After Bryce Harper struck out swinging in the first inning, I came THIS CLOSE to tweeting some stupid remark about how he looks like he’s been in a daze this entire series. I thought better of it, figuring if Harper performed great feats later in the afternoon I’d be accused of jinxing the San Francisco Giants. Jinxes aren’t real, but Harper’s talent sure is.
Instead of bunting and running hard for seemingly no reason like he did with regularity on Tuesday night, Harper played how one would usually expect on a brisk Wednesday afternoon. He hit an opposite-field home run in the 6th to break a 0-0 tie, made a great catch on a sinking line drive by Hunter Pence in the 8th inning, and scored the game-winning run on Ian Desmond’s single after doubling in the 10th.
“I wanted to go fastball down and away right there. Maybe a little off the plate” said Bumgarner on the 1-2 pitch that led to Harper’s home run. “It didn’t catch a whole lot of the plate. It was a pretty decent pitch, just not a good two strike pitch. It was up. He made a good adjustment and put a good swing on it.”
All in all, it’s difficult to find much fault with how the Giants performed in their first series at AT&T Park after their 1-5 road trip. They won 8-0 on Monday, then the games got interesting. The Giants came back from one run down late in both of the next two games against a Nationals team that seems a lot more talented than their 24-23 record would indicate. And they might have finished the job in the 8th today, if it weren’t for Harper’s sliding catch and a nice play by Adam LaRoche on a sharply-hit ball off the bat of pinch-hitter Brandon Belt. More on Belt a little later.
Except for one misplay by Marco Scutaro (more on him later, too), the Giants didn’t commit an error over these three games. That, along with three excellent outings from the starters, makes the Giants seem like a completely different team than the one we saw get destroyed in Toronto and Colorado (yes, even with Ryan Vogelsong going down with a hand fracture).
Matt Cain and Stephen Strasburg started slow before looking like aces in the last three innings of their respective seven-inning outings last night, and Bumgarner and Gio Gonzalez almost mirrored each other’s pitching lines today: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO for Bumgarner … 7 1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO for Gonzalez.
“Come off a tough road trip and these guys have bounced back well. And they’ve had a history of doing that,” Bruce Bochy said. “They got on track here, which we needed. This is more of our baseball, and sure it’s a tough loss today but you have to be encouraged by how we did play.”
The Giants are a very accomplished team. Lately it seems like they’re a group that plays to their competition, winning five of seven games against the Braves and Nationals with a nightmarish road trip in between.
— Harper’s failure to get back and catch Gregor Blanco’s triple last night led to closer Rafael Soriano making some interesting remarks after the game.
“With two outs and the tying run at first, you have to play the outfield so the ball doesn’t go over your head,” Soriano said in Spanish.
“It may not have been a catchable ball, but if we’re positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome. With two outs, I could tell my 4-year-old son, ‘You know where you need to play,’ and he would have positioned himself better. It’s not an excuse, and I’m not speaking badly about anybody, but I think that’s how you play the game.”
The hard-nosed Harper acknowledged his collision with a fence at Dodger Stadium eight days before – which forced him to miss three games and left him with a facial gash that required 11 stitches – was a factor in the game’s critical play.
“Absolutely,” said Harper, insisting he should have made the catch. “Of course it crosses your mind after you jam into a wall, and it doesn’t really feel very good. It sucks not making the play. I totally put that loss on me.”
The two reportedly patched things up privately before today’s game, then Harper made up for whatever he thinks he did wrong last night, and then some.
— Scutaro came up in the 8th with his 19-game streak on the line and took a close slider on 3-2 to walk for the second time. He got another chance in the 10th, but his fly ball was caught at the warning track by left fielder Roger Bernadina to end the game.
“He just missed it,” Bochy said.
— Final numbers during Scutaro’s now-concluded streak: 79 PA, 38 hits, 7 walks, 3 strikeouts(!), .481/.523/.646
— No word on Santiago Casilla. Bochy said he would talk to Dave Groeschner after the game to here what the prognosis was after his visit to Stanford Hospital today.
— I’m sorry to all the Brett Pill fans out there, but he is completely overmatched against big league pitching. Bochy said before the game that Belt was dealing with some back tightness, but then he was sent up to hit in place of Pill in the 8th and came very close to collecting the game-winning hit. With Belt playing so well in May, I believe he should be the everyday starter no matter who’s on the mound. Belt’s career OPS versus right-handed pitchers is .754, and against lefties it’s .779.