AT&T PARK — He might not be the formidable closer the San Francisco Giants hoped for when they signed him for $62 million, but up until Thursday night, right-hander Mark Melancon had been pretty darn good as a middle-relief option this year.
Before the Giants’ 7-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Melancon had a 2.65 ERA. He’d allowed one run in his previous six outings. By the time he exited his eighth-inning appearance, though, Giants fans booed him.
Melancon was tasked with keeping a 2-2 game tied, but instead self-destructed, giving up RBI singles to pinch-hitter Ryan Braun and catcher Erik Kratz before loading the bases and forcing manager Bruce Bochy to come get him.
“He just had buzzard’s luck tonight,” Bochy said, referring to several weak contact hits against Melancon. “He was throwing the ball well. There’s not much you can do about that. You get your ground balls and hopefully they’re at somebody.”
On another night, during a season in which the Giants weren’t battling to stay above .500, such a showing might not have led to so much disdain from home fans. It said something that the vocal response was one of the loudest and most visceral shows of emotion from fans all night, even as third baseman Evan Longoria came back from injury to go 2-for-4 and rookie phenom Dereck Rodriguez continued to impress.
The Giants (52-52) knew this post-All-Star stretch of games against the Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners and Brewers was crucial. Bochy said so last weekend. After finishing up with Oakland and Seattle, though, they were 2-3, and further back in the National League West standings. This loss plunged San Francisco to 5 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It wasn’t just Melancon, though. After cutting the deficit to one, the Giants offense could have leveled the score in the bottom of the eighth, but didn’t. With runners on the corners and two outs, left fielder Hunter Pence whiffed on a two-strike curveball from Milwaukee reliever Corey Knebel to end the frame. Groans from the crowd accompanied his flailing effort.
“I was fine with Hunter up there because he’s been finding a way to through,” Bochy said. “There’s been three or four [games] there where he’s really clutched up for us.”
The Giants can take solace from Rodriguez’s performance — he tossed six innings of two-run ball and struck out five — though he wasn’t part of the decision. It was his fifth straight start of at least six innings, allowing two runs or fewer. His ERA is now 2.75. For a rookie who’d never pitched above Double-A, this is the best possible outcome for San Francisco.
Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich provided the only runs against Rodriguez, hitting into an RBI groundout in the first inning and ripping a solo home run to center in the sixth on a first-pitch curveball.
“Just one pitch to [Christian Yelich], the first one in the sixth inning,” Rodriguez said. “Was not expecting him to swing. He got a good pitch to hit.”
It was difficult for AT&T Park to see the positives when Melancon fell apart, or when Milwaukee tacked on in the ninth against right-hander Chris Stratton with an RBI single from first baseman Jesus Aguilar and two-run home run from third baseman Travis Shaw.
Giants second baseman Chase d’Arnaud and left fielder Andrew McCutchen drove in runs in the ninth, but their efforts were not enough to prevent a fourth loss in six games. Catcher Nick Hundley struck out looking to end the game on a pitch seemingly off the outside edge of the plate.
“It’s a tough way to end the game,” Bochy said. “That’s not a strike.”