SAN FRANCISCO – Give the Giants points for ingenuity. They finally found a way to win with Barry Zito in a road uniform.
Play the game at home.
Zito didn’t last long enough to be credited with the decision in Game 2 of Tuesday night’s unique doubleheader, in which the Giants acted as the road side in a 5-3 victory. His every inning was a pit match and a dagger in the sand. A 37-year-old backup catcher, Corky Miller, almost collected multiple extra-base hits in a game for the first time in more than 11 years.
But with the help of a key catch by Hunter Pence in right field on Miller, Zito kept the game from getting totaled and that’s more than any other Giants starting pitcher could say against the Reds this season.
The Giants offense dented a fender or two as well. Pablo Sandoval’s two-run double keyed a three-run first inning as they split the doubleheader and beat the Reds for the first time in six games this season.
[RECAP: Game 1: Reds 9, Giants 3]
No wonder it’s been a struggle for them. In the six games, Giants starters are 0-4 with a 10.88 ERA and have allowed 46 hits in 24 innings.
But when they have a fighting chance in a bullpen game, it’s a different story. Five relievers combined to hold the Reds scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings, with Sergio Romo proving masterful in a four-out save.
Romo struck out Brandon Phillips to strand two runners in the eighth, then avoided the ultimate shame scenario -– a walk-off loss at home, which would’ve been the first in major league history.
After a long night of baseball at Third and King, Bruce Bochy had his 1,500th career victory as a major league manager. He’s just the 11th in history to reach that mark and also win multiple World Series titles. Eight guys on the list are in the Hall of Fame. The others are Bochy, and shoo-ins Joe Torre and Tony La Russa.
Starting pitching report
Zito had been winless with a 9.89 ERA in his road uniform this season –- the highest by a Giants pitcher through eight starts since at least 1912, when such records were kept. The Giants were 0-8 in those starts, too.
This one will count as a home game in the official record, even if the Giants were acting the part of visitors as the Reds made up the July 4 rainout at Great American Ball Park. So to be accurate, Zito had no chance at a road win.
But that’s minutiae when you’re the defending champs and you’re starting to teeter into invisibility once more.
The Giants needed a good start and a good outcome, plain and simple. Zito didn’t give them clean work by any stretch, but he didn’t implode while the Reds scored three runs on six hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings.
The Reds inflicted most of their damage in one swing. Miller, the 37-year-old backup, was hitting .100 in 20 at-bats – and prior to that, he hadn’t played in the big leagues since 2010. But he slapped a high fastball almost out of catcher Buster Posey’s glove for a two-run double to right field in the second inning.
Zito had another fight on his hands in the third, when Joey Votto hit a one-out single and Pence clanked a fly ball for an error. Zito did not hide his agitation on the mound, swiping at the rubber with a cleat and then shouting into his glove as pitching coach Dave Righetti tried to settle him down.
But angry Zito was effective Zito. He had more break than ever on his curveball while Jay Bruce failed to check his swing on a strikeout. Then Todd Frazier, who has harassed the Giants all season, grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Zito pitched around two walks in the fourth inning, but only because Pence made like Lloyd Christmas and totally redeemed himself. He ran full throttle and laid out to catch Miller’s drive in right-center, saving a run.
Zito got two quick outs in the fifth but consecutive hits, including Frazier’s RBI double, made it 5-3. And Bochy did not want his left-hander to face pinch hitter Chris Heisey. So he came for the baseball.
Zito has just one win over his last eight starts.
The Giants had to sacrifice a player, minor leaguer Hunter Strickland, to get Yusmeiro Petit on the roster for innings coverage. It turned out to be worth a victory.
Petit’s 5 1/3 innings in Game 1 kept the frontline relievers rested and ready for Game 2, and all of them were needed. Five pitchers combined to hold the Reds scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings.
It started off shaky, though Jake Dunning hit Heisey on the bill of his helmet with his first pitch, but got Miller to ground out, stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.
Santiago Casilla stranded both of Jose Mijares’ runners in the sixth, then pitched around Frazier’s double in the seventh.
It nearly unraveled in the eighth when Derrick Robinson’s infield hit deflected off left-hander Javier Lopez and Pablo Sandoval booted a ground ball for an error. But Lopez dispatched an elite left-handed hitter for the umpteenth time in his career, retiring Joey Votto on a fly out. Then Romo made a rare appearance in the eighth to strike out Phillips.
Jay Bruce, who lost that unforgettable confrontation with Romo in the NL Division Series, last October, started the ninth with a line single to left field. But the All-Star closer struck out the white-hot Frazier, Zack Cozart couldn’t protect on a two-strike slider off the plate, and neither could Devin Mesoraco. Romo struck out all three to record his 24th save in 27 chances.
Casilla (4-2) received credit for the victory.
At the plate
It wasn’t a good night to pitch against your hometown team. The Reds wrecked Cincinnati native Eric Surkamp in Game 1. Then Greg Reynolds, a Pacifica native and Stanford alum, gave up a three-spot to the Giants in the first inning.
Tony Abreu singled and Buster Posey was hit by a pitch ahead of Sandoval’s two-run double. Hunter Pence followed with a single that scored Sandoval from second base. On both RBI hits, Giants third base coach Tim Flannery sent the runners and didn’t regret it.
The Giants added a run in the second inning when Brandon Crawford doubled, advanced on Zito’s sacrifice and sprinted home on Gregor Blanco’s sacrifice fly to medium right field. It was a bang-bang play and Reds manager Dusty Baker argued plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s call, but replays showed it was correct.
(Bochy argued an out call later in the game, but replays confirmed Cuzzi had it right again. That had to feel good for the umpire, who so memorably blew a call on Travis Ishikawa at the plate against the Mets, directly affecting the outcome of the game.)
Abreu singled to start another rally in the fifth. He had to hold up on Pence’s single, which Shin-Soo Choo nearly caught in center field. But Abreu came home on Brandon Belt’s bases-loaded ground out.
Pence’s catch on the fourth inning didn’t have the same gravitas as his diving grab to save Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter, but on the whole, it was a much more difficult play to make.
The Giants announced 42,310 paid on buy one, get one free night. You didn’t even need a Safeway card.
The Giants and Reds complete their four-game series Wednesday night at AT&T Park. Chad Gaudin (4-1, 2.15 ERA) takes the mound against right-hander Mike Leake (9-4, 2.79). First pitch is at 7:15 p.m. PDT.