By TED SILLANPAA
The five-run eighth inning that the Philadelphia Phillies used to hand the San Francisco Giants a gut-wrenching defeat on Tuesday night was a deceptive outburst against two relief pitchers who deserved a better fate in the 13-8 loss.
New Giants’ lefthander Will Smith looked sharp. He only retired one batter in the bottom of the eighth, on a strikeout, before giving up a slow, bouncing single up the middle. The ball wasn’t hit hard and the pitch was placed where catcher Buster Posey put the target.
Fans are likely upset to see Smith take the loss in his Giants debut after arriving from the Milwaukee Brewers. However, they need to acknowledge that Odubel Herrera’s single barely got out of the infield. Smith made a great pitch. Cesar Hernandez hit a double over Hunter Pence’s head, off the fence in right field. Pence misjudged the ball. Had he read it correctly, he’d have recorded the inning’s second out on the warning track.
Smith made the pitch and should’ve recorded the second out, leaving a runner on first. Inside, Pence’s awkward route to the ball became a double that put runners on second and third. Fans won’t know that by just checking the box score or, in some cases, from reading a game story. Pence should’ve made the catch.
Sergio Romo came on in relief and watched Aaron Altherr’s single bounce high off the dirt in front of home plate, then keep bouncing just out of the reach of middle infielders Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik. The ball wasn’t hit hard and didn’t get very far onto the outfield grass. The high hops did give both baserunners time to score.
The Phillies grabbed a 10-7 lead with two squib singles and a misplayed fly ball. It’s tough to damn simple bad luck, but that’s what beat the Giants in the eighth inning. Fans want to blame somebody for losses. They can’t call radio talk shows to complain about squib hits and bum luck. They surely jumped all over Smith and Romo. Naturally. Romo gave up a 3-run homer to Cameron Rupp, but the situation had gotten out of hand and it was icing on the cake frosted with Phillies’ good fortune.
Hunter Strickland struck out two in relief of Madison Bumgarner, but did give up a run-scoring single. Guess where Maikel Franco hit the pitch? He hit a bouncer over Strickland’s head that both Crawford and Panik got near enough to think they could make the play. The Giants would’ve been well served to put a defender right behind the second base bag. If they had, the game might still be going on.
Derek Law pitched a 1-2-3 seventh after Strickland stuck out the side in the sixth. The two young relievers used dominating stuff to baffle the Phillies. Smith started to do the same thing, but once soft-tossing Romo got the ball — the game unraveled. It’ll look like the bullpen deserves a tounge lashing, but the relief staff did the job. The Giants have taken their aging bullpen that pitched to contact (and was susceptible to cheap hits) and replaced them with power arms like Strickland, Law and Smith. Power pitchers can use strikeout stuff to pitch out of trouble. Romo doesn’t have that stuff, just his mid-80s fastball and the slider that gave him a spot in Giants’ folklore.
It might be time to turn to Romo in the sixth or seventh innings. It would make him more effective, maybe even extend his career. That would clear the seventh and eighth, the innings that are a bridge to closer Santiago Casilla, to strikeout pitchers Strickland and Law. Romo inherited a situation where he really needed a strikeout — two would have been ideal. Law and Strickland could deliver the strikeout. The eighth inning should belong to them — Law has better command of more pitches while Strickland has pitched under postseason pressure and has more big league experience.
Bruce Bochy will become a Hall of Fame manager, but he let his trust in Madison Bumgarner hurt the Giants on Tuesday. He left Bumgarner in after falling behind 6-0, then when the Giants tied the game 6-6 and took leads of 7-6 and 8-7. Bumgarner had given up nine hits when he walked Taylor Featherston to start the sixth. Bumgarner deserves a long leash in every start, but he got hit hard Tuesday and the Giants’ hitters seemed to have rallied the struggling club for what would’ve been an inspirational victory. It would’ve become even more important hours later when the Colorado Rockies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco could’ve extended it’s NL West lead back to three games.
Fans really shouldn’t criticize Bochy or Bumgarner for leaving the club ace in the game for too long. A month or so back, Bochy took Bumgarner out with a lead in the sixth. The Giants lost. Fans were livid, moaning that Bumgarner should always be allow to determine his own fate. Well, Bochy let him do that on Tuesday. It’s certain that the same fans who got mad when Bumgarner got the hook too early were steaming mad when Bumgarner finally left the mound after the lead-off walk in the sixth. Fans too often want it both ways.
There were plenty of good things to take away from Tuesday’s loss. The rally to come back from down 6-0 was reminscent of so many similar rallies where the Giants world championship teams came back from the dead to erase a deficit, then watch the relief staff shut down the opposition. Every time the Phillies fought back to tie or take a lead, the Giants responded in kind. It was vintage Giants’ baseball — except Bumgarner and bullpen couldn’t quiet the Phillies.
“Just chalk this up to an off night,” Bochy said of Bumgarner. “He’s human.”The manager added that Romo “had buzzard’s luck tonight.”
Why does it seem that fans won’t shake it off, remember Bumgarner is entitled to a shakey outing and move on?
It wasn’t mass mound failure by the bullpen that cost the Giants the game. It was a series of squibbers, hoppers and a poorly played fly ball that did them in. All that and a throwing error by new third baseman Eduardo Nunez that accounted for four unearned runs as the Phillies built the 6-0 lead against Bumgarner.
The baseball gods smiled on the Phillies. Fans can’t very well point a finger and shake it at the baseball gods.You know the most likely suspects to feel the ire of Giants’ fans, but you also know it wasn’t any one player’s fault. Use that information wisely.