KANSAS CITY – Giants manager Bruce Bochy used five pitchers in the sixth inning Wednesday night, and if you think any good can come from that, you must sell TV airtime for a living.
You know those coal fires that have been perpetually burning in the Pennsylvania hills for decades? That’s pretty much what happened in the Giants’ 7-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 2 of the World Series.
The Giants lost control of a 2-2 game, as well as a chance to take a commanding edge, and it wasn’t just a fastball or two that got away from them. Rookie Hunter Strickland totally lost his composure after getting hit hard again, Tim Lincecum’s long-awaited postseason debut ended with an injury and Giants manager Bruce Bochy was left to contemplate several decisions that backfired as the Royals split these first two games at Kauffman Stadium.
Did Bochy stick with Jake Peavy too long, asking a pitcher with flat stuff at the outset to face the Royals’ middle of the order a third time to start the sixth? Did he rue leaving in left fielder Travis Ishikawa – a first baseman out of position who didn’t have a strong arm and once threw to the wrong base -- because he was leading off the seventh?
And did he get fooled into a false sense of security after Strickland threw a scoreless inning a night earlier? The rookie faced two batters in the five-run sixth, giving up a two-run double to Salvador Perez and a homer to Omar Infante – his fifth allowed this postseason – as the game, and cooler heads, slipped away.
Strickland shouted at Perez even though it didn’t appear he was provoked, and benches partially cleared before order was restored.
There were other missteps too, including Brandon Belt getting thrown out on the basepaths. But there’s little to be gained from dissecting a corpse after a 10-story fall. The Giants are headed home for Game 3, and they hope there’s nowhere to go but up from here.
Starting pitching report
Peavy threw two side sessions since his rocky start in the NLCS and claimed he ironed out a mechanical flaw, but his stuff was flat and he spent the first two innings either backed against the ropes or in the corner.
Lorenzo Cain doubled and scored on Billy Butler’s two-out single through the left side, and the Giants were fortunate to give up just the one run in the first inning. It would’ve been worse if Buster Posey hadn’t thrown out Alcides Escobar trying to steal (with second baseman Joe Panik making a fine pick of a throw in the dirt). And it could’ve been a lot worse after Ishikawa made a big mistake, throwing home after collecting Butler’s single when he had no chance on Cain at the plate. He had a sterling shot at Eric Hosmer at third base, which would’ve ended the inning. As it happened, the mistake did not cost the Giants any more runs and it only taxed Peavy for one extra pitch, resulting in a foul fly from Alex Gordon.
The Royals took a 2-1 lead in the second inning when Infante and Escobar doubled in a three-batter span.
Peavy never found the late spin and fade on his two-seamer, but he located well enough to retire 10 consecutive batters, nine on contact outs, to enter the sixth inning. Bochy stuck with Peavy even though he was due to face the Royals’ 3-4-5 batters for a third time. The move did not work, as Cain singled and Hosmer drew a walk after Peavy fell behind 3-0.
Peavy’s night was over after 66 pitches. The inning was just getting started.
So, about those five pitchers in the sixth inning …
First it was Jean Machi against Butler, the bearded DH affectionately called “Country Breakfast,” and he made it a double helping of RBI biscuits with a single to left field. Ishikawa charged the ball and came up throwing, and not very well, as Cain scored the tiebreaking run easily. Perhaps Juan Perez would’ve had a shot, but Ishikawa was due up first in the seventh and Bochy hadn’t made a defensive switch in a tie game.
Javier Lopez entered and got Gordon to fly out, then Bochy went back to Strickland – who had restored confidence, it would seem, with his scoreless ninth a night earlier -- to face a pair of right-handed batters.
Strickland threw a wild, 55-foot curve in the dirt to advance both runners, then on a 1-2 count, his 97 mph fastball wasn’t far enough outside to get past Perez’s long arms. The talented young catcher extended them and rocked a two-run double that split the outfielders in left-center. With Strickland perhaps devolving into throw-it-through-the-barn-door mode, he threw straight 98 to Infante and then yelled into his glove as he watched the ball bounce in the Royals bullpen for the fifth homer he’s allowed this postseason.
