AT&T Park — San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith said he knew he’d blown the game as soon as Houston Astros second baseman Marwin Gonzalez made contact.
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning Monday, Gonzalez took Smith deep for a go-ahead three-run home run. The blast doomed San Francisco to a 3-1 defeat and wasted rookie Dereck Rodriguez’s best start of an already impressive season.
Rodriguez went seven scoreless innings and racked up seven strikeouts. After spoiling that effort, Smith screamed at himself as he walked off the mound.
“[Rodriguez] pitched his ass off,” Smith said. “Nobody feels worse than me right now, giving that great start up.”
Rodriguez entered the game with the best ERA for a rookie starting pitcher since the franchise moved to the West Coast — ahead of Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Juan Marichal. He was even in front of Deadball Era legend Christy Mathewson.
Now, only three Deadball Era hurlers are between Rodriguez and the organization’s top mark since its founding in 1883.
“He’s right up there with them,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
Through his first 11 MLB starts, Rodriguez is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA. On Monday, he didn’t allow a single three-ball count and gave up just three hits.
Rodriguez has seemingly improved with each start over the past couple of months. Since June 9, he hasn’t given up more than three runs, and he’s limited opponents to two runs or fewer in each of his past seven outings.
His latest performance came at a crucial time for the Giants (57-57), who are currently 5 1/2 games out of a postseason position.
“It was a beautiful game he pitched, and we needed it,” Bochy said. “He’s just been so solid every start out there, he just gets us deep into games.”
After being signed by San Francisco last November as a minor league free agent, Rodriguez said he lets himself consider the magnitude of his recent success on the days he’s not pitching. This wasn’t the type of year anyone pegged him to have.
“I enjoy it. I think about it a lot of the time,” Rodriguez said. “But when I’m out there, it’s just me, [catcher Buster Posey] and the hitter. That’s what’s helped me get to where I’m at.”
On Monday, Rodriguez received one run of support — a two-out Brandon Crawford home run in the sixth inning. Heading to the ninth, though, that seemed like enough.
But Smith, who has been reliable for most of the campaign, couldn’t seal the win.
Smith was 6-for-6 in save opportunities since taking over the closer’s role for injured right-hander Hunter Strickland. He entered the game with a 1.27 ERA and no home runs allowed. Then his fastball command let him down.
“That’s a tough one,” Smith said. “We need to win games, and when a starter goes that deep in a game like that and gives you a chance … it hurts to give that up.”