In the second at-bat of the Giants' night, Brandon Belt beat out an infield hit. Except he didn't. He was called out, and the replay was inconclusively conclusive, which meant a challenge was silly. Bruce Bochy lumbered out to first, buying time for a replay, but the play got one Wotus down -- a box-office killer. Bochy lumbered back to the dugout.
That's the story of how the Giants lost 5-0.
Professional obligations prevented me from turning the TV off and sitting in the tub all night, but that's the recap I would have written. It was the baseball gods tossing out a spoiler for a movie you didn't want to watch anyway. Everything was going to go against the Giants again. They were going to play poorly, and they were going to draw five E tiles and one Q.
Then the A's made mistakes. They threw a wild pitch. They kicked the ball around in the outfield. Their starter wasn't fine with his command at all. Over this entire miserable, fascinating month, how many times do you remember the other team playing poorly? That's been the quirkiest part, this lack of help from the opponent. There hasn't been the pitcher who walks five straight to start the game, or the shortstop who throws the ball into right field on an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. Every team plays as well as they can these days, which means they're usually in a dandy position when Alexi Amarista hits a homer to break the scoreless tie up.
Just like last night, there's no data on this, no Baseball-Reference.com split that lets you know how many gifts are given to a team every game. But I can't remember the last time the Giants scored a run on a wild pitch, or the last time a bobble in the outfield allowed a run to score.
They used these gifts and their collective powers to score five runs. They still haven't scored more than five runs since June 21, which was 17 games ago. How does that rank? It's the eighth-longest streak of five or fewer runs since the Giants moved to San Francisco.
Can you believe that last year's team was on that list oh you can well it was still a surprise to me. The Giants are in the kind of funk where five runs seems like a display of alpha-male dominance over the other team, with David Attenborough narrating. Heck, we'll take it. We'll take those five runs. Feels pretty good from here.
The Giants have a .600 winning percentage over the last five games, including an improbable comeback win against a tough closer. If stretched out of a full season, that would be a 97-win season with 32 improbable comebacks. And you were worried. We were just being weenies the entire time.
Peter Brand: Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy pitchers who will stop throwing the damned ball into center field when they're trying to start a double play.
Billy Beane: ...
Peter Brand: You're trying to replace Barry Zito. The San Francisco Giants see Barry Zito and they see a star who's worth $20 million a year. When I see Barry Zito, what I see is... is... an asshole who keeps throwing the ball into center field when he's trying to start a double play. That whole team is filled with pitchers like that. It always will be. And if I say it to anybody, I'm-I'm ostracized. I'm-I'm-I'm a leper. So that's why I'm-I'm cagey about this with you. That's why I... I respect you, Mr. Beane, and if you want full disclosure, I think it's a good thing that you got that weirdo off your payroll.
Billy Beane: ...
Peter Brand: Seriously, though, throwing a baseball to second base is apparently the hardest thing in the world to do, so pitchers would be better off if they sat on the ball and made chicken noises.
Billy Beane: My god. This is brilliant.
After Matt Cain threw the ball into center field, giving the A's an extra two outs with runners on base to wreak havoc, Jason Hammel came up. Oh, how that must have annoyed American League fans. It was like Alex Trebek using his smarmiest in-the-form-of-a-question voice to remind them that they were in a National League ballpark. Hammel sacrificed the runners up, because that's all he could do. Coco Crisp grounded out to end the inning that should have ended minutes before.
I'm sorry, but your answer has to be in the form of a non-clownball strategy. A non-clownball strategy.
Cain was imperfect. Cain was plenty good enough to win. This is a change from every non-Lincecum over the last month, whose imperfections have been stapled to their foreheads between innings. Between Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have had three pitchers who have consistently you say things like, "Sweet! They have crisp stuff and command tonight!" right before they lose in a hailstorm of hits and punished mistakes. This was a reversal of a trend. Hopefully.
Cain hung a few pitches because most pitchers do. Jeff Sullivan took a look at what it looks like when Clayton Kershaw has a bad outing, and it features him getting away with some hangers, not getting away with others. The pitch that Brandon Hicks hit to the moon against Kershaw is a pitch I've seen Buster Posey swing over. Baseball.
Except it's seemed like Cain's been getting away with fewer and fewer of the mistakes, starting with last year. Velocity's up, secondary pitches are good, everything's good, rolling along, and then, poorf, the lead goes away on an ill-timed dinger. It's what the stat nerds were waiting for long enough to give up on the idea, that Cain would start acting like other pitchers.
Tonight, he was just Cain, with just a long, long solo home run on his record. After his nightmare against the White Sox, he's pitched well. It looks worse because of the odd 7⅓-inning game against the Padres, where he was snakebit in the eighth inning after looking good for most of the game, but he's pitched well recently. Looking forward to a second half as good as last year's, if only because he deserves a change in fortune.
He's back to .500, everyone. Matt Cain is back to .500.