For a few innings, the San Francisco Giants were following the same blueprint they used to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 on Tuesday night. They were creating opportunities, and they were capitalizing on them. They were keeping the Dodgers from doing the same.
Just as was the case on Tuesday, it started in the first inning. In the top half, Alex Cobb danced around danger. A four-pitch walk and a single put two on with just one out, a situation Cobb deftly maneuvered with the help of a strike zone that was ebbing, flowing, and dancing around like the blob in a lava lamp.
In the bottom half they got straight to work. Thairo Estrada hit a soft single and Wilmer Flores did the same, and the Giants refused to apologize for their good fortune. It eventually led to a J.D. Davis sacrifice fly, and then Darin Ruf stood in, making his return to the black and orange.
He came a foot away from a storybook homer, and settled for a double that gave the Giants a 2-0 lead.
THE BARK IS BACK pic.twitter.com/yCLoerjwDK— SFGiants (@SFGiants) April 13, 2023
It was more of the same in the second. Cobb made an awful error that resulted in a runner on second with one out, but Cobb stranded him there. In the bottom half the Giants caught a break when a bullet by Heliot Ramos that should have been two outs was instead zero outs. A single by Flores would give the Giants a 3-0 lead.
The Giants were following the script well enough that I was already thinking that I should spend the time between innings looking up how many times San Francisco has shut out Los Angeles on consecutive days.
And then, like the final 30 seconds before the second commercial break in every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all hell broke loose and our rosy little scene was decimated.
It started in the fourth inning, before Cobb had even thrown a pitch. When the Giants trotted out to take their posts in the outfield grass, Michael Conforto was nowhere to be found. Instead, Mike Yastrzemski, the starting center fielder, had shifted over to right, and Bryce Johnson had entered the game.
Then J.D. Martinez, who tripled once last year, had his second triple in four games. James Outman knocked him in with a single, and you were scared. Joey Bart threw out Outman running for second and you were comforted.
But it wasn’t a rally killer. It was like taking out the boss in a Donkey Kong level ... you think you’ve done it, only after writhing and shriveling for a few seconds they just grow back bigger and stronger than before.
With two outs, David Peralta singled, and Miguel Vargas hit what had the potential to be an inning ender, but instead ricocheted off of Cobb’s kneecap to put a second runner on base. A Mookie Betts double scored a run, brought the Dodgers to within a run, and knocked Cobb out of the game.
In came Scott Alexander to face world-beater Freddie Freeman, who hit a ball so well that it would take the catch of the year to grab it.
So Johnson made the catch of the year. Easy peasy.
CATCH OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/Vh9Fx3LgAh— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 13, 2023
Except not so easy. Johnson learned the hard way that sometimes running full speed and face first into a wall doesn’t feel so hot and, half an inning after Conforto was out of the game, his replacement was out of the game, too.
A brief pause for injury updates: Conforto has calf tightness and is day-to-day. Johnson has a concussion and is headed for the Injury List. Very much hope he’s OK.
The Giants still led, but it didn’t feel right. It felt like when your boss tells you all the great things you’re doing, and you know it’s a compliment offsetting setup so they can tell you all the ways your dumb ass screwed things up.
In the fifth inning, Max Muncy came to bat which ... look, I’m not an anti-analytics guy. But why these nerds dicking around on their abaci in the front office haven’t decided to simply ban Muncy from playing baseball is beyond me.
You know what happened. He homered. It tied the game. The Giants would not win the game, and in this moment you knew that to be true.
Still, they made it as ugly as possible, because why not. Go big or go home, or maybe go home in a big way.
On came Taylor Rogers, who figures to be a very important reliever for the Giants but who has been umm ... what’s the polite word ... crappy.
He walked Trayce Thompson on five pitches. Then he walked Chris Taylor because he forgot to throw a 3-1 pitch in time. Then he walked Betts on five pitches. Then he loaded the count against Freeman, who proceeded to foul off nine consecutive pitches — not hyperbole — before drawing a walk on the 15th pitch of the at-bat, giving the Dodgers the go-ahead run.
As a perennial underachiever and lover of golf, I’m all too familiar with the feeling of doing a bad job at something you intended to do a good job at. Even so, it’s hard for me to fathom what it must be like to be a Major League pitcher who jogs to the mound in front of 30,000 fans and dozens of cameras broadcasting all over the world, faces four batters, walks all of them, and then solemnly walks off the field.
To Rogers’ credit, he handled it better than many would. He even had the wherewithal to do the requisite inanimate object punching with his non-throwing hand. That’s a veteran, my friends.
Taylor Rogers threw his glove in the trash and then punched the bench after his rough outing pic.twitter.com/AFmB7pPgSO— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 13, 2023
The hope was that John Brebbia could save his teammate, but he couldn’t, because Muncy was coming up. Brebbia limited Will Smith to a sacrifice fly, and then Muncy put a ball out of the ballpark for the second time in the game and the fourth time in the series.
He’s rude, honestly.
The rest of the game went something like that. The Giants tacked on late runs with a mild-mannered seventh-inning rally and a ninth-inning homer by Estrada, but they never threatened to actually undo the damage of allowing 10 unanswered runs. And so they lost 10-5.
A few quick-hitting notes on the game:
- Ruf also singled. It’s only one game, but he looked like the Ruf we know and love, and that would be a huge addition to this lineup.
- The Giants are far from the best defensive team in baseball, but if you had any doubts as to whether they’re improved from last year, the fourth inning should have answered those questions. Johnson’s catch was the highlight, yes, but Ramos also had a sensational play. Betts’ double was to the corner, with runners at second and third, and Ramos somehow limited the damage to just one run on a play that had no right to not score two.
- Speaking of Ramos, he started his third game and looks significantly better than last year. The numbers aren’t great — he’s hitting 3-11 with no walks and no extra-base hits — but this is very clearly not the same Ramos that we saw last year (which is also evidenced by the way the Giants are playing him). The process looks so much better: he’s seeing pitches better, making better swing decisions, and making better swings. He’ll be frustrated by going just 1-4, but the Giants surely noticed that in his first at-bat he fell behind Kershaw 0-2, laid off on a very tempting off-speed pitch, and then ripped a bullet up the middle. They will have noticed that his last at-bat, a seeing-eye line drive, had an expected batting average of .730. And they definitely will have noticed the defense.
- Assuming the Giants want to replace Johnson with another outfielder, they really have two choices: Matt Beaty and Brett Wisely.
- The Giants have an off day on Thursday. This is a good thing.