By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–When you’re as good as the Giants have been in 2021, circumstances often don’t matter. This guy back in, that guy out with COVID, formidable opponent, less than ideal scheduling and travel, for the best in baseball Giants it hasn’t mattered.
On Wednesday night, with their bullpen showing strain, and the visiting Padres as desperate as desperate comes, the Giants’ circumstances did matter.
The Padres saddled all seven Giants’ relievers that pitched with at least two hits, in a 16-hit attack that overwhelmed the home team from the first inning on. San Diego broke a 5-game losing streak, and kept their dissipating playoff hopes alive with a 9-6 win.
It’s not ideal,” manager Gabe Kapler said of attempting to beat the Padres twice in three games by utilizing a row of relievers. “We have to make the best of it, and I think thus far we’ve been able to do that. Tonight was definitely not that. We just got beat.”
Minus Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto, the Giants have soldiered on with just three starters… for the first half of September. That’s a long stretch for a major league baseball to be out of its routine, and even more challenging at this stage of a long season.
The answer: the Giants won 11 of 14 despite all the upheaval.
“I think it’s pretty tough to ask them to go out there like this multiple times a week, but they’ve done it,” Brandon Belt said of the bullpen’s heroism. “They haven’t said a word, and they’ve gotten the job done, for the most part. Tonight we just couldn’t pick them up.”
Dominic Leone got the start for the second time in this series as the opener, and finally the bullpen ace with the ridiculously low ERA faltered. Two of three batters Leone faced drew walks, and big swinging Fernando Tatis Jr. singled to shortstop. Three batters into the game, Leone was done, after pitching five scoreless inning in three previous starts this month.
That start triggered the Padres, who have been in an incredible slide in which they’ve gone from wild card probables to barely breathing by losing 21 of 29. Adam Walker’s RBI double gave the Padres a 2-0 first inning lead, and they stretched it to 5-0 in the second when Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer came up with big hits off Jarlin Garcia.
Still the Giants battled, extending their streak of scoring at least six runs in a game to 10, the longest such streak in their San Francisco history. The biggest issues blunting the Giants’ comeback: Brandon Crawford’s second inning error triggered San Diego’s three-run rally, and Jose Quintana–the former Angel picked up off waivers two weeks ago–got taken advantage of. The 51st of his 52 pitches thrown in the fifth and sixth innings was hammered by Jurickson Profar, a home run that increased the Padres’ dwindling lead to 7-3.
Oh, and one other issue: the Giants’ offense wasn’t particularly efficient. They hit four home runs–from Belt, Thairo Estrada, Kris Bryant and Steven Duggar–but none came with runners on base. The club’s scoring in five of the nine innings included just one crooked number, a two-run seventh in which Belt and Duggar went deep, while pinch hitter and late lineup scratch Mike Yastrzemski, Buster Posey and Tommy La Stella recorded routine outs.
For the Giants a long night, a unique night, but one in which their nine-game win streak (their longest since a 10-game run in 2004) ended, and the Dodgers won, decreasing their division lead to 1 1/2 games. The Giants had 40 at-bats, none of which involved a pitcher. They employed four pinch hitters, they had nine hits–six of those for extra bases–and drew five walks, and one hit batter (Crawford) but couldn’t overcome the Padres’ hit parade.
But they came close.
The Giants conclude their series with San Diego on Thursday afternoon as Kevin Gausman gets the start in search of his 15th win. Pierce Johnson, the San Diego reliever will oppose Gausman, as the Padres might show vulnerability with a bullpen game of their own just hours after the long Wednesday night game.