Perez did not appear to be anything other than understandably happy as he waited to greet Infante, but Strickland gave him an enraged stare. When Perez gestured toward his eyes, the universal sign for “stop looking at me,” Strickland began yelling and making challenging gestures. The Royals bench partially cleared as umpire Eric Cooper rushed in front of Perez, then after Bochy took the baseball, Cooper, in an abundance of caution, escorted Strickland back to the dugout.
Jeremy Affeldt became the fifth pitcher in the inning, and ended it on a double-play grounder. By that time, there was no minimizing the damage.
The Giants bullpen hadn’t been scored upon since Sergio Romo gave up Kolten Wong’s walk-off home run in Game 2 of the NLCS at St. Louis. That run ended in a smoking heap.
Lincecum finally made his 2014 postseason debut in the seventh and needed just eight pitches to record three outs, including a changeup that struck out Hosmer. Lincecum retired the first two batters in the eighth, too. But just when Bochy might have considered moving Lincecum past Strickland and Machi into a prominent role for the rest of the series, that option limped off the mound.
Lincecum threw a 1-2 pitch to Perez and grimaced with an apparent groin or leg injury. He was escorted off the mound by head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and the Giants had to hand a mop to their closer, Santiago Casilla.
At the plate
The Royals burned up long man Danny Duffy in Game 1, so they needed length and effectiveness from rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura. An eight-pitch at-bat from Gregor Blanco, culminating in a home run, was not the beginning they envisioned.
Blanco saw eight consecutive fastballs, all between 95 and 98 mph, and barreled up the last one for his third leadoff home run this season and the 19th in World Series history.
Boston’s Dustin Pedroia was the last player to hit a leadoff homer, in 2007, although that came in the bottom of the first inning. Johnny Damon was the last to hit a true game-starting home run, in 2004. And as ESPN’s Jayson Stark noodled out, Blanco joined Lenny Dykstra (1986), Pete Rose (1972) and Lou Brock (1968) – quite a list of names -- as the only NL players to lead off the top of the first inning with a home run in a World Series game.
Blanco’s home run, while important, hardly served as the rock to start an avalanche. Ventura featured the hardest average fastball in the major leagues, according to PITCH/fx, and he coupled the heat with an almost unfair curveball to strike out Buster Posey amid a 20-pitch first inning.
Either due to a scouting tip or their own talent, the Giants were able to pick up the curveball and restrain themselves from chasing it while hunting fastballs. Pablo Sandoval doubled to start the fourth inning when his drive to the wall in dead center glanced off Lorenzo Cain’s talented glove. Brandon Belt followed by taking advantage of a 1-1 changeup over the plate, lining it to right field. Norichika Aoki slipped while trying to field it, and Belt slid safely with a double to tie the game at 2-2.
Aoki made one more defensive lapse in the inning, but that only led to an even bigger mistake by the visitors. Aoki threw a knuckler after catching a fly out, and Belt, who had bluffed trying to tag up, made a quick break for third base. It was just enough of an opening for Ventura to collect the carom and to throw him out at second base.
Ventura departed after giving up singles to two of the first three batters in the sixth. But how many teams can replace the starting pitcher who had the hardest average fastball in the majors with a reliever who’s blowing 101 mph nitroglycerin. Kelvin Herrera got Belt to fly out and Morse, after sawing off one of his bats, to hit a topspin ground out to short that nearly took out Escobar.
The Giant spent the rest of the game facing the Royals’ other frontline relievers, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, and contemplating the value of scoring early.
The Royals had Ishikawa’s arm properly evaluated on the scouting reports.
The Royals announced 40,446 paid, including Marlins Man.
The Giants and Royals transition