Late Cards eruption spoils Cueto’s strong return

Johnny Cueto made his long-awaited Giants return Friday, and made the most of what was expected to be limited action.

Harrison Bader‘s two-run homer, the first of his big league career, would be all the Cardinals could get against the San Francisco starter through 5-2/3 innings.

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

Brandon Crawford gilded Cueto’s strong return with a bare-handed snag off a base-hopping grounder in the fifth. Cueto whooped almost as loudly as he had when he teamed up with Kelby Tomlinson to turn an exhausting double play, erasing Yadier Molina‘s one-out triple the inning before, he laughed:

“I was happy, happy for my teammates.”

Cueto’s limit coming into the game was 75-80 pitches — he threw 79 and said he felt good enough to go for 100.

As it turned out, his team needed him to. The bullpen’s promising August — which at one point found it ranked among the top five for the month — has turned sour with September’s arrival. Over the past week, the crew’s tallied a 7.63 ERA, good for second-worst in the bigs.

But Friday night’s meltdown was unlike anything Bruce Bochy has seen this year — or last year, even:

“I can’t recall one that was as tough for us than tonight.”

The path to the Giants’ 67th blown lead, their 11-6 loss to St. Louis and demise of Cueto’s first win since June 30 started with Hunter Strickland, who gave up a triple and a two-run home run to Randal Grichuk.

Mark Melancon blew the save, surrendering a two-out single and game-tying triple. Bochy said before the game that Melancon could be shut down soon to have a forearm injury surgically repaired. Team trainer Dave Groeschner wouldn’t confirm what kind of procedure it could be or, for that matter, if Melancon would even be getting surgery before the season ends. Whatever is happening, Melancon is pitching through it, which seems odd if surgery is certainly in his near future.

Sam Dyson earned five runs, the most he’s shouldered as a Giant. Albert Suarez guaranteed that fifth after allowing a two-run homer to send what was left of the fans boiling in 80-degree evening heat to the exits. It was rough, said Bochy:

“You look at the extra-base hits they had, six against our setup guys and closer. You’re probably not going to win ballgames like that.

“What’s tough is we played so well in the first six innings.”

After talking paragraphs about MLB’s botched home run call — which the league admitted was incorrect — Crawford continued to wreak havoc on baseball into Friday night, first by taking back the home run the league stole in his first at-bat. Funny enough, the ball bounced off the top of the right-center wall at the deepest part of the park.

He peeked back at the umpires as he rounded second, just in case.

The perfectly timed retaliation home run wasn’t all he had to say. Crawford cracked a curveball to the right field wall for a double, later scoring along with Buster Posey on Hunter Pence‘s triple.

That trio in the heart of the order went 2-for-2 against Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty in his four-inning MLB debut. Five runs isn’t enough in baseball anymore, especially with a volatile bullpen with too much time to mess up. That group gave up nine runs in 3-2/3 innings.

Up next

Chris Stratton will face Lance Lynn in Game 3 of this four-gamer.

Notes

It was unofficially announced that Orlando Calixte would be called up Friday, but he stayed in Sacramento. The Giants activated Cueto instead and recalled Tim Federowicz, Steven Okert and Derek Law. The two relievers recorded two perfect outs before the meltdown ensued. … Jarrett Parker left the game after the fourth inning with left side tightness and is day-to-day. He’ll have an MRI Saturday.


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.