Tuesday was a series of escape acts for Madison Bumgarner as he fought his way out of multiple dangerous situations without allowing a run in front of the Giants 15th sellout crowd of the season (41,613).
But one thing he couldn’t escape was the same fate Dereck Rodríguez met Monday, as both elite starters watched their sparkling performances in the two-game series get flushed away after Astros homers cancelled out flimsy San Francisco leads in the late innings.
In the series capper it was a two-run homer to left off the bat of Tyler White (4) against Giants reliever Ray Black in the eighth that gave the Astros (73-42) and Joe Smith (W, 4-1, 3.86 ERA) the 2-1 victory and the season sweep over San Francisco (57-58).
The Giants offensive woes, a season-long theme, continued to plague them. They managed only one run facing Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel as Bumgarner (ND, 4-4, 2.69 ERA) endured the eighth of his 12 starts in which he received three or fewer runs of support. Nevertheless, he offered his team an admirable opportunity to win, as he tossed seven strong innings, striking out seven and escaping more than a few jams.
“It was tough, I feel like we had a good chance to win both of those games, a really good chance, and we let ’em slip away. You never wanna do that, but it’s getting to the time of the year now where we gotta minimize those, we gotta find a way to win.”
A second inning leadoff triple to right from Josh Reddick was Act One for the Bumgarner Escape Matinee Show. He induced back-to-back grounders to third from Max Stassi and J.D. Davis, in each case freezing Reddick at the corner. The Giants opted to intentionally walk Jake Marisnick to instead face Keuchel (ND, 9-10, 3.53 ERA) with two outs.
Marsinick stole second, but Keuchel, having played his entire career with the Astros in the American League, came into the game 3-for-26 lifetime at the plate, and Bumgarner struck the lefty out to end the inning.
Of playing in traffic, Bumgarner said:
“They had some guys in scoring position with no outs, and one out a few times there, so obviously with the score what it is I didn’t wanna try to concede a run if I could help it.”
Breaking with a recent trend, San Francisco got a hit before the fourth inning facing Keuchel. Brandon Crawford led off the second with a double down the left field line, and unlike Houston, San Francisco managed to cash in. A batter later, Austin Slater advanced to first base after taking a pitch to the knee, setting the stage for Chase d’Arnaud, in at second base Tuesday with the lefty on the mound.
“The Flying Frenchman,” as Bochy has nicknamed him, didn’t wait around, lining the first pitch he saw to right field to score Crawford and put the Giants ahead 1-0.
Bumgarner managed to stifle Astros runners in scoring position in the third and fifth, but he saved his biggest escapes for the sixth inning. A one-out White triple to right seemed destined to get the Astros on the board, but when Reddick grounded out to Buster Posey at first base, White inexplicably broke for the plate and was tagged out at home by Nick Hundley on a fielder’s choice.
But with the relative ease Bumgarner seemed to wriggle out of that mess, he evidently decided to up the ante in his next escape. Reddick took second on a wild pitch with Stassi at the plate and then immediately stole third. Then on another wild pitch, Reddick tried to take home, but Bumgarner sprinted for the plate and was ready and waiting to apply the tag when Hundley threw the ball home for out No. 3.
The Giants had an opportunity to offer Bumgarner more than one run with which to protect his victory when Hanson led off the seventh inning facing Tony Sipp with a triple, but they failed to make anything of it. Rookie Steven Duggar popped out, and Bochy put a bat in Hunter Pence‘s hands when Bumgarner’s spot came up.
Of the decision, Bochy said:
“Smith’s tough. He’s even tougher on lefties—they’re hitting .150 off him. Hunter just had a good at-bat off a similar type pitcher there in Arizona —knocked in a run off [Brad] Ziegler—but [Smith] got two big strikeouts. Hunter’s been getting some big RBIs for us over the last three weeks.”
Pence is 7-for-30 with five RBI in the last three weeks, and struck out swinging in the matchup Tuesday. Facing Ziegler last Thursday he hit a sac fly to center field on the first pitch he saw to score Slater from third base. Alternatively, it was the newly hot Andrew McCutchen who had one last crack at plating Hanson against Smith with two outs but he, too struck out.
So with no further cushion, all of Bumgarner’s theatrics were for naught. Black (L, 1-1, 3.86 ERA), who entered the game 10-1/3 innings into a hitless streak, opened the eighth inning allowing a single to Marwin Gonzalez. A batter later, the déjà vu White homer would tarnish Bumgarner’s start (as Gonzalez’s homer against Will Smith Monday night tarnished Rodríguez’s) and represent the first runs Black had allowed since his July 8 debut, in which he walked two and allowed a homer.
“Today I felt like I had a good fastball. Maybe thats what beat me, maybe I overthrew it a little bit too much. I go back, and the at-bat plays through my head and you think, ’Alright, you know that was the fourth [fastball] that he saw, he was able to time it up.’ Obviously in hind sight, I’m saying right now, I shoulda threw a slider, but you know in that at-bat, that count, the fastball’s my best pitch and I stuck with it. If I just locate it maybe there’s a different outcome.”
Bochy was disappointed with San Francisco’s inability to capitalize on stellar pitching performances in the Houston series:
“I mean you look at the starts we got here [and] that does make it a little more frustrating, but you know we’re facing good pitching too, you figure they’re gonna be low scoring games and it’s hard to take when you get two starts like that—shutout ball. Give [Houston] credit, they beat two of our hottest relievers and found a way to win the games…you’re playing a good team with good ptiching, too, and they kept it close and lightning hit us twice.”
Black said he didn’t feel any different Tuesday than in the previous outings in which he’d strung together 10-1/3 innings of hitless relief:
“I think it’s just kind of baseball. You know I haven’t exactly struck out every single hitter I’ve faced, balls get put in play, some [of them] hard. Crawford made some good plays behind me, guys made some good plays over that stretch. Today [the] first ball was put in play—leadoff hitter in the gap— [it] didn’t find an outfielder, it happens. …Obviously I’m gonna have to go back look at some tape figure out where I was missing, what I was doing wrong, but it’s the game of baseball. Today the ball found the stands and the ball found the field. [I just need to] make the adjustment going forward.”
The Giants had six outs in which to make up a one-run deficit, but as of late that’s been something of an insurmountable task at times for the orange and black. Collin McHugh, Ryan Pressly and Hector Rondon (S, 13, 2.16) tag-teamed to shut down the Giants.
The Giants have an off-day Wednesday before opening a four-game series against the Pirates this weekend. San Francisco has fallen to Pittsburgh in 12 of their last 17 games at AT&T Park. Andrew Suárez (4-7, 4.60 ERA) is scheduled to face Pirates righty Ivan Nova (6-6, 4.49 ERA) in Thursday’s series-opener at 7:15 p.m.
The Giants roster took yet another blow in the fourth inning when d’Arnaud fouled an 89-mph fastball off his left knee. He was pulled from the game, only to endure the additional pain of being charged with a strikeout after Alen Hanson took over for him with an 0-2 count and earned the third strike for him. The Giants have described the injury as a left knee contusion.
“It’s just one of the ones where it just got it in the right spot and the strength wasn’t coming back to it. The spring in [my leg] just left. But I got an X-ray—everything is just negative. I think it’ll be just fine, it [just] hurt like crap.”
The Astros victory puts them 31 games above .500, tying their season-high.