Leake returns, road woes continue

If the current road trip against playoff contenders is a litmus test for the Giants, then they can’t be encouraged by the results.

Another winnable game fell by the wayside Saturday, the kind of defeat that has been all too familiar in recent days. Starling Marte hit a walk-off homer against reliever George Kontos to give the Pittsburgh Pirates a 3-2 victory and leave the Champs with a 2-4 record on the trip.

Of more concern, the Giants have dropped their last six one-run decisions, close calls that often bring out the best in championship-caliber teams. They’ve also stumbled on the road lately, where they’re 5-11 on the last two trips.

At least there was a Mike Leake sighting finally.

In only his second start since he was acquired 23 days earlier, Leake pitched well enough to win on most days. But the right-hander isn’t the kind of workhorse that’s needed to take the load off the bullpen, a fact never more obvious than when manager Bruce Bochy pulled him in the seventh inning of a tie game. At that point, he had allowed only one hit, a solo home run.

“He was done. We went far enough. It had been awhile since he had pitched,” Bochy said. “So even if there wasn’t a runner on third, I was going to the bullpen. He did his job coming off a hamstring [injury], but we check with these guys.”

Enter Hunter Strickland, whose relief appearances have been such an adventure that Great America should name a ride after him. Rookie Jung Ho Kang (that’s Korean for “Giant Killer”) took him deep to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. The big guy throws hard, all right, but when 95 mile-per-hour fastballs are in the happy zone, they can leave the yard as fast as they reach the plate.

Strickland has allowed home runs in three of his last 10 appearances. When you consider the guy rarely pitches more than one inning at a time, that’s way too many. Since the close of the 2014 regular season, Strickland has been rocked for nine home runs in 46¹⁄³ innings. That includes a half-dozen longballs in 8¹⁄³ innings last postseason.

HIT OR MISS: One clutch hit might have changed the tone entirely, but lately, they’ve been in short supply as well. Marlon Byrd struck out with runners at the corners and one out. Kelby Tomlinson lined out with a runner on third and one out. Even Buster Posey has been human on the road trip. He bounced into a double play with no outs in the eighth inning.

“Too many missed opportunities, you know,” Bochy said. “We couldn’t get a big hit when we needed it. We had our chances.”

The Giants fell five games behind the Chicago Cubs for the final wild card spot, but never mind that right now. The focus should be on the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven’t been able to take advantage of the situation.

CAT SCRATCH FEVER: Balls lobbied for the Raiders to select defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams as the fourth pick of the 2015 draft, and after what happened Friday night, it’s stickin’ to its story. The rookie blew into the backfield then took down Atlanta Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates for a safety, among his 1½ sacks in the game. He also had three quarterback hits and three tackles for losses.

“He’s big, he’s big-bodied,” teammate Willie Colon said. “He’s so young, he doesn’t realize the potential he actually has. He has that Richard Seymour-type body, that prototype [body], and sky’s the limit for the kid.”

It’s hard to criticize the Raiders for their decision to select receiver Amari Cooper, who has star potential himself. But when you consider that they haven’t ranked in the upper half in points and yards allowed since their 2002 Super Bowl season, the need for a monster in the middle appears to be greater right now.

SIGN HERE, PLEASE: It takes a lot to drive Stephen Curry crazy, but an overzealous fan managed to pull it off the other day.

Tweeted Curry: “PSA. Noticeably following my family’s car on the road for nearly 30 miles & tailing me the whole way is not the best way to get an autograph.”

Well, unless you’re general manager Bob Myers in drag trying to get Curry to sign another four-year, $44 million contract extension, maybe.

TWO FOR THE SHOW: The Warriors aren’t the only reason for Bay Area fans to look forward to the hoops season ahead.

Cal opened the preseason with a 3-1 trip to Australia, and if the get-away game was any indication, coach Cuonzo Martin’s team could have a wild ride ahead of them.

Cal was whistled for 40 fouls, allowed 55 free throw attempts and had four starters foul out, yet they found a way to take the bigger, more experienced Illawarra Hawks into overtime. The Aussie pro team prevailed in overtime, 110-99.

The Bears may be a work in progress, but freshman forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb haven’t looked out of place so far.

EX-A’S PLAYER OF THE DAY: The New York Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes hit not one, not two, but three home runs in a 14-9 victory over the Rockies in Denver.

Cespedes became the first player since Willie Stargell (1968) with at least three home runs, five hits, seven RBI and one stolen base in a game.

YOUR TURN: “The media, not you, tend to be too PC regarding the status of black players in baseball. Could it be they don’t like the sport and don’t want to play it? One can’t force them to sign up. Please. It reminds of how the Oscars were criticized for not nominating more black actors. Could it be this wasn’t a good year for them? Wasn’t there a year where Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won the top acting awards in a year? The letter you printed was somewhat inadequate. Latino players (34 per cent) have always been a large contingent. Good articles, Balls.” — Art Alcantar, San Francisco

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