By Cyril Penn
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK — Dating back to last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers had won 17 consecutive games when starting Clayton Kershaw.
The key word there being, “had.” A serial Giant killer, Kershaw entered Friday’s game with a 1.70 lifetime ERA against San Francisco, the lowest by any pitcher with a minimum of 20 wins against a single opponent in MLB history, per Stats, LLC.
Thanks to a sixth-inning rally on Friday and just enough out of struggling Drew Pomeranz, San Francisco scored its first win against Kershaw since March 29 of last season with a 2-1 decision.
“We didn’t score a lot of runs, but we scored enough,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You have to have a well pitched game when you go against one of the best and we got that tonight.”
It had looked as if Kershaw would continue his mastery of San Francisco, until the Giants offense finally tagged him in the bottom of the sixth. A Brandon Belt walk and an Evan Longoria single to shallow right set up Kevin Pillar’s RBI single to left, as Belt’s slide beat a late Austin Barnes tag at the plate.
A wild pitch from Kershaw subsequently advanced Longoria and Pillar into scoring position, and Brandon Crawford cashed in, grounding a sharp fielder’s choice to Max Muncy, who promptly fired the ball to Barnes. The Dodgers catcher again failed to get the tag down, as Longoria crossed the plate to put San Francisco up 2-0, eliciting a roaring “Beat LA” chant from the crowd.
Coming into the day barely hanging onto his starting rotation spot after posting a 15.70 ERA over his previous five starts, Pomeranz got back on track for the Giants by tossing five shutout innings. He threw 92 pitches and allowed three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
After San Francisco debated demoting Pomeranz to the bullpen, the Giants decided that with an extra day of rest, Pomeranz could simply be himself on the mound. After adjusting his arm slot higher through work with pitching coach Curt Young, the 30-year-old found his way out of the funk.
“I think the adjustment I made allowed me to be myself a little more as far as pitch selection and also just using my best pitches,” Pomeranz said. “I was locating better. All around, I think it just changed my outing. I haven’t been pitching like that in a while.”
With the MLB-worst Baltimore Orioles lighting the left-hander up for eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings in his most recent start, Pomeranz’s bounce-back effort looked all the more impressive against the National League’s premier team – an offensive juggernaut who leads the NL in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Pomeranz did find himself in trouble quickly with those big bats in the first inning, however, loading the bases with only one out after a pair of singles and a walk. Pomeranz then fanned both David Freese and Corey Seager to escape. It was part of a run where Pomeranz recorded five straight outs via the K.
“A lot of those situations this year just haven’t been going my way,” Pomeranz said. “That was really huge for me personally just to get out of that. Really huge for us to not have them on the board in the first inning.”
Reyes Moranta and Sam Dyson each pitched a single shutout inning in relief in the sixth and seventh, respectively, with Moranta grabbing the win to improve to 3-4, before Tony Watson allowed a solo homer to deep center from Chris Taylor in the top of the eighth that made it 2-1.
Will Smith came on in the ninth and continued his perfect 14-for-14 save streak with a 1-2-3 inning, bringing Giants fans to their feet as he struck out Kike Hernandez to end the game. His consecutive saves streak to open the season is third all-time in San Francisco history, behind Craig Lefferts in 1989 (15) and Rod Beck in 1994 (28).
After going 4-5 over a nine game road trip against three teams with losing records, the Giants will continue their current eight game homestand through June 16. Touting a poor 11-18 record at Oracle Park this year, Bochy suggested that improving their record at home will be key to turning this losing season around.
“I’d like to see us play a lot better at home. You know, that’s one that gets me a little bit is our struggles here at home,” Bochy said before the game of his 26-36 team. “We play better on the road and it needs to happen here. You play half your games in this ballpark and should have a better record.”
They’ll need to capitalize on the momentum from this opening series win, as San Francisco currenly sits 16 games behind Los Angeles in the NL West standings – the largest gap between first and last place in the National League.
Although they sit 16 games behind the Dodgers, Giants fans can at least relish in the fact that San Francisco is, for the moment, 4-3 against their bitter rivals.