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Cold as the Rockies

An rare pitcher’s duel at Coors Field still brought familiar heartbreak

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

And…we’re in the dumps again. ‘Tis the season of big emotional swings-and-misses. The highs from Wednesday’s win got extended with Thursday’s rain delay but eventually—inevitably—came down with an agonizing crash after the Colorado Rockies’ walk-off 3-2 win on Friday.

A very un-Coors Field final score in a very un-Coors Field game in which both teams bats went ice-cold against each respective starter.

For 7 innings, 2 hits and 1 run were the only digits populating the box score. Funnily enough, the team with 1 run didn’t have the hits. Veteran starter Chase Anderson (who San Francisco had tagged for 6 runs in 3 innings a week ago) threw 7 no-hit innings but left the mound in line for the loss.

Three walks, aggressive base running by Michael Conforto and a fielder’s choice RBI groundout by Patrick Bailey in the 2nd put the Giants in the lead, and no one in a million years expected that 1-0 score to remain. But there’s been enough history in that park to expect that crazy things are liable to go down—but winning 1-0 while being no-hit a mile above sea level would’ve been unfathomable.

I was rooting for it...and they almost pulled it off too.

Logan Webb in typical fashion weaved in and out of Rockies batters with his change-up - sinker and slider accompaniment, spinning another sparkling pitching line of 8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. According to Baseball Reference, the 76 game score was Webb’s second best start of the season.

Charlie Blackmon led off the game with a single, was erased on a 6-4-3 double-play ball off the bat of Kris Bryant and Colorado didn’t have another player reach base until 1-out in the 6th. Horizontal plays by both Brandon Crawford and LaMonte Wade Jr. turned hits into outs, preserving Webb’s scoreless outing.

A 1-2-3 7th was the righty’s 200th inning pitch of the season—a career milestone and MLB leading mark. Webb didn’t rest on his laurels though, taking the mound in the 8th for the fifth time this season.

I’m not privvy to what the thinking was behind sending Webb out to face lefty Ryan McMahon in the 8th. I’m sure Webb, who had given up only 2 hits, wanted a chance to go the distance or at least see the inning through. He had earned the right to make that decision and I’m sure manager Gabe Kapler wanted that opportunity for his starter. But this is where hindsight really makes things sticky.

Yes, the pitch count was in the low-90s but in the thin air of Denver when you need a breather after going to cover first base, that number plays on the arm differently than at say Oracle Park. The previous 7-innings weren’t a stroll either, and with the lefty McMahon coming up the plate—who’s splits are as by the book as they come—and in untrustworthy Coors Field and with Webb’s penchant for being hard-hit and home runs this season… It was a similarly tough decision to the one made against Texas back in August. With a 1-0 lead entering the 9th. Go with a starter that’s rolling or hand it over to one of the best closer’s in the game?

Kapler-critics complain about how he favors analytics over gut—but when it comes to Webb on the mound, it’s clear that Kapler lets Webb dictate. And just like against Texas, the gut didn’t win out.

Webb got through the 8th inning just not with the lead. McMahon jumped on a first pitch change-up (no surprises there) and split the game in right-center for a lead-off double. Two batters later, Ezequiel Tovar singled to center to bring in McMahon. It wasn’t a terrible slider, but in a 1-2 count, lingered too long in the zone. Maybe a slider too many as well—the shortstop recognized it and poked it into the outfield to tie the game. A slightly elevated change-up, a slider in a leverage count—location is the first thing to go when fatigue takes hold. And we were reminded Thursday that baseball, especially late in the season in the midst of a playoff race, can turn on a dime.

At the end of the 8th, the magic of Chase Anderson and the Rockies bullpen no-hitting the Giants had worn off: San Francisco had surrendered their lead.

J.D. Davis broke up the no-no with a lead-off double in the 9th, but that led to only a single run.

Reliever Nick Mears walked Wade and with two outs, Patrick Bailey nearly singled in Conforto but second baseman Rodgers kept it in the infield to prevent the run from scoring. Bases loaded, Kapler swapped Crawford for Wilmer Flores who worked an easy walk to bring in the Giants’ second run.

It wouldn’t be enough, and Austin Slater flailing at three cutters well off the plate with the bases loaded from RHP Matt Koch looms large. I know this is a stupid thing to say because of how hard it is to hit a baseball—but if you’re Slater hitting for the first time in the game (defensive replacement in the 8th) and terrible against righties and the bases are loaded when a walk brings in another run, why not take a pitch, or four? Or great, swing at the first pitch, try to jump on a get-it-in pitch, but if you miss the way Slater missed on Koch’s first offering, just straighten up and pocket the bat. Make him prove to you that he can put one in the zone before you feel the need to swing.

Of course, the underlying problems with that above rant is 1: easier said than done, no one likes a couch-coach, and 2: if you’re playing for a walk to scratch across one run in Coors Field against the cellar-dwelling Rockies and their league worst bullpen in a Wild Card chase, then there are bigger fish to fry.

Said bigger fish have been stinking up the clubhouse with their fish-smell since April: streaky boom-or-bust bats, situational hitting, playing down to poor performing clubs and below-average arms, and more recently, the pitching staff’s worrying trends. Right now, relief pitchers’ strikeout-percentage in September is 18.6% —down nearly 10% from the May mark. Their ability to strand runners is in a similar deficit (78.9% in May to 67.8% in September). Their collective WHIP: 1.30—a significant dip from their early summer numbers.

The strikeout rate is especially telling because that’s exactly what the Giants needed from Camilo Doval in the 9th inning. After a lead-off double from Blackmon (of course) put the tying run immediately into scoring position, Doval needed to record some unproductive outs. He got a groundout from Bryant that didn’t advance the runner, but rookie outfielder Nolan Jones (who is quickly shaping up to be heir-apparent to Nolan Arenado and Blackmon as official rock-in-Giants’-shoe) nagged Doval into throwing 9-pitches before working a walk. Jones fouled off four and took a devastatingly close sinker at the bottom of the zone before Doval’s full count slider came in off the plate. The velocity wasn’t down, Doval just didn’t elevate. Nothing made the tall lefty uncomfortable, nothing came in on his hands, allowing Jones to get in a rhythm of extending his arms and getting bat-to-ball.

The walk put the winning run on base. Jones would come around on a single by Elehuris Montero on a play that nearly nabbed the tying run at the plate. Mike Yastrzemski’s throw home was accurate and on time but hit Blackmon as he slid towards the plate. The ball ricocheted away from Bailey and Doval, allowing Jones to score and end the game.

A perplexing and bizarre loss that hurt even more with the Marlins and Reds both swinging above their weight-class with wins, while the Diamondbacks rallied to beat the Mets. San Francisco is now a game behind Arizona and Cincinnati and a half-game behind Miami.

Exhausted? Burnt out? Flabbergasted? Don’t worry there’s another game in like 5 hours and one more after that, so grab the Pedialyte, ready the tissues, line up some of those oxygen bottles because on these haunted grounds with this up-and-down team, whatever happens, it will probably wreck you both physically and emotionally.