AT&T Park — Injured San Francisco Giants starter Johnny Cueto sang in Spanish as he strode into the clubhouse Thursday morning. He wore a white hat with his face printed on it.
With the Giants pushing for a sweep of the Colorado Rockies amid one of their best stretches this season, Cueto’s jovial mood matched that of an organization increasingly hopeful it can return to the playoffs after its demoralizing 64-98 campaign in 2017.
A 9-8 loss to the Rockies marked a step in the wrong direction. Closer Sam Dyson served up a go-ahead two-run home run to DJ LeMahieu with one out in the ninth inning to turn a comeback win into a frustrating defeat.
“[The pitch] was roughly where I wanted it,” Dyson said. “I figured we could go in like two nights ago, but it just didn’t get far enough.”
Since Dyson took over the closer role last week for the injured Hunter Strickland, he’s allowed five earned runs in his past 4.2 innings. His blown save on Thursday came after San Francisco had overcome of a rocky start by Chris Stratton to take an eighth-inning lead.
Stratton finished with five runs allowed in four innings. Colorado starter Jon Gray finished with five runs allowed in four innings. The bullpens were the difference.
In the first inning, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado hit a home run to left and Giants first baseman Brandon Belt lined a round-tripper over the Levi’s Landing sign in right.
Colorado tagged Stratton for four runs in the fourth inning. First baseman Ian Desmond — a .215 hitter striking out in 27 percent of his plate appearances— hit a two-run triple as part of the onslaught. Desmond is now batting .324 with two homers and 11 RBIs against the Giants this year.
“We tried to go in to Desmond, and it ends up missing away [and he gets it],” Stratton said. “They were really aggressive at the plate.”
The Giants responded with three runs in the bottom of the fourth. They couldn’t add more despite having two on with one out, but they still positioned themselves to win by the time Dyson took the mound.
After the Rockies took a 7-5 lead in the seventh, the Giants staged an eighth inning rally to swing the game back into their favor.
The turnaround was keyed by a fluky play in shallow left-center field with two men on.
Rockies left fielder Gerardo Parra might have gotten a bad break on the ball, or he might have struggled to see its descent because of the sun in his eyes. Whatever the case, he failed to handle a fly ball off the bat of pinch-hitter Buster Posey he usually would have caught. According to Statcast, only 16 percent of balls hit with that launch angle and exit velocity drop for hits. Because the ball landed, the Giants had the bases loaded trailing by one run.
Left fielder Alen Hanson then delivered a two-run double down the right field line, seeming to set the table for a sweep-clinching victory.
Instead, Dyson’s blown save tore open the battle for the Giants closer spot at a point in the season when they could use stability from the back of their bullpen.
After the game, Dyson insisted he could handle the pressure. He saved 38 games in 2016 with the Rangers. Of course, his stint with that organization ended when he posted a 10.80 ERA through his first 17 outings in 2017.
Bochy said he’ll consider giving left-hander Tony Watson more ninth-inning opportunities. He has 30 career saves and World Series experience.
Watson wasn’t really an option on Thursday, though, with the Rockies bringing up a series of right-handed hitters.
“You look at where they were at in their order and Sam, it was a perfect setup for him,” Bochy said.