San Francisco Giants catcher Nick Hundley (5) comes down to tag Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) but doesn’t get him out the tenth inning at AT&T Park Thursday, April 27, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)
SAN FRANCISCO – If the Giants and Dodgers proved anything in their first rivalry series of the season, it’s that they are evenly matched – and that is less impressive than it sounds.
They are both struggling to score runs. They are making too many routine mistakes in the field. Neither team is skimming anywhere near topside in the NL West.
The better team is supposed to win. That is the way this is supposed to work. But sometimes, the team that plays worst clears its throat. And the Giants coughed away their chance to win the four-game series on Thursday, imploding in the 10th inning of a 5-1 loss at AT&T Park.
Chipmunk-cheeked rookie Christian Arroyo delighted another triple-deck crowd by following Buster Posey’s intentional walk with an RBI single that tied the game in the sixth inning. But Bruce Bochy bemoaned another day when his tepid lineup — the Giants scored eight runs while splitting the four-game series — couldn’t do more damage.
Then a bullpen that appeared to be fastening its harness hit the ejector button in the 10th.
“You know, the ‘pen’s been doing a pretty good job,” said Bochy, of a unit that had a 0.94 ERA in its first 10 home games. “But you score one run and it’s tough to win a ballgame.”
It was a half-inning of fundamental ugliness that would have compelled Abner Doubleday to flip to the Golf Channel. The Dodgers flubbed their share, too.
Giants right-hander Cory Gearrin drew a bad matchup when the Dodgers sent up pinch hitter Adrian Gonzalez, and he issued a leadoff walk. Chase Utley failed to get down a sacrifice bunt yet received an end-of-the-bat gift in the form of an infield single along the third base chalk line. Then left-hander Steven Okert walked Yasmani Grandal to load the bases.
Andrew Toles followed with a tiebreaking single to center field, and both teams jostled for the distinction of which one could do a better job of screwing up the rest of the play. Utley got a bad read and failed to score a second run as he held up at third base. Grandal, assuming Utley would score, ran to third.
But Giants second baseman Kelby Tomlinson accepted the relay throw in shallow center field and erred by throwing to third base, allowing Grandal to retreat.
Bochy hooked two players with one move, bringing in Hunter Strickland to pitch and Joe Panik to play second base. More weirdness followed.
Kiké Hernandez hit a foul pop and first baseman Buster Posey made a juggling catch with his back to the infield. Utley tagged and scored, and although it initially appeared that he might have left third base early, the Giants’ appeal was met with a safe call from umpire Bill Miller.
There was an intentional walk, and then an unintentional one to force home a run. When Justin Turner hit a two-run single, the crowd streamed for the exits and something better to do.
It hurt that three relievers each issued a walk. But Bochy has made it clear in these early weeks that he is determined to get away from the heavy, matchup-based style that frustrated relievers last season. They are getting what they wanted: a chance to stay on the mound.
“These guys are going to have to find a way to finish innings,” Bochy said prior to the game. “We don’t have the (Javier) Lopez lefty to match up now. They have a real good idea when they’ll be out there. If they lose a hitter, they can stay out there. It has to give them a sense of comfort knowing it’s up to them to get out of this.”
The Giants didn’t score the second run that might have turned Mark Melancon’s scoreless ninth inning into a successful save. They also didn’t lend enough support to left-hander Matt Moore, who matched up well against the Dodgers once again. Not only did Moore strike out eight while holding the Dodgers to a run in seven innings, but he had them guessing. Six of the strikeouts came on called pitches.
Moore gave up a home run to the second batter of the game, Corey Seager, when his 0-2 pitch caught way too much of the plate. But he didn’t make many more location mistakes.
His most clutch work came in the seventh, after Chris Taylor singled and advanced on a wild pitch and a ground out. Moore froze Scott Van Slyke with a two-strike changeup at the extreme top of the zone (although Van Slyke didn’t quite agree with the call), and then he struck out Cody Bellinger with a fastball as the rookie failed to check his swing.
Moore’s last pitch to Bellinger was his 104th and final pitch of the afternoon, and it was clocked at 94.1 mph.
“It comes down to execution,” said Moore, who entered with a 5.87 ERA and has talked to pitching coach Dave Righetti about maintaining focus. “You have to make your pitch more often than not. It was nice to be able to keep the game tied right there.”
It was tied because of Arroyo, who was 4 for 16 over his first big league series while showing the ability to cover the plate and put the bat on the ball against a range of pitching styles.
He got his first hit off Clayton Kershaw on Friday, jumping on a first-pitch fastball. He hit his tying home run Saturday came against Sergio Romo, when he extended his arms and barreled up a slider that wasn’t far enough off the plate.
His tying hit in the sixth inning Thursday came on a 1-1 curveball from Julio Urias, who matches deception with wicked stuff. Arroyo kept his hands back and dug out the pitch at the bottom of the zone, sending a line drive to center field.
The hit scored Brandon Belt, who was in scoring position only because Urias walked him and then threw a pickoff throw that rattled down the right field line for a two-base error. Then came the intentional walk to Posey. Who knew a 21-year-old could be cut out to provide lineup protection to a former NL MVP?
“An important part of baseball is always being confident,” Arroyo said. “I figured I really needed to lock in and get the run home. I really tried to stick to my plan. All I was looking for was a single.”
Bochy wasn’t afraid to start Arroyo against Kershaw, or bat him second or fifth.
“He’s showed he is not overwhelmed by who he’s facing, the upper deck, the bright lights, all these things,” Bochy said. “He came to play.”
It’s not a positive to note that Arroyo matched Posey with three RBIs this season. Posey is hitting .357, but 17 of his 20 hits have been singles. Ideally, Posey would not be hitting cleanup in the final three games of this homestand against the San Diego Padres.
But if not Buster, who else?
“We’ve got to get this offense going,” Bochy said. “It’s a better offense than what we’re doing. … It will get better. But right now, we don’t have some guys swinging it, to be honest.
“We’ll tweak things, as you see. We’ll tweak it again.”