop Brandon Crawford.
It figures that Lincecum’s only walk of the game led to the only run he allowed. Jose Molina drew a bases on balls to start the third inning, advanced on a wild pitch and nearly advanced on another pitch in the dirt that Buster Posey smothered.
Lincecum was out of sorts, and it was about to get worse. First, plate umpire Joe West squeezed him on a 2-2 pitch to Kelly Johnson. Then Johnson hit a chopper to the right side. Brett Pill fielded it and had time to outrace Johnson to the bag. But Lincecum, rushing to cover, set an inadvertent screen. They collided, Johnson was safe with a single and the Rays had runners at the corners with no outs.
Lincecum was able to regroup – something he’s had trouble doing consistently over the past two seasons. He got Desmond Jennings to pop up, and second baseman Joaquin Arias made a deft pickup of a short-hop on Ben Zobrist’s fielder’s choice that scored Molina. Lincecum struck out Evan Longoria to escape the inning.
He struck out Longoria in all three of their confrontations. The Rays’ slumping third baseman was in an 0-for-17 slump. He hit .194 in July, too.
Lincecum needed one more break to keep the Rays off the board, after Escobar and Luke Scott hit two-out singles in the seventh. Molina hit a bullet to right field, but it was right at Hunter Pence.
After allowing a run on six hits, Lincecum turned in his fourth quality start in his last five outings.
Who says American League managers operate on autopilot?
Santiago Casilla pitched around a single and a walk in the eighth inning, then it became an engrossing battle of wits in the ninth between Bochy and Rays manager Maddon.
Maddon used his entire five-man bench in the ninth alone. Bochy made two pitching changes, and probably wished he could’ve made two more. It was a scoreless inning worth a blow-by-blow recount.
First, Bochy had lefty Jose Mijares start the inning to face James Loney. Maddon countered by getting the right-handed matchup with Sean Rodriguez, who hit a pinch single.
Bochy brought in right-hander Sandy Rosario, who barely fielded a sacrifice bunt, and then issued an intentional walk to Luke Scott.
Maddon sent up a lefty hitter, Matt Joyce, who has been highly dangerous off the bench in the past but has slumped badly for two months. Bochy lingered for awhile, then opted to bring in left-hander Javier Lopez.
Maddon sprung the trap, replacing Joyce with Ryan Roberts, a right-handed hitter who came up huge so many times for that Arizona Diamondbacks club when it snared the NL West title away from the Giants in 2011.
Bochy got squirreled out of his matchup, but it helps to have players who make you look good. Lopez got Roberts to pop out, then he retired switch-hitter Jose Lobaton on a fielder’s choice to force extra innings.
But if Maddon burned through his bench, he entered extra innings with much more in the bullpen. Bochy only had Barry Zito and Sergio Romo left after Machi, and the book says you save your closer on the road.
Machi walked Jennings, who stole second base. The Giants issued an intentional walk to Zobrist and then Machi walked Longoria on four pitches. There was no place to put Myers, who swung through one fastball before ending the game by drilling the next one.
At the plate
The Giants entered 15-21 against left-handed starters, mostly because their right-handed platoon options have left a lot to be desired. They faced one of baseball’s top left-handers in Price.
Jeff Francoeur dragged a .167 average and a 3-for-31 slump into the game. Then he equaled that two-week output in three at-bats.
He went 3 for 3 against Price, and his leadoff single in the third inning led to the Giants’ only run against him. Francoeur, running with the pitch, advanced on Joaquin Arias’ comebacker. Then Brandon Crawford singled him the rest of the way home.
Arias stung the ball all game. After Francoeur singled in the fifth, Arias missed a two-run home run by 2 or 3 feet when his line drive struck near the top of the wall in left field. With runners at second and third, Crawford took an outside fastball that umpire Joe West deemed close enough to ring him up.
Francoeur hit a leadoff double in the eighth and Arias put a charge into another pitch, but right fielder Wil Myers tracked down his drive on the warning track. Francoeur tagged up but Price jammed Crawford for a pop-up and got Andres Torres to ground out to preserve the tie.
Price was tremendously efficient. He threw 76 of 105 pitches for strikes in nine innings. He had one six-pitch inning and another that lasted just eight pitches. Marco Scutaro had an at-bat in the ninth that was almost as long as both those innings put together. He worked Price for 11 pitches while striking out.
Fernando Rodney isn’t a comfortable at-bat, either, but the Giants threatened when Pence hit a leadoff double. Pinch hitter Brandon Belt couldn’t advance him, though, while striking out. And Pence got tagged out after a rundown that Rodney started by fielding Francoeur’s comebacker.
Arias reached on an infield hit thanks to a swinging bunt and a no-doubles defense, but Rodney sped up Crawford’s bat with 98 mph fastballs before dusting him with a slider.
Both teams put on a defensive clinic.
Crawford adjusted to Brett Pill’s low throw, then Pill picked Crawford’s throw in the dirt to complete a 3-6-3 double play in the first inning. The Rays started their own impressive double play in the third when Longoria stopped Torres’ hard line drive and threw to second base.
Arias played a strong defensive game as well, as the Giants appeared to have none of the issues that plagued them on the spongier, springier turf in Toronto back in May – the series that started their downfall in the standings.
But no play matched Posey’s Jeteresque hustle in the fourth inning, when Myers reached on an infield single and turned for second base on Arias’ overthrow. Posey alertly backed up the play, sprinting at least 120 feet from his position behind the plate and picking up the ball at the end of the Rays dugout. He immediately zinged it to second base on a line, and Crawford barely had to move his glove to apply the tag to a stunned Myers.
The Rays announced 31,969 paid on Joe Maddon Garden Gnome night. Make sure you don’t feed yours after midnight – although if it acts like its likeness, it will ask you for some high-end Cabernet.
The Giants and Rays complete their three-game interleague series at the Trop on Sunday. Guillermo Moscoso (0-0, 6.75 ERA) will make his first start as a Giant while replacing the ineffective Barry Zito. He’ll oppose right-hander Roberto Hernandez (6-11, 4.71), and no, he’s not a former White Sox reliever. First pitch is scheduled for 10:40 a.m. PDT.