ORACLE PARK — Before his last start — against the offensive powerhouse that is the Los Angeles Dodgers — Drew Pomeranz made a change.
Having posted an ERA north of 11 in his previous five starts, Pomeranz decided to come out more on top of the ball. He shut out the top team in the National League over five innings and allowed just three hits. That was the pitcher the San Francisco Giants expected when they inked him to a one-year deal this offseason.
On Friday, Pomeranz squared off with one of the only other teams that can mash with Los Angeles — the Milwaukee Brewers, third in the Majors with 121 homers. Armed with his new arm slot, Pomeranz held the Brewers to just five singles in Friday’s 5-3 win. Neither of the two runs he allowed were earned, stretching his personal streak to 10 innings without allowing an earned run, as the Giants out-homered Milwaukee in a strong — but weird — start to a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.
“He looked good, didn’t he?” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He really threw the ball well.”
It took Pomeranz a bit to get comfortable throwing his curve out of the new arm slot on Friday — his arm was a little short on the curve — but after his struggles earlier this season, the fact that Pomeranz now only has to make such screwdriver adjustments gives him hope for the rest of the year.
“I said all along that I felt I was really close,” said Pomeranz, who had a 3.32 ERA in 2017 before an injury-plagued 2018 for the Red Sox, and came in with an ERA of 7.16. “I was getting pretty frustrated about whatever was the difference-maker. I think that’s a big part of that. I think I’m just going to keep building from there … I think hopefully I found the thing I’ve been waiting on to click.”
In the third, Pomeranz nearly had Orlando Arcia struck out on that curve, on the sixth pitch of his at-bat, but Arcia’s swing-and-miss bounced off of home plate, and home plate umpire Paul Emmel ruled it a foul. Two pitches later, Arcia walked. It wasn’t the first umpiring blunder of the night — first base umpire Mike Estabrook called Mike Moustakas out on a would-be second-inning double play turn, but Moustakas beat the throw by a full step. That earlier mistake didn’t impact the score, though.
After Arcia reached, he advanced to third on a Lorenzo Cain single, and scored when Buster Posey nonchalantly tried to glove a 1-1 cutter in the right-handed batter’s box with Christian Yelich at the plate — the first passed ball of the year for the All-Star, Gold Glove backstop.
The Giants got on top in the fourth on a double by Brandon Belt and a home run by Pablo Sandoval that plunked off the head of a fan in left field. Bochy had moved Belt to left for Friday specifically to get Sandoval’s bat — the most consistent among San Francisco regulars at .275, with eight homers and 23 RBIs — in the lineup.
A rare error by Brandon Crawford in the fifth led to a run-scoring single by reigning MVP Christian Yelich — his first hit in three tries on the night — to tie things at two.
“He could have gotten out of it without giving up a run,” Bochy said. “The strikeout, I didn’t hear a foul tip. Tough break there. I think the other run was unearned, and so he really threw the ball well … You look at the last two outings, he’s been a different guy with the command of all his pitches.”
The tie didn’t last long.
Right fielder Kevin Pillar — who ended the second by being thrown out at third after failing to track an errant Yasmani Grandal throw down to second on his seventh stolen base of the season — made up for the blunder by jumping ship to lead off the fifth, part of a 3-for-3 night for the former Toronto Blue Jay, who is now hitting . Brewers starter Zach Davies — a rookie with a 7-0 with a 2.14 ERA — had given up seven homers in 77 2/3 innings, but gave up two in back-to-back innings against a Giants lineup that’s hit fewer home runs than all but two Major League clubs this season. The roundtripper allowed Pomeranz to exit with the lead, earning him his second win as a Giant.
Pillar’s homer — his seventh at Oracle Park — made up for his baserunning blunder that ran the Giants out of the second, when stole second and tried to take third on a bad throw from Yasmani Grandal. Pillar didn’t get a reckoning of where the ball was, and where second baseman Hernán Perez was set up to back up the play, and was easily thrown out at third.
“Part of it’s me needing to do a little bit better job of looking at where the other infielders are, pre-pitch, and last I remembered, he wasn’t in that area,” Pillar said. “I glanced out to center field and I saw the ball rolling. I never saw the second baseman. Kind of an unfortunate mental mistake on my part, but it’s part of being aggressive.”
Things would get weirder for Pillar on yet another stolen base attempt in the seventh. On the first pitch to pinch hitter Mike Yastrzemski, Pillar — aboard on a leadoff single — swiped second, and beat the throw, but his right foot kicked the second base bag free of its mooring. Technically, he didn’t leave the bag; the bag left him. He was tagged, and Brewers manager Craig Counsel argued, but on replay review, he was ruled safe.
“It definitely left me wondering what the rule was,” Pillar said. “My initial instinct was to reach for the base, but the base was a little far. I felt like if I held my ground where second base should have been, I was going to leave it up to their hands. In a brief conversation with the umpire at second base, he said that in as many years as he’d been doing that, he hadn’t seen that before, either … You’re just hoping you beat the throw there, and you get there, and the base is no longer there, it’s a bit of a stressful situation.”
What neither Pillar nor second base umpire and crew chief Chad Fairchild knew was Major League rule 5.09(b)4:”If the impact of a runner breaks the base loose of its position, no play can be made on that runner at that base if he had reached the base safely.”
Four pitches later, Yastrzemski hit his second big league homer — San Francisco’s third of the night — to make it 5-2. It was the fifth time this season that San Francisco has had a game of three or more homers, and second time this month.
After two scoreless innings from the Giants bullpen following Pomeranz’s exit, Mark Melancon got two quick ous in the eigth before allowing two walks and a bleeder through the right side to load the bases. After getting ahead of Cain 1-2, he bounced a pitch in the dirt, and over Buster Posey, bringing the tying run home. Two pitches later, he got out of the inning with a fly out to right with Yelich on deck.
Will Smith came on and closed out the ninth, striking out two and working around a two-out walk to Grandal for his 17th straight save to start the season.