ORACLE PARK — The San Francisco Giants had gotten just two men as far as second through eight innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. One was stranded when Pablo Sandoval struck out. The other when Buster Posey popped out in a pinch hitting appearance.
They got two men on with one out in the ninth, and Stephen Vogt slugged his second homer of the year nearly into McCovey Cove, but it wouldn’t be enough.
With the No. 28 offense in the Majors and the worst team batting average in baseball, the Giants’ pitching and defense have had to be perfect more often than not to even have a chance this season. They were far from it in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, where a pair of defensive gaffes and an overworked bullpen cost San Francisco a win-able game.
“Obviously, it’s great to get us within one there, but come up short, it’s frustrating,” Vogt said.
After San Francisco had kept things close against a resurgent Zack Greinke, trailing 1-0 after seven innings, reliever Mark Melancon issued a leadoff walk and got four groundballs in the eighth, but allowed three runs.
With one out, pinch hitter Ildemaro Vargas sent a bouncer to the right of a shifted Crawford. He dove to stop it as one run scored, and tried too hard to get an out at third, throwing wide of the bag. That cost the Giants another run, and single to right by Adam Jones added another.
“They’re not pretty runs, but they count, and that was the difference in the game,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
Twice before that, San Francisco had gotten a man to second with less than two outs, but failed to capitalize. Greinke — with his best ERA (3.08) since 2015 despite severely diminished velocity — faced only three over the minimum through seven, striking out six. A sixth-inning 1-2 double down the left field line by Mike Yastrzemski fell by the wayside when Pablo Sandoval — one of the team’s only offensive bright spots over the first 81 games — struck out for just the third time against Greinke in his last 25 at-bats.
“He’s one of the best control-and-command guys in the league for a reason,” Vogt said. “It’s my first time facing him, and he didn’t leave anything over the plate. He made us chase, he nibbled, he hit the corners and he was really effective doing that. You could tell he studied. He was ready to go. He threw at all of our weaknesses.”
In the eighth, Posey — who had gone 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs the night before — came up with two on and two outs as a pinch hitter, but popped out to second on a 2-2 offering from reliever Andrew Chafin.
Despite the paucity of offense, San Francisco was still in the game until the eighth, thanks in large part to Drew Pomeranz. Coming off an injury-plagued year, signed on a one-year prove-it deal, Pomeranz had struck out a career-high 9.9 men per nine innings through the first two months of the season, despite wildly inconsistent results and an ERA over eight. Since changing his arm slot at the start of the month, though, he’d been on a roll. He fanned 11 last time out, and fanned seven on Saturday in five shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.33 over his last five starts.
Even at his best in 2017, though, Pomeranz averaged almost 18 pitches per inning, and just over 5 1/3 inning per start. On Saturday, he needed 103 pitches to get through five, including 29 foul balls.
“His count got up there,” Bochy said. “He gives up a lot of foul balls. That’s usually because of his stuff — the life on the fastball — and what a great job he did the first inning, second and third, nobody out. He pitched out of that. He gave us what we needed.”
He struck out the side in the first to get out of a two-on, one-out jam, and sawed off a pair of bats and fanned David Peralta in the fifth to escape trouble again, and did it largely without the help of his curveball.
“The fact that he was able to throw five shutout innings without his curveball is pretty impressive,” said Vogt.
The early end to Pomeranz’s evening meant the Giants bullpen — which has had to take care of an average of just over 3 2/3 innings per night during San Francisco’s stretch of 15 games in 15 days (soon to be 20 in 20) — once again had to soak up some frames. They had posted a 3.68 ERA over the previous 15 games (53 2/3 innings), but were asked to match Greinke.
In the top of the seventh, a chopper to the left side by Tim Locastro took reliever Sam Dyson off the mound, and he lost his footing and fell as he planted his right leg, putting the leadoff man aboard. With one out, a would-be pop out in shallow center by Jones glanced off Kevin Pillar’s mitt as he called Yastrzemski off late, putting two men in scoring position.
It was the third ball this week that Pillar — nicknamed Superman for his acrobatic play in the Toronto outfield — should have gotten to, and the second that’s bounced off his glove for a hit. With the infield in, Ketel Marte tapped back to the mound, and Dyson alertly chased down Locastro to erase him at third, but a two-strike flare single to left by Escobar on a pitch off the plate scored Jones. Dyson took the hard-luck loss.