ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – You must do the little things to win on the road – especially when you’re playing the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the best teams in the American League.
If the Giants had issued zero walks to begin an inning and gotten three hits from their leadoff batters, they might have sauntered out of Tropicana Field with their third consecutive road series victory.
But those numbers were reversed. Their pitchers began three innings with free passes, and all of them scored as the Giants lost 4-3 Sunday afternoon.
Sam Fuld drew a walk from Guillermo Moscoso, stole his way into scoring position and scored on Evan Longoria’s slump-busting single to tie it in the fifth. Then Yunel Escobar started the sixth with a walk from Jose Mijares and scored the go-ahead run on Fuld’s two-out single.
As for the Giants? Their leadoff woes continue in Angel Pagan’s absence.
Gregor Blanco was 0 for 3 before yielding to pinch hitter Andres Torres, who was hitless in two at-bats – and struck out to end it.
Giants leadoff batters – Blanco and Torres -- are hitting 6 for 61 (.098) with a .174 on-base percentage and have scored a paltry four runs in 16 games since the All-Star break.
The Giants lost two of three at the Trop – both one-run losses – and were 3-3 on their road trip. They say you want to split on the road, but the Giants need to be greedier than that.
Starting pitching report
Moscoso was effectively wild for most of his debut start as a Giant; he showed a good ability to change speeds off a fastball that sat at 89-91 mph while touching 93.
But he made one early mistake, worked often out of the stretch and 93 pitches only got him as far as the second out of the fourth inning.
Moscoso was charged with three runs and two of them scored following leadoff walks. Ben Zobrist drew one in the first inning, advanced on a wild pitch, and with a base open, Moscoso’s notion to start scorching hot phenom Wil Myers with a first-pitch curve wasn’t a bad one.
Except he hung it, and Walt Whitman would have described the young slugger’s reaction as one of “perfect nonchalance.” He swung his leg and tossed his bat before walking out of the box. The two-run homer gave the Rays a 2-1 lead.
Another leadoff walk in the fifth helped the Rays erase another deficit. The Giants led 3-2 when Fuld walked on five pitches, stole second base on a bang-bang play, then raced home when Evan Longoria broke an 0-for-19 with a single down the left field line.
Moscoso followed by walking Myers, then yielding to the bullpen. Of the 14 outs he recorded, 10 came in the air, and just one came on the ground – a sign he changed speeds well. He struck out three.
Moscoso probably isn’t long for the rotation, since Ryan Vogelsong mostly cruised in six innings of his rehab start for Double-A Richmond. He took a shutout into the sixth inning before allowing a solo home run. His line: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1 HR on 85 pitches (58 strikes).
Mijares retired James Loney on a fly out to strand both of Moscoso’s runners, but ran into trouble in the sixth.
And yes, it was another leadoff walk that started it. Escobar drew it, advanced on a tapper to the mound and scored the go-ahead run on Fuld’s two-out single.
Sandy Rosario tossed two scoreless innings to preserve the one-run deficit, but the Giants couldn’t mount a comeback to make a winner of him.
At the plate
The Giants aren’t lacking for hits. It’s the force and the timeliness of those hits that continues to be the issue. And getting home a runner from third base with less than two outs is a sure way to make Bruce Bochy run a hand through his hair.
The Giants generated plenty of traffic in the early innings. Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey hit consecutive one-out singles to give the club an early lead. But Brandon Belt, inserted in the No. 5 spot ahead of Hunter Pence, struck out with runners at the corners and Pence grounded out to end the inning.
Belt and Pence started their rally in the fourth with a leadoff walk and a single, then Brandon Crawford finished a strong road trip with a triple that split the outfielders in right-center to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.
Crawford has driven in six of the Giants’ last 19 runs.
But Guillermo Quiroz couldn’t get him home. With the infield in, Crawford wisely held on Quiroz’s grounder to third base. Gregor Blanco, who is in a brutal 5-for-49 slump (.102) in his last 16 games, struck out looking to end the inning.
Posey hit a two-out double in the fifth to drive right-hander Roberto Hernandez (nee Fausto Carmona) from the game. Bochy stayed with Belt despite the lefty-lefty matchup with Alex Torres, which resulted in a scary moment when Belt was struck on the helmet by a pitch.
Belt was fine. The Giants’ clutch hitting was not. Pence grounded out to strand both runners.
More from the department of rotten timing: Pence hit a two-out double in the eighth, but was stranded when Roger Kieschnick lined out.
Fernando Rodney retired the side in the ninth.
Former major league reliever Tug McGraw was once asked if he preferred grass or turf.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I never smoked turf.”
The Rays announced 34,078 paid – their second sellout crowd of the season, and their first since opening day. See? They were right back in 1992. If the Giants come to St. Petersburg, the fans’ll flock to see ‘em.
The Giants begin a seven-game homestand against Milwaukee and Baltimore on Monday. It’ll be Chad Gaudin (5-2, 2.64 ERA) vs. right-hander Tyler Thornburg (1-0, 2.22 ERA) in the four-game series opener against the Ryan Braun-less Brewers. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT.
The Giants will start Matt Cain (7-6, 4.57) against right-hander Wily Peralta (7-11, 4.57) on Tuesday, Madison Bumgarner (11-6, 2.69) against TBA on Wednesday and Tim Lincecum (5-11, 4.43) against right-hander Donovan Hand (0-3, 3.60) on Thursday.