Casilla meltdown completes Giant collapse

Trevor Brown made sure to stop by Johnny Cueto‘s locker for a post-game fist bump.

They’d done well, after all. Cueto held the Orioles to three runs. Brown caught him in a last-minute switch-a-roo — Buster Posey was scratched minutes before the game with lower back tightness — and chipped in a three-hit, three RBI effort.

This one wasn’t on them.

The Giants’ 8-7 loss to the Baltimore Orioles Sunday wasn’t due to faltering offensive production, either. They went 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position. Hunter Pence hit his first home run since May 18 and the lineup scraped together a six hit, four run fifth inning that set the team up with a sweet 7-1 lead. This wasn’t on the offense, not today.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Nor was this one on Cueto. He pitched 6-2/3 innings of solid ball, striking out four while quelling the O’s few and far between threats. He gave up one run through six, then succumbed to a two-run seventh-inning rally that sent him packing.

Cueto even got in on the scoring party, tallying two hits, including an RBI single. He was crisp, on the mound and at the plate. No, this wasn’t on Cueto.

This one is on the bullpen, a unit that had been the most consistent through this rough patch. A group that’s shouldered a 1.69 ERA through the last 21 innings was under pressure. Sunday afternoon, they cracked, giving up five runs in 2-1/3 innings.

The gut-wrencher: Santiago Casilla — who held opponents scoreless in his last eight innings — blew his sixth save when Jonathan Schoop blasted the go-ahead three-run bomb in the ninth inning. Manny Machado punched a one-out single to left field–Casilla left a curveball up with not enough bite– and advanced into scoring position on a bumbling error by Angel Pagan. Casilla pitched around home run leader Mark Trumbo and gave up the walk:

“I was aware of the power Trumbo had, so I was going to work him on the corners.”

That put the go-ahead runner at the plate. And go-ahead they did.

This bullpen couldn’t stop the O’s from chipping away. They’re powerful, Cueto knew they were trouble:

“It’s one of the best lineups that I’ve faced.”

The bullpen, though dependable, finally felt Baltimore’s wrath.

Hunter Strickland, who took over for Cueto in the seventh, looked set up for another solid relief appearance. He blew two  98 and 99 mph fastballs by Machado and Chris Davis for strikeouts, extending his scoreless streak to 10 innings.

Trumbo had enough, blasting a two-seamer to left field to cut the Giants lead to three runs. Schoop and Wieters both singled to put runners on the corners.

Derek Law took over having retired 19 consecutive batters. Hitters had managed a .042 average in their last 24 at bats against him.

J.J. Hardy immediately punched an RBI single to left field to put the O’s within two. Rest assured, Law retired the next two batters to extend his scoreless streak to 19 outings.

Three of the Giants most consistent arms out of the bullpen couldn’t finish this one off. Bruce Bochy said it’s a testament to the other side:

“That’s a good club over there. They just kept coming back.”

Casilla, Strickland and Law didn’t look off. Casilla’s curveball wasn’t as “sucio” as it’s been, though. The hope is that the offense can continue the momentum they’ve built despite the demoralizing loss. Cueto said it’s possible:

“This is baseball. The guys just have to keep playing the way they’ve been playing and the pitchers just have to be pitching they way they’ve been pitching.”

Here’s hoping it’s that simple. The Giants will face old friend Ryan Vogelsong and the Pittsburgh Pirates–who just beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to preserve the San Francisco’s one-run lead in the West–for a three game series starting Monday night.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.