By Morris Phillips
The Giants’ eighth inning lead over the Dodgers on Thursday night seemed like an incredible accomplishment. It was, but it didn’t last long.
After trailing 5-0, the Giants rallied to lead 6-5 in the eighth, with Darin Ruf’s grand slam as the centerpiece of their awakening. But the Dodgers felt a nudge as well: they answered with Trayce Thompson’s RBI triple, then Mookie Betts’ dramatic, three-run shot to take the lead.
Dominic Leone opened the inning by striking out Jake Lamb, but Gavin Lux battled through a two-strike situation with a double. Max Muncy’s ground out advanced Lux to third, which gave Thompson, brother of the Warriors’ Klay, a big spot and he delivered with the game-tying triple.
In what was clearly not a strategic move, Jarlin Garcia came on to face Cody Bellinger, hitting just .208 and still not removed from his struggles of the last two seasons. But in a left-on-left matchup, Garcia unintentionally delivered four, consecutive balls, and that brought Betts up with two on in a big spot.
Betts delivered with the home run into the left field bleachers on the third pitch of the at-bat, and not only was the Giants’ gutty comeback wiped out, the game was essentially lost.
The irony of it all? The Giants’ bullpen is in a state of upheaval, witnessed by Jake McGee’s release, Mauricio Llovera’s emergence and subsequent injury, and now the signing of veteran closer Trevor Rosenthal. The 32-year old right hander represents a world of potential, but he’s thrown just 40 innings over the last five seasons as injuries have consumed his career. In fact, last season as the member of the A’s, Rosenthal didn’t pitch at all as thoracic outlet syndrome cancelled his stint with the A’s, who were on the hook for the closer’s one-year, $11 million deal.
The Giants have been encouraged by Rosenthal’s workouts over the last month and moved to sign him to a $4.5 million deal for the rest of the season, which won’t commence until Rosenthal ramps up his workouts and heals his hamstring. Despite all the questions, the Giants and manager Gabe Kapler stand bullish.
“Obviously, it’s been some time and hasn’t been on the mound in a while,” Kapler said. “But the talent hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s an electric arm. Physical, strong body. Lot of potential to really make an impact for us in the second half.”
It’s clear the Giants had to do something, they’re 13 and a half games behind the Dodgers after Thursday’s loss, and they possess the eighth-best record in the NL, but are only a game-and-a-half from moving into the fifth spot. From a strategic standpoint, the Giants stood pat on Thursday witht their platoon-heavy lineup featuring Lamonte Wade Jr. in the leadoff spot again despite his sub-.200 batting average. Carlos Rodon, who was held off the All-Star roster with this start against the Dodgers as the reason, was rocked, allowing five runs on six hits in his five innings.
Freddie Freeman hit a solo shot off Rodon in the first. Justin Turner knocked in a pair with a double in the third, and Hanser Alberto followed that with an RBI double of his own. After just three innings, the Giants trailed 5-0.
The Giants appeared to get a break with Mitch White drawing the start for the Dodgers. The spot starter was preferred over Julio Urias, and Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw pitched in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. But White was fantastic, allowing one hit in five innings.
An opening was forged in the seventh when Evan Longoria homered, and Ruf hit his slam. Ruf pinch hit for Wade in the sixth, and his second at-bat became the occasion of his first-ever big league grand slam. Phil Bickford allowed Longoria’s blow and Alex Vesia was the pitcher who empowered Ruf. Those two relievers, who were tabbed when manager Dave Roberts had better options, were all the vulnerability the hosts were willing to show on Thursday.
Evan Phillips, the former Oriole, followed with his 1.70 ERA in 37 appearances, giving the veteran the best season to date of his six-year career. But he too struggled, walking Thairo Estrada with the bases loaded to give the Giants’ their short-lived lead. Phillips also walked Wilmer Flores who led off the inning, and Luis Gonzalez intentionally to load the bases and take his chances with Estrada.
One of the Giants’ ongoing issues is their inability to dial up strikeouts from their bullpen. Rodon, even with his obvious failures on Thursday, struck out seven. But after he departed four Giants’ relievers registered just two strikeouts, which enhanced the hosts ability to rally and prevail.
The two teams meet again on Friday with Logan Webb facing Tyler Anderson, the former Colorado Rockie who’s been energized with his move to Los Angeles. Anderson has a 10-1 record and a 2.96 ERA.