SAN FRANCISCO –- The game arrived hot, and with side spin.
But Brandon Belt was in front of it. He even noticed the way it was skidding. He knew it was the kind of ground ball that could eat him up unless he dropped all the way down.
“Unfortunately,” said Belt, “I couldn’t go down in time.”
What was the worst part? That paralyzing moment Belt knew that Anthony Rizzo’s ground ball had shot clean through his legs? Turning around, powerless, and watching it skip unabated into the right field corner? Or was it seeing the Cubs scamper around the bases, or listening to the revelry from their dugout, or feeling the treble of 40,000 throaty groans on another unsatisfying night in China Basin?
For Belt, the worst part was this: going to the mound just before Sergio Romo handed over the baseball, knowing the Giants’ closer should be thrusting a finger to the sky and leading the handshake line.
“I just felt really bad that situation happened,” said Belt, whose two-run error with two outs in the ninth resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. “I felt bad for Sergio. I felt bad for my teammates. I know I let them down. I’m not planning on doing that again.”
[RECAP: Cubs 3, Giants 2]
The outcome of a major league game is never as simple as one misplay, as right-hander Matt Cain dutifully pointed out. And he’s right. The Giants also ran themselves out of their one scoring rally, minimizing what could have been an even bigger seventh inning after Jeff Francoeur’s bases-loaded bloop.
Except it was Belt who made that mistake, too. And it was that miscalculation on the bases -– not the error in the ninth -- that stuck with Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
“It happened to be the same guy,” Bochy said of Belt, who took a wide turn home when the Cubs’ throw to the plate bounced to the screen. “A play right in front of you there, a short backstop, the pitcher is there … it’s just bad judgment.
“We made a baserunning mistake that killed us. We had a potential big inning and just had bad judgment there.”
They had bad luck, too. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco combined to hit the ball on the screws at least six times between them, with nothing to show for it. Cruelly, so did Belt in the ninth, with the tying run at first base. He tagged Kevin Gregg’s pitch to left-center. But it was too late, too cool and there was too much fog in the air to hope that anything would carry.
Belt’s deep fly ball settled into a glove. And the Giants ended the day 10 games under .500 -- with a worse record than the Cubs, if you can believe that.
[RELATED: MLB standings]
Belt said he apologized to Romo, let him know the outcome was his fault “even though he knew it.”
But this is the big leagues. There are no interventions or hugs after a loss like this. Cain said he didn’t even try to approach Belt, saying, “He’s probably not feeling great about it as it is.
Said Bochy: “What separates the average player from the good players, they’re able to just wash it off and put it behind them.”
A year ago, Belt could not take a mental shower. When he slumped, his body language dripped in it. He used reporters as therapists after a loss at Philadelphia on July 22, when he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in a one-run loss.
After that game, he acknowledged that he worried about whether he’d be replaced in the lineup -– comments he later regretted making.
“It’s always been a mental thing for me,” Belt said after that game in Philadelphia.
It’s hard to measure whether Belt is a better hitter this season. His slugging percentage is up but his on-base percentage is down, and his OPS is right where it was a year ago. His overall numbers don’t make you wince, but too often he tends to disappear in games.
He was front and center Friday night, though. And afterward, he was more matter-of-fact with his answers than he was on that getaway day in Philadelphia. He did not speak like someone in need of therapy. He spoke like someone in need of another game to play, and another chance.
Cain was in line for a victory. That, too, bounded away along with Rizzo’s ground ball. But the right-hander gave Belt the best vote of confidence he could.
“He’s made that play so many times,” the right-hander said. “And he’ll make plenty more the rest of the year.”
Cain said he should have made a better pitch to Starlin Castro, whose RBI grounder up the middle scored Nate Schierholtz for the Cubs’ only run against him in seven innings.
It’s what Cain always seems to do when the Giants lose a close game on his day: He finds a way to shoulder it, even when nobody would expect that of him.
As for his 115-pitch outing, Cain said he was pleased with his stuff. Every solid start he puts between himself and that red-flag outing against the Mets will be a big deal for him and the rotation he leads.
“I had a good feeling coming out of the bullpen,” Cain said. “I was confident about what I was throwing. Buster and I got rolling early and got those guys to swing.”
Schierholtz is the Cubs’ cleanup hitter now that Alfonso Soriano is back in Yankee pinstripes -– at least for the moment. Schierholtz could be dealt, too.
In limited duty as a No. 4 hitter in his time as a Giant, Schierholtz hit .320 (24-for-75) with two home runs.
Ryan Vogelsong stayed on track to return to the rotation Aug. 9. He reached his limit of 45 pitches after 2 2/3 innings for Single-A San Jose at Stockton, and allowed just one hit. It was a two-run home run, though. Vogelsong walked a batter, hit another and struck out three.
As long as he comes out of it with no issues, he’ll accompany the Giants to the White House and then break away for Double-A Richmond, where he’ll make two starts.