ORACLE PARK — The last time the San Francisco Giants hit a grand slam, Brandon Belt slugged one on April 7, 2017 — almost exactly two years to the day before Kevin Pillar hit his first career grand slam to give the Giants a 5-0 lead over the San Diego Padres on Monday night.
San Francisco scored more runs in the bottom of the fourth against the Padres than they had in all but two games this season, and had the tying run aboard with one out in the ninth, but it was still not enough.
On a night where Madison Bumgarner made a bit of Giants history, a night where the offense was something more than merely a rumor, San Francisco once again saw an early lead evaporate and lost their fifth game this season by two runs or fewer, 6-5 to San Diego, in front of the smallest crowd since 2010.
“Can’t ask for more than what he gave us there, and we get a grand slam, you go up five, you’d like to hang on to that one,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “We expect to win that game … You hate to see it, especially where we’re at, trying to get some wins.”
After the first 10 games, the Giants (3-8) were second-to-last in the National League with six home runs coming into Monday, and hitting .208 as a team (fourth-worst in MLB). They needed a jolt. The trade for Tyler Austin — with his 17 home runs in 244 big league at-bats last season (more than any Giant in 2018) — was supposed to provide that. Pillar — with his 55 career home runs in seven seasons with Toronto — was supposed to be a capable right-handed bat with a plus glove.
After Austin’s first hit in a Giants uniform — a grounder up the middle that snuck by a diving Fernando Tatis Jr. — sparked a rally, Pillar provided the fireworks.
Following Austin’s knock, Padres lefty Eric Lauer walked Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford poked a single down the left field line, bringing Austin around to score. After a two-out walk to Yangervis Solarte loaded the bases, Pillar — hitting .125 since joining the Giants — bashed a 2-0 fastball halfway up the bleachers for San Francisco’s first grand slam in over two years. The Giants were the only team last season without a grand slam, and between their last slam — by Belt, also against he Padres — and Pillar’s, the Cincinnati Reds hit 19.
Pillar’s swat — his first career grand slam, which traveled 419 feet — moved him into sole possession of third place for the most RBIs on the club. Before Monday, San Francisco had scored more than four runs in a single game just twice over the first 10 games of the season, and scored a total of 25 runs — second-fewest in the Major Leagues.
“Ultimately, I’ve got to hold up my end of the bargain and be the guy that they traded for,” said Pillar, surrounded by cardboard boxes, a Blue Jays bat bag and luggage from his recent move to San Francisco. “It’s been a tough transition, but I’ve had some moments where I felt like I’ve been myself. As you can tell, I’m still collecting my things. I was finally able to move into a place last night.”
Bumgarner — who had a no-hitter through four innings — saw that broken up in the fifth when Tatis responded with a two-run shot of his own.
The Giants’ ace — with three strikeouts in his first three innings of work — moved into seventh place on the franchise’s all-time strikeouts list, ahead of Gaylord Perry, but had four other two-strike counts on the night, including against Tatis, and couldn’t get calls on the edges of the zone.
“That’s part of the game,” Bumgarner said. “What makes it more difficult was to feel as good as I did and command to be as sharp as it was, and all that, and to get the result that I did. That’s what makes it hard to swallow.”
A solo shot off Bumgarner in the sixth by Myers — in a 2-2 count — cut the lead to 5-3. It was the fourth time in the last two seasons he’s allowed multiple home runs, the last on Sept. 3, 2018.
“He was throwing so well, and he just made a couple mistakes there and they got back in the game,” Bochy said. “No question, a tough way to lose, the way he was throwing, and we had a 5-0 lead.”
After hitting Tatis for the second time on the night to lead off the seventh (he hadn’t hit two batters in a game since Sept. 19, 2016), Bumgarner was chased by an 0-2 double surrendered to catcher Francisco Mejia.
“I still felt the same; they just hit the ball in the air and it carried out of there, that’s all there is to it,” Bumgarner said.
Reliever Reyes Moronta induced a run-scoring groundout, but then gave up a towering, 112.9-mph, 426-foot bomb to pinch hitter Franmil Reyes, who wrapped a first-pitch slider inside the left field foul pole to give San Diego the eventual winning margin.
“That first pitch was just a hanger, right in his wheelhouse,” Bochy said. ” … Looked like he just tried to get a strike in there, versus a quality strike, and it left the ballpark.”
The Giants got a leadoff double from Buster Posey in the eighth — just the sixth ball he’s hit that hard over the last two seasons — but stranded him at second. With one out in the ninth, Joe Panik walked with one out after Myers dropped a foul pop-up in the home bullpen. Steven Duggar and Erik Kratz then struck out to end the game.
“Our pitching’s good enough,” Bumgarner said. “We’ve got to win this game … a lot of home runs. Too many home runs.”
San Francisco drew just 28,625 in attendance on Monday (that’s tickets sold, not actual bodies). That’s the team’s first time under 30,000 since May 27, 2010 — two days before Posey was called up for good. While in the pregame, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team is not in a full rebuild, that seems to be how the fan base is treating this season, after having seen the club lose 187 games over the previous two seasons, and seven of their first 10.
“It’s going to be up to us to start playing good ball and get them back here and start winning some games,” Bochy said. “We need to go out there, make some noise and create some excitement.”
The Giants had a scare in the bottom of the seventh. After coming on toplay left in the sixth, Gerardo Parra was hit in the shoulder by a 93-mph fastball from reliever Brad Wieck, a ball which ricocheted and hit him in the face.
Parra was on the ground for several moments, but left the field under his own power with a towel over the lower right side of his face. He was replaced with pitcher Derek Holland as a pinch runner. Parra had entered the game as predicted — after Austin had gotten his three plate appearances (he went 1-for-2 with a walk), and as a defensive replacement in left, allowing Belt to move to first.
After Parra took the pitch to the shoulder, Panik moved to second, and Yangervis Solarte moved to left.
“He’s fine, he’s got a cut lip, but he’s fine,” Bochy said. “I expect him to be available tomorrow.”