It was too good to be true. There was no way the Giants were actually going to shut out the Astros 1-0. Had the bullpen had hung onto the lead, Dereck Rodriguez outdueling Charlie Morton would have been one of the great wins of the season. It’s not quite Andrew McCutchen hitting a come-from-behind walkoff homer against the Dodgers in the sixteenth, but it would have been close.
In a season full of frustration and disappointment, Dereck Rodriguez has been one of the only unimpeachably great things. With seven shutout innings, Rodriguez lowered his ERA to 2.34. The only two NL starters with better ERAs are Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom. He makes me excited for the Giants’ future even though the Giants’ future is unambiguously grim.
Rodriguez struck out seven, didn’t walk anyone, and only allowed three hits. Steven Duggar and Brandon Crawford supported him with good defense, but for the most part he didn’t need a ton of help.
Rodriguez pounded the strike zone all night, not once reaching a three-ball count. With two strikes, Rodriguez used his cutter and his curve to expand the strike zone and induced the Astros into chasing pitches just off the plate.
The only blemish on Rodriguez’s record is that he allowed some hard contact, but remember, he was pitching against one of the best hitting teams in the league. If you grade him on a curve, he was essentially perfect.
Pitching duels tend to be judged on equal footing. Whoever gives up fewer runs pitched better. But Morton had the distinct advantage as he got to pitch to the Giants. Rodriguez’s victory is all the more impressive that context.
That isn’t to take anything away from Morton. Charlie Morton looked unhittable tonight, and for the first three innings, he was.
I’m generally not a fan of the behind-the-plate camera as a pitch is being thrown. It doesn’t provide a good view of the strike zone, and you lose sight of the ball once it goes past the catcher. But tonight, it provided a nice view of Morton’s curve.
You can really see the two-plane movement and it makes you respect Evan Longoria a little more for being able to even make contact with that pitch. When the Giants are getting no-hit by Clayton Richard or Edwin Jackson or whomever, it’s extremely frustrating. When the Giants are getting hit by Morton, it makes sense. How are you supposed to hit that?
When Joe Panik led off the fifth inning with a double, the feeling wasn’t, “Oh good, the Giants should score here,” it was, “Hey, there’s a non-zero chance the Giants score here.” Even after Gorkys Hernández drew a walk, my optimism didn’t budge. For the Giants to score against Morton, they would have needed two hits in the same inning. That just wasn’t going to happen.
The Giants needed Morton to make one mistake, and finally, after 83 pitches, he did.
That wasn’t a meatball. Crawford still had to make a good swing on it, and he got just enough to get it over the wall.
When Crawford hit that home run, I idiotically thought it was going to be enough. Rodriguez could get through the seventh, and then some combination of Reyes Moronta, Ray Black, and Will Smith could close it out.
Even after allowing the three-run homer, Smith still has an ERA under two. That’s the first home run he’s given up in a Giants uniform. It’s hard to be mad at him. He just didn’t have command of his curve. Pitchers are allowed to have bad days every once in a while.
Admittedly, when Smith enters a game, I sort of tune out. I just expect him to get through the inning. I’ll mentally check back in when he gets to two strikes to see the hitter flail at his slider. My concern levels didn’t rise until the second walk. My reaction to watching Smith in the ninth tonight was not unlike Homer Simpson watch a rotisserie pig sail majestically through the air like… like… gosh, what’s something that sails majestically through the air?
That was just the third time this season the Giants have carried a lead into the ninth inning and lost. The 2016 Giants lost nine such games. With just two months left in the season, this crew has their work cut out for them if they’ll hope to catch the last Even Year Magic™ team.