AT&T PARK — When Dereck Rodriguez was called up to the San Francisco Giants on May 28, he thought he’d just get a couple appearances out of the bullpen and head right back to Sacramento.
Madison Bumgarner was on his way back from a broken pinky, Johnny Cueto was working back from an elbow sprain and Jeff Samardzija, for a brief window, was healthy. Bumgarner did come back, but Cueto would wind up having Tommy John surgery, Samardzija would make just 10 starts all year and Rodriguez became the de facto ace of the staff.
While the Giants were no longer in contention by the time they met the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, San Francisco’s rivals were hunting for their sixth straight postseason berth. Rodriguez — who had never pitched above Double-A until this year — was pitching in a meaningful game in September. Despite a pair of comebacks against Clayton Kershaw, the Giants gave up a pair of two-out rallies, Rodriguez gave up five runs in a 10-6 loss and Los Angeles celebrated a playoff clinch with a champagne shower in the visitor’s clubhouse.
“Hard-fought game,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “Boys really battled hard. Nice comebacks off Kershaw. I don’t think we’ve scored that many runs off of him. We were determined to try and win the ballgame. Just got away from us late, there.”
Kershaw gave up the most runs he’s ever given up at AT&T Park — equalling Rodriguez’s five. Even with his ERA ballooning from 2.50 to 2.81, Rodriguez still finishes his season with the lowest ERA by a Giants rookie pitcher (minimum 100 innings) since Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm (2.43) in 1952.
Coming into Saturday, the converted outfielder pitching for just his third professional season ranked first in ERA among qualifying rookies, third in opponents batting average against (.216) and sixth in innings pitched (115 1/3).
“I’m proud of it,” Rodriguez said. “I’m proud of the season I’ve had. Coming from where I was last year to having the season that I did this year, regardless of what happened today, I’m super happy with the way I threw the ball this year.”
Rodriguez, 26, was the first Giants pitcher since 1900 to pitch six or more innings and allow two or fewer runs in at least 13 of his first 16 starts. In fact, he had a streak of 15 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer. Saturday, though, was Rodriguez’s second-worst start of the year, and worst since June 9, as he gave up five runs on six hits and three walks, with one strikeout.
“This isn’t one he should think about,” Bochy said. “He should look at the body of work.”
“I think it was just one of those days I just didn’t have my stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I was just out there grinding it out, battling, and they got the better of me. Hats off to them. They can swing it. I just didn’t have my stuff today.”
After Rodriguez surrendered leadoff homers in the first and second to Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, San Francisco scratched across a run in the bottom of the second, and pulled ahead in the third. Gregor Blanco led off by dunking an 0-1 single to left. Hunter Pence followed with a one-out double to right and Joe Panik sent a sinking liner to left that just barely eluded a Pederson diving attempt. Two runs scored, and San Francisco took a 3-2 lead.
Rodriguez failed to record an out in the fourth, though, walking Puig, allowing a flare single to Grandal and then an RBI double to Kiké Hernández. Reliever Ty Blach came in and allowed a two-run single to right by Kershaw to close the book on Rodriguez’s rookie season.
Abiatal Avelino pinch hit for Blach in the fifth, and lined a single to left off of Kershaw for his third big league hit. Pence then sent a double just inside the left field line for his 1,701st career hit, scoring Avelino from first, as Grandal couldn’t handle the relay throw from Manny Machado.
Pence took third on a wild pitch, and tied things up on a sacrifice fly by Joe Panik.
After getting out of the Giants’ second straight jam in the seventh, Mark Melancon would give up the ghost in the eighth. He allowed a leadoff single to Chris Taylor, then uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Taylor to take second. He was within one pitch of getting out of the inning, when he served up a 1-2 fastball up in the zone and out over the plate to Manny Machado. The Dodgers shortstop pounded it high off the right field wall, bringing Taylor in to score easily on his second triple of the year, and Los Angeles’s second triple of the game.
“I’m sure Mark would tell you he wish he had that pitch back,” Bochy said. “It got away from him, and caught the heart of the plate. He’s ahead of the count there, has pitches to work with, with a base open. Just made a mistake. He’s a veteran that knows what he’s doing out there, but he’s like anybody. Occasionally, you make a mistake. He didn’t miss it.”
Against closer Will Smith and Steven Okert in the ninth, the Dodgers sent 10 men to the plate, scoring four runs with two outs thanks to three straight singles, a pop fly double from Max Muncy and a bases-loaded roller on the grass that Brandon Crawford had trouble corralling.
The loss — and especially his final two starts — provide motivation for Rodriguez, he said, headed into the offseason. He’s learned a lot over the last month, especially giving up nine runs over his last nine innings of work.
“September is a whole different animal,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s fun being up here, and you’ve got teams that are battling. Every game they go out there makes a difference. Watching that, makes you want to be part of that. Next year, just come in strong and hopefully, next year, we make a playoff push, and we’ll be celebrating instead of them.”
Outfielder Austin Slater got his MRI back, and he suffered an elbow strain on Friday. The mild sprain will keep him out of the finale, where the Dodgers can clinch the NL West crown. He should be fine by spring training, Bochy said.