OAKLAND – The Giants wore camouflage hats on Monday, which seemed fitting enough.
They blended so well into the background, managing just four quiet singles in a 4-1 loss to the A’s, that you had to squint to realize they were actually there.
The Giants did show up, though. You could ask plate umpire Mark Carlson, who definitely heard Madison Bumgarner complain about the last pitch he threw to Chris Young, or Brandon Belt, who stood and ranted after taking a called third strike that ended the game.
“The tying run was on deck,” said Belt, who is normally the easygoing sort. “I want to move the line along with a hit or a walk. I thought the last pitch was off the plate. The umpire disagreed with me. So … it’s over.”
Arguing balls and strikes is kind of like looking at a plaster wall in an old house. You know the cracks are there. You can always complain about them. You paint over them knowing they’ll come back. So instead, you hang some artwork, grandma’s macramé, maybe an inspirational poster, a cork board …
Point is, you only complain about the cracks when there’s nothing else to look at.
Well, there wasn’t much to watch for the orange-shirted fans that dotted the Coliseum Monday afternoon.
So instead, maybe it’s best to pull back the lens a bit.
As mentioned in the Instant Replay, even though Giants only had to bus over from San Francisco, this was the first road game in a chunk of the schedule when they’ll play 14 of 18 away from AT&T Park.
The Giants were a road machine last year, especially in the second half. They scored the most runs on the road in the NL, and second most in the majors behind the Angels. They jumped on a plane in the NLDS, needing to sweep three games in Cincinnati to advance – against a Reds team that hadn’t lost three in a row at home all season.
They did it.
Yet this same club is just 9-14 on the road thus far in 2013.
Why do you suppose that is, Brandon Crawford?
“Surprisingly, we’ve been scoring more at home,” Crawford said. “We just haven’t been doing it on the road.”
Ah, but they have. Through Monday, the Giants are averaging more runs on the road (4.59) than they are at home (4.54).
So what’s the real reason?
“More than anything it’s how we pitched,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Sure, guys hit well on the road (last year), but we played fundamentally well. That’s what it’s going to take. You’ll need runs, and that’s always the case, and today we couldn’t get them. But it was how we pitched.”
Ding-ding-ding. Give the manager a goldfish in a plastic baggie.
We know the Giants pitch well at home. They had a 3.09 ERA at AT&T Park last year and they’re sporting a 3.25 home ERA – eighth best in the majors – thus far this season.
On the road? Their ERA stands at 5.06 away from AT&T Park -- the third highest road ERA in the major leagues, behind only the Mariners and Mets.
The Giants simply have to PITCH better on the road.
Monday’s game was not the greatest evidence of that, since the Giants only had the four singles against Dan Straily and Co., and Madison Bumgarner walked off the mound in the seventh inning with the Giants trailing 2-1.
But all those short outings from starting pitchers might be having a cumulative effect on George Kontos, who allowed his two inherited runners to score. He had stranded 13 of 17 prior to that.
Bochy said Kontos hung a breaking ball at the wrong time to Yoenis Cespedes for a two-run double. The manager acknowledged middle relief is becoming a greater concern.
“We need help in that area,” Bochy said. “We can’t keep using the same guys.”
On the road, especially, the bullpen becomes so important. You don’t have the luxury of bringing your closer into a tie game in the ninth inning, for example. At home, your last at-bat is something of a freeroll in a tie game. On the road, you’re pulling out all the stops and playing for your lives.
Keeping the bullpen fresh is so important on the road – and it’s up to the starters to pitch better and deeper to allow that to happen.
So the Giants now turn to Mike Kickham, a 24-year-old left-hander.
This is not a revolutionary notion – a prospect from Triple-A coming up when the big league rotation has a need. It happens every day.
But it seems like a bigger deal around these parts because the Giants have enjoyed such extreme stability and durability from their starting pitchers. The same five guys – Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito – have started 211 of the Giants’ last 213 games.
There is nothing prettier to look upon than a quality start day after day after day. But this year, some of the corners are peeling and some of the paintings have fallen down.
The Giants’ cracks are showing. It’s not too late to fix them.
Not a lot left over for an Extra Baggs file after this game, so I’ll stick a couple notes here:
Bumgarner is eight months younger than Kickham. But he’s also made 95 more regular-season starts. What would his advice be?
“Just slow down,” Bumgarner said. “That’s what I remember. It seemed I was out of the game before I even knew what happened. Everything was going too fast.”
I asked Bumgarner what the key has been for holding opposing runners. They stole 27 bases last year – the most allowed by any left-handed pitcher in baseball.
This year, they’re 3 for 5 and he’s got a pair of pickoffs.
Bumgarner said he was loathe to use a slide step in the past, but he found one that he likes without compromising his pitch quality. He’s going to it more often, being more conscious about varying his times to the plate, and obviously, throwing over when he thinks he can catch a runner napping.
“Last year, those were WAY too many stolen bases,” he said. “I had to do something about that.”
If Monday's Bay Bridge series opener wasn't to your liking, just remember: You could be watching the Freeway Series down in Southern California. That was supposed to be a World Series preview in the eyes of some. Now it's a derby to see whose manager will get axed first.
After the game, right-hander Sandy Rosario was optioned back to Triple-A Fresno to make room for Kickham on the active roster. The club will purchase Kickham’s contract from Fresno on Tuesday. They’ll create a space on the 40-man roster by transferring left-hander Eric Surkamp from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.
Much respect to A's fans for drowning the ballpark in boos for Buster Posey's final at-bat. That's what you do to the opposing team's best hitter. Well done. Way to claim your territory.