San Francisco Giants: Fortunes turn on called third strike against Rockies

Brandon Belt, seen here in July of 2017, struck out looking with runners at the corners in his pinch-hitting appearance on Friday. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

AT&T Park —  For the third time in three nights, the San Francisco Giants’ fortunes turned on a called third strike.

In the ninth inning of the final game of the road trip on Wednesday, against the Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Belt was caught looking at strike three, off the plate away, with the tying run on deck. He took exception to home plate umpire Doug Eddings’ call, insinuating he was “trying to get the game over with.”

On Thursday, in the bottom of the 12th of the series opener against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park, Brandon Crawford — hitting .443 in the month of May — was called out on strikes and ejected. On Friday, Belt — representing the tying run in the bottom of the seventh — was caught looking at strike three again from reliever Bryan Shaw with men at the corners. That was the last time San Francisco threatened in a 6-1 loss, their third in a row.

Colorado starter Kyle Freeland pounded Giants hitters inside over the course of 6.2 innings, limiting them to just five hits, and only one of them — Gorkys Hernandez’s 433-foot leadoff home run — with an exit velocity of over 95 mph. In contrast, five of the Rockies’ six hits against starter Derek Holland came out at over 95. The Rockies lefty got 11 groundouts on the night, including five in the first four innings to Nolan Arenado, who started two double plays.

“You’re feeling pretty good about how it’s going to go, but their guy settled down and kept us off balance,” manager Bruce Bochy said.

In all, the Giants grounded out 15 times, struck out nine times, and had just three outs in the air — two pop-ups and one ball caught by an outfielder for the final out of the game.

“You’re going to run into a well-pitched game,” Bochy said. “Last night, we found a way to tie the game, but we’ve got some guys that aren’t quite locked in right now. It’s tough when you get a streak where guys aren’t quite swinging like they normally do.”

Freeland allowed multiple hits in just two innings, and exited after giving up a single to Brandon Crawford to put two on with two outs in the seventh. That’s when he gave way to $9 million-per-year set-up man Shaw, who caught Belt looking at a 97-mph backdoor cutter. Belt had hit home runs in each of the last four games, and came in hitting .429 over his last six games.

“That’s a tough AB, a tough guy he’s facing,” Bochy said of Belt’s seven-pitch stand against Shaw. “He had a good streak going, and I was hoping to stay away from him, but he gave us a couple innings — two, three innings in the outfield, and had a couple guys on, so you put your hot hitter up there. He’s facing a tough pitcher, made a good pitch on him.”

While the Giants offense was stultifying, the Rockies — hitting just .228 as a team — rattled out 10 hits, and found their hero in the unlikely person of Ian Desmond.

Signed by the Rockies in the winter of 2016 to a five-year, $70 million contract, Desmond was hitting just .167 this season headed into Friday’s game, but he certainly got into Holland, slugging a three-run home run in the top of the fourth and adding an RBI double in the sixth.

“Yesterday, their first three runs were knocked in by the back end of their order, including their pitcher,” Bochy said. “He’s a good hitter, and the numbers aren’t what they’re going to be, just like I talk about some of our guys. You make a mistake, he’s probably going to take advantage of it, and that’s what he did a couple times today.”

A two-out, two-run home run by Charlie Blackmon in the ninth sent fans streaming for the exits.

The Giants are now in the midst of a stretch where they’ve averaged 3.53 runs per game over their last 13 — a stretch where they’ve gone 4-9, losing the last three in a row — but there could be some offensive hope on the horizon.

Down on the farm, Mac Williamson (concussion) and Austin Slater hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the seventh at Salt Lake. Williamson — who will spend 7-10 days (or 40 at-bats) on rehab with Triple-A Sacramento — hit his on a breaker low and away, according to Johnny Doskow, the Sacramento play-by-play man. Williamson started at designated hitter, and the Giants would likely want to see him play the outfield before returning.

Hunter Pence, too, had a big day on his rehab stint, collecting two hits to extend his hitting streak to seven straight games. He’s now hitting .314 for Sacramento.

Holland Oats

It took Giants starter Holland more than a month — and six starts — to get his first win of the season, one which elicited a raucous clubhouse celebration after a 9-4 win over the San Diego Padres on May 2.

Before that win, he was 0-3 with an ERA approaching 6.00. Since that win, as the Giants rotation got ever shorter with the loss of Johnny Cueto, Holland had gone 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA. After a scoreless outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 13, he started with 3.2 scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies on Friday. Then came Desmond, who capitalized on a four-seam fastball in that leaked back out over the plate.

“I thought Holland, he gave us a good effort,” Bochy said. “We needed some work out of him with the usage of the bullpen, and he gave us a chance. I’m sure he’d like to have a couple pitches back, but still, we just couldn’t get much going. We started out great, with the home run.”

Holland went 6.0 innings, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk, striking out three and throwing 112 pitches, 72 for strikes.

“We kept us in the game, that was the big thing, I thought,” Holland said. “Hundo (catcher Brett Hundley) and I were definitely on the same page. We did a good job of mixing in and out, up and down. I made a mistake, and you can’t do those kinds of things at this level, and Desmond capitalized on two of them.”

It looked like Holland would be out after five, but he lobbied to go back out in the sixth to help save the bullpen, saying, “Please, let me get out there for the sixth. I know my pitch count’s up there, let me at least get out there. We’ve been using the bullpen, I want to save them as much as I can.”

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