AT&T Park — The San Francisco Giants went down with a whimper on Thursday, as a 12th-inning, two-run, bases-loaded flare single to right by Carlos Gonzalez put the Colorado Rockies on top for an eventual 5-3 win. However, while the four-hour extra-inning loss to the .229-hitting Rockies stings — especially with two runners stranded in scoring position from the ninth to the 12th — there was at least some bright spot.
Despite not topping 94 mph but once on Thursday, and after throwing 52 pitches in the first three innings, Jeff Samardzija settled in and pitched a season-high 6 2/3 innings, allowing Bruce Bochy to use his bullpen sparingly in a very even match-up between the two National League West teams seeing one another for the first time this season.
“That was really encouraging, his outing today,” Bochy said. “He got better as he went, just seemed like he got some confidence going. He got on a good roll there, and got us to the point where we could use our guys. We just couldn’t find a way to find that last run to win the ballgame.”
After starting the year on the disabled list due to a strained pectoral muscle, Samardzija hadn’t gotten through the sixth inning in any of his five starts. For a rotation that’s not going to see Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner return for several weeks yet, Samardzija’s outing — allowing five hits and three walks while striking out three on 103 pitches — provided an encouraging sign of stability.
“It was definitely just mixing [pitches] and having a rhythm with my delivery, getting my hand out and up, going from there,” Samardzija said. “… I think it’s good to start pitching late in the game, and start making that the normal feeling. I think when you’re only throwing three or four innings every time, it’s good to work deep into the game and get that feeling back.”
Samardzija did run into trouble in the third, allowing a one-out single to Trevor Story, walking .171-hitting Ian Desmond, then allowed a two-out, two-run double to .148-hitting second baseman Daniel Castro. He then allowed another two-out RBI knock, this time to .105-hitting Chad Bettis — his opposite number on the mound. The ‘aha’ moment? Finding his slider. Samardzija began throwing it for strikes, as well as pulling it down and away from right-handers, out of the zone.
“The splitter was pretty good [too],” Samardzija said. “I think that’s going to be a big pitch for us from here on out. I thought we got a handful of outs with it, and a couple strikeouts with it.”
Samardzija retired 11 of the next 12 men he faced, before walking Charlie Blackmon to lead off the seventh, exiting for Will Smith.
“To have a rhythm actually felt good,” Samardzija said. “I caught myself there at the fifth and sixth, just took a deep breath and was like, ‘Alright, it feels good to have your pitches, and some consistency in what you’re doing.’ I think we can get a little better out of the stretch, but even there, we kind of limited the damage later in the game as we got into it. A little rhythm goes a long way.”
Down 3-0, the Giants scratched across a run in the third on a leadoff double by Austin Jackson, a single by Samardzija and a sacrifice fly by Gorkys Hernandez — who made a leaping grab in the second on a Carlos Gonzalez drive ticketed for a leadoff double. Jackson immediately retreated to third on a sinking liner to center by Hernandez, an alert base running play that allowed the Giants to get on the board by turning a shallow line-out into a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the sixth, Buster Posey drew a two-out walk, and Brandon Belt — who still had not heard from the league about his comments regarding umpire Doug Eddings as of Thursday afternoon — socked a 1-2 knee-high change up from Bettis off the green railing behind the cement facade topping the brick wall in right center. A replay review changed what was ruled a double into a home run, tying things up at 3-3 and getting Samardzija off the hook.
That Belt home run made him the first Giant to homer in four consecutive home games since Randy Winn did it from Sept. 16-30, 2005. Belt also became the first Giant with a home run in four consecutive games two separate times in a season since Barry Bonds did it in 2004.
“We’ve all seen this,” Bochy said. “He’s a good hitter who’s in a good zone right now.”
The run is even more impressive considering Belt had swelling in his knee early on Thursday. Bochy told Belt he could give him a break on Friday, but he was swinging too well to sit him in the series opener.
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, Belt doubled inside the the left field line against Colorado Rockies lefty Jake McGee, to give the Giants a pulse, but Evan Longoria grounded out to third to end the frame, with the red-hot Brandon Crawford standing on deck.
Crawford — who was himself stranded at second after a two-out single and a stolen base in the bottom of the ninth — kept things close with his glove. A shifted 6-3 ranging put-out behind the bag by Crawford and ended the 10th, and a smoothly-turned 6-4-3 double play by Crawford in the 11th erased a leadoff single by Trevor Story, allowing Pierce Johnson to strike out catcher Tony Wolters to end that threat.
With one out and two men on against reliever Pierce Johnson in the 12th, Bochy brought in Cory Gearrin, who got a fly out from Gerardo Parra to Hernandez, before walking the bases loaded with a free pass to Nolan Arenado. Gonzalez then sent a dying quail to right over a leaping Kelby Tomlinson to bring home two.
Crawford got tossed for arguing balls and strikes in the bottom of the 12th, as did Bochy, who came out to defend his shortstop, who was hitting .464 this month.
The Giants had just two hits between the seventh and the 12th against the vaunted Rockies bullpen, including Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw (who signed for three years, $27 million each this offseason) and Adam Ottavino ($7 million per season).