The second game of three between the Giants and Marlins seemed shaded by the specter of a pair of guys who weren’t even at AT&T Park Tuesday night.
While the Giants (36, 38) and rookie starter Dereck Rodriguez (W, 2-1, 4.56 ERA) came away with a 6-3 victory over the Fish (29-45), it’s not clear that there was a moral victory to be had for either team after a game of beanball that saw a starter and manager ejected in the second inning and players from both teams assaulted with fastballs.
Just a few hours before the game, the Giants announced that closer Hunter Strickland was, that very afternoon, having surgery to repair a fracture to his pitching hand. And as Strickland was going under the knife, they said, Evan Longoria, was just recovering from a surgical repair on his own fractured left hand that morning.
The injuries had anatomical location and the Marlins in common. Longoria’s left pinkie knuckle fracture came after he was drilled last week by Marlins starter Dan Straily. Strickland’s right pinkie knuckle fracture came after he blew his fourth save of the year to the Marlins Monday night and took his frustration out by punching a door after being hooked from the game.
Before being pulled Strickland got into a beef with Marlins rookie center fielder Lewis Brinson who hit the single that tied Monday night’s game and officially macerated his save opportunity. Before slicing a single to right, Brinson had to dive out of the way of a 95-mph fastball screaming toward his head, so when he ultimately bested the fiery Georgian closer, Brinson pimped it a little, making eye contact after the hit.
And so, with Straily (L, 2-2, 4.89 ERA) on the mound Tuesday night and the Brinson debacle of Monday night still fresh, the stage was set.
The game began innocently. Rodriguez pitched through a first inning double in the top of the first and Buster Posey gave his battery mate a 1-0 cushion with a monster solo homer to left (5) that landed a couple dozen rows back in the left field bleachers in the first inning.
But Rodriguez evidently had no qualms about diving into the fray, and appeared to be waiting for his man. In the second inning Brinson came up with Miguel Rojas on third, JT Riddle on first and just one out. Despite the risky situation, Rodriguez did not seem to hesitate. He immediately plunked Brinson with a 92-mph fastball to load the bases and prompt a warning directed at both benches.
Rodriguez and Posey together claimed plausible deniability after the game, though.
“No, I mean there’s a runner on first and third with less than two outs. I don’t wanna give him a sac fly or nothing, so I was just trying to go in. Just ran too much and it got him. It happens.”
Posey corroborated the rookie’s statement:
“We’re just trying to make a pitch inside. I think [Brinson] got extended on us yesterday. Dereck did a nice job of getting us out of that inning, and working through some trouble.”
Rodriguez followed the act of war cum innocent mistake by whiffing Straily and coaxing a flyout from Derek Dietrich to get out of the inning unscathed.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was pleased with the way Rodriguez dealt with the situation he was in, including the beanball aspect of the game:
“He’s a tough kid and he just handled himself so well. I’m proud of what he did today, the way he handled everything this early in his career.”
The Giants offense pounced on Straily in the bottom half of the inning and after Gorkys Hernández parked a two-run homer (8) in the same neighborhood of bleachers in left as Posey’s first-inning dinger, to make the score 3-0, Straily walked Joe Panik to bring Posey back to the plate. With laissez-faire that somehow exceeded even Rodriguez’s two-on one-out beaning of Brinson in the first, Straily returned fire, immediately drilling Posey in the bicep with a 91-mph fastball. With that, home plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed both Straily and Marlins skipper Don Mattingly from the game.
Bochy was less coy about the beanball exchanges than his battery after the game, and drew an open connection between Tuesday night’s hit batters and previous incidents. In addition to last week’s injury to Longoria at the hands of Straily, Bochy said he was also still upset at the plunking Kelby Tomlinson took from Caleb Smith in Monday’s series-opener with the Marlins.
“I guess [the Marlins] thought they had to do something, but there’s a little bit of fuzzy math going on when I have a third baseman on the DL for eight weeks and a guy got hit in the back last night.”
It was speculated on the broadcast that when Mattingly came out onto the field to get his money’s worth after the ejection that he threatened Posey, but neither Posey nor Bochy would confirm this.
“I don’t know what happened there when [Mattingly] came out, just that he was upset at the warning and said something about, ‘Well if not tonight, [then] tomorrow,’ or whatever.”
With one out in the second inning the Marlins bench coach Tim Wallach took over for Mattingly and Elieser Hernandez picked up where Straily left off on the mound. Hernandez allowed one more run after giving up a single to Andrew McCutchen to load the bases and then walking Brandon Belt to force home a run, making it 4-0.
The Marlins scored their only runs on Rodriguez in the fourth when he gave up two singles and a triple to lead off the fourth inning. After striking out Brinson and Hernandez, he hit Dietrich and 37,242 fans at AT&T Park held their breath, but it was in a 3-2 count and was seemingly read for what it was by all those that mattered, which was an accident. Brian Anderson followed with a double to right to bring the Marlins within one run, but it would be the last they’d score in the inning, and the game.
The Giants added on two more insurance runs on a pair of walks and doubles in the fifth but they weren’t ultimately necessary.
Rodriguez was pulled at 92 pitches after five innings, and Ty Blach, Mark Melancon and Will Smith combined to get the Giants to the ninth without giving an inch. With two outs in the ninth Sam Dyson (S, 2, 2.45 ERA) came in to pick up his first save under the moniker of official closer.
With a batter apiece getting hit and the two ejections on the Marlins side, the fireworks settled down Tuesday night after the second inning. Both teams were lucky to escape without any actual injuries, but with one game left to be played it remains to be seen whether these two teams are done playing Russian Roulette.
Bochy, however, was not worried about the potential for ongoing batters-box-violence, and chalked it up as just the way things are:
“It’s baseball. We’re men. This happens in baseball, it won’t be the last time. It’s been going on for over 100 years. What’s important is that you don’t let it distract you and you keep your focus on what you need to do — and that’s win a ballgame.”
But what’s also important is that the Giants don’t lose yet another piece of their club to needless injury, and right now, they can’t be sure that Posey or another Giant, like the chronically concussed Belt, doesn’t have a target on his back going into tomorrow.
Posey expressed disappointment when it came to Strickland’s impulsive outburst resulting in his fractured hand and now fractured season, after Tuesday’s game:
“It’s unfortunate. I’ve known Hunter for a long time now and part of what makes him good is his fire. Unfortunately, he just made a bad choice and knowing him I know nobody feels worse about it than he does. But the reality of it is that we’re going to suffer a little bit because of it and unfortunately for him, too, it’ll be a couple months before he’s out there [again].”
Brandon Crawford returns to San Francisco from the paternity list Wednesday night, but not in time to play in the 12:45 p.m. rubber match between the now feuding Giants and Marlins. Probable starters are Derek Holland (4-7, 4.48) and José Ureña (2-8, 4.18).