AT&T PARK — As Clayton Kershaw watched Kelby Tomlinson’s fly ball travel high into the night, the left-handed ace wore an expression of pure disbelief.
Finally, Kershaw appeared to accept what was happening — a rare home run from the San Francisco Giants bespectacled shortstop — and slumped his head. For Tomlinson, the long ball was his first in 197 plate appearances in 2017 — and his first at all in nearly 23 months.
“It’s a little bit of Tommy ball tonight, we call it,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He hit a home run. He had another big base hit. He made a great play up the middle.”
“As far as Tommy’s game, [it was] a well-played game, good at bats,” Bochy added. “Like I said, he made some good plays.”
The unlikely homer looked like it would be the opening salvo to yet another ugly night for the tailspinning Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered the evening losers of 11 in a row.
Instead, Kershaw settled in as he so often does against the Giants and it was Johnny Cueto who was headed for a forgettable outing as the Giants lost, 5-3.
For the Dodgers, the win clinched the club’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
Half a frame after Tomlinson’s rare home run, the Dodgers hit Cueto with a four-run barrage in the fourth, aided by suspect defending from Austin Slater in left field.
The rookie misplayed a line drive from Kershaw into a double, helping set up the rally. Yasiel Puig punctuated the onslaught with a two-run, two-base hit that clattered off the left-field wall on Cueto’s 101st and final pitch. Chase Utley opened the fourth by drilling a solo home run into McCovey Cove.
“It’s a tough night for Johnny,” Bochy said. “The defense was not there and you’re going against one of the elite pitchers in the game. Against somebody as good as Kershaw, you’ve got to play your best ball. We didn’t do that.”
In Cueto’s 3.2 innings of work, he surrendered four earned runs on eight hits and four walks while punching out eight. Five of those strikeouts came in the first two innings.
“I felt really good. Those were two good innings, but that’s what baseball is — a fly ball there, a grounder [there],” Cueto said via team interpreter Erwin Higueros. “Things happen on the baseball field and that’s what baseball is all about.”
Pressed on the topic of the questionable defense — which also featured a popup dropping between Joe Panik and Hunter Pence as the second base wandered out and the right fielder wandered in — Cueto didn’t offer excuses.
“It’s baseball, right? I mean, if my teammates make errors, it’s my job to make sure that they don’t score the run,” Cueto said. “I know for a fact that my teammates are not there trying to make errors behind me. It’s just part of the game.”
Kershaw, who allowed one earned run on eight hits in six innings, began his start with a 1.44 ERA against the Giants. That mark stood as the second lowest among National League pitchers dating back to 1920 versus any opponent (minimum 20 starts).
In the sixth, Orlando Calixte cut the deficit to 4-2 with a sacrifice fly before a Hunter Pence fielder’s choice brought the Giants to within a run an inning later.
The Dodgers stretched the lead back to a pair of runs in the eighth when Justin Turner doubled to center off Derek Law.
Kenley Jansen closed out, retiring the final four outs, but only after loaded the bases in the ninth.
“We tried,” Bochy said. “A lot of good things happened despite some mistakes we made, including what happened there in the ninth inning. We just came up short.”
Can’t stop Cody
The Giants intentionally walked Cody Bellinger three times. The 22-year-old rookie, who’s homered 36 times, singled in his two other plate appearances.