SAN FRANCISCO – Bruce Bochy never likes to hear it when people say the ball bounced the Giants’ way last season.
You don’t win 94 regular-season games because you’re lucky, as the manager has intoned a time or two.
True enough. But you do win them on occasion. And you’ll lose your share, too.
There wasn’t any other way to describe the Giants’ 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday afternoon. Ryan Vogelsong gave up nine hits, but all were singles and four of those stayed on the infield. Brandon Belt hit two lasers for outs and remains hitless for the season.
[Baggs' Instant Replay: Cardinals 6, Giants 3]
But the game really hinged on two other breaks that didn’t go the Giants’ way. In the fifth inning, third baseman Pablo Sandoval made a smothering stop to his left of Allen Craig’s infield single, unaware that shortstop Brandon Crawford was right behind him and probably could’ve made the play without leaving his feet.
It extended the inning and loaded the bases for Carlos Beltran, whose tiebreaking, two-run single proved to be the game’s biggest hit.
An inning later, Joaquin Arias came off the Giants’ bench with two aboard and hit a line drive down the first base line that Craig turned into an easy snare-and-step double play.
“A step here or there and we’re talking about a totally different ballgame,” said Vogelsong, who was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings. “I felt I was forcing the ball early, trying to make it do stuff instead of jut letting it come out. The middle innings got better. I didn’t feel I threw the ball all that terribly.”
Bochy said the long fifth inning might have caught up to Vogelsong when he made the fastball mistake to Beltran, a hitter who seldom misses 89 mph at the belt.
There was no blaming Sandoval, certainly. A third baseman is trained to get whatever he can reach.
“It’s a tough read for infielders,” Bochy said. “Crawford was there and Pablo didn’t realize it. He’s doing all he can to get to it. That’s what a third baseman is supposed to do. It’s such a fine line in this game.”
Bochy said he had no concerns with the way Vogelsong was throwing, even though his velocity was down a notch from the usual levels. He didn’t think Vogelsong’s involvement with the World Baseball Classic made any difference in his readiness to begin the season, either.
“He pitched two games in the WBC, and if you know Vogey, he’d have pitched the same way if he were in spring training,” Bochy said. “I’m not concerned with his stuff. He’s healthy and he’s fine. He threw 90 pitches. When you get a stressful inning, it’s probably going to catch up with you and the fifth inning did.”
Said Vogelsong: “Just didn’t make enough pitches. That’s what it is, when you come down to it. I got in a situation where I really needed to make one more pitch.”
The breaks can change from one day to the next. The danger is when frustration leads you to change your approach. Hitters have said it many times: A slump often begins when you hit into some bad luck and then try too hard to reverse your fortunes the next day.
So will Belt have to fight that temptation now that he's 0 for 10?
"Absolutely not," he told me. "You always want to get your hits. But if you’re not getting them, the best thing you can be doing is hitting it hard and solid."
And eating solid food. Belt is doing that again after losing 11 pounds because of a gastrointestinal ailment that knocked him out for two games at Dodger Stadium. He weighed 229 pounds when the team broke camp and he weighed in at 218 on Saturday.
"I definitely feel a lot better," he said. "I’m getting back to normal. It's the end of the game when maybe you feel you need some extra energy. I’ll go down and eat a protein bar."
Yes, the Giants are actually eating protein bars. Last October, they were more often used as flying projectiles during their pregame dugout rituals, usually with Ryan Theriot flinging them at teammates' heads.
"Yes we are eating them now," Belt said, smiling. "We are actually putting them in our mouths and chewing them up."
Good to know.