ORACLE PARK — It’s not often that Mac Williamson gets cheered for striking out, but on his first game at Oracle Park this season, that’s exactly what happened in the bottom of the fourth.
As the Giants were in the midst of a 7-0 loss, Wiliamson’s swing-and-miss against Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo came just as Stephen Curry hit the first of what would prove to be two dagger threes to win Game 6 and the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
Williamson, for his part, would go 0-for-4, as San Francisco again could only watch for the second time in a week as Castillo, the former minor league prospect the Giants dealt for Casey McGhee in 2014, carved up their lineup. Castillo allowed just one hit through the first 4 2/3 innings and struck out a career-high 11 as the San Fransicso offense that scored 49 runs in the previous six games withered behind starter Dereck Rodriguez.
After a solid 1-2-3 first that saw good life on Rodriguez’s cutter, the Giants failed to score on a two-on, no-out situation, sending the second-year Giants righty out to face a nightmare second.
With one out, left fielder Tyler Austin came in on a Derek Dietrich liner for what looked to be a sure out, but seemed to have lost it in the lights, dropping it for an error.
Jose Iglesias then hammered Rodriguez’s first pitch through the left side to put two men on.
Castillo then popped up a bunt, and Brandon Belt, crashing hard, picked it out of the air and seemingly doubled off Iglesias at first, but upon review, the inning-ending double play was overturned. Iglesias was safe. The next batter, catcher Tucker Barnhart, sent a fading liner to left for an RBI single.
Nick Senzel then sent a 1-2 offering from Rodriguez over Steven Duggar’s head in center. Duggar made a leaping try on the warning track, only to see the ball go in and out of his glove for a two-run triple. After a walk to Joey Votto, Rodriguez gave up an RBI double down the left field line to Eugenio Suarez. Of the four runs that scored in the second, none were earned.
“It was my job to pick them up and get the big out, and I wasn’t able to,” Rodriguez said. “It was a bad inning. It was a rough inning. I’m just happy I was able to bounce back.”
Rodriguez allowed just one hit and one walk over his final next three innings, though all the extra pitches he had to throw — 85 in total — took their toll, and while his command was better than his last two outings — he’s allowed 12 earned runs in eight innings and walked eight — he still walked four in his five innings.
Castillo on the other hand — the former Giants prospect who no-hit his former organization for 5 1/3 innings on Sunday in Cincinnati — kept San Francisco bats silent through 4 2/3, throwing a devastating change off an 97-99 mph fastball and allowing just a third-inning Stephen Vogt single, until a two-out double by Vogt put men on second and third for Evan Longoria with two outs in the fifth. Longoria tapped out to the mound on the first pitch he saw.
“Everything he throws looks like he’s about to throw a fastball,” said first baseman Brandon Belt. “He’s pretty deceptive in that way, and on top of that, he thorws pretty much 100, so he’s pretty tough, definitely one of the tougher guys I’ve seen.”
While last time out, Castillo buckled and allowed four earned runs in his final two innings, he struck out 11 in six on Friday, his fourth career double-digit strikeout game and first since Sept. 1, 2018.
“He throws hard and he’s got that plus-plus changeup. He uses it a lot,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
The trade that sent Castillo to Miami, who eventually swapped him twice more, was emblematic of the way the Giants used to do business. In the midst of a run of three World Series in five years, San Francisco would trade whatever pieces they had in their minor league system to acquire that next missing veteran piece to add to their core.
The core, now, is barely hitting (the Giants are hitting .223, 26th in the Major Leagues), barely scoring (147 runs, 25th in MLB) and despite a solid bullpen and a passable rotation with a resurgent Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, can’t give their starting pitchers much run support, especially in the first inning (2 runs scored in 38 games).
One member of that core — Belt — has had knee inflammation for some time now, and after a groundout in the eighth, came out for Pablo Sandoval. He’ll undergo an MRI on Thursday, and Bochy said he’ll be down for two days. Belt said he will try and play on Saturday.
On Friday, when San Francisco did get men on (Castillo issued five walks), San Francisco went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position (they’re hitting .260 on the season, 15th in MLB). That one was courtesy of Vogt, who had three of the four Giants hits. Vogt’s flare single to right in the seventh moved Joe Panik — aboard on a two-out double — to third in the seventh. Longoria then grounded into a 4-6 force to end the inning.
“We got some men on base, we put some pressure on him, we just couldn’t get that one hit there to kind of get things going,” said Bochy, whose top two hitters in the lineup reached base eight times. “That’s a tough night when you don’t score when you get those guys on.”
The Reds, on the other hand, went 5-for-14 with men in scoring position, and knocked in seven two-out RBIs, including two in a three-run ninth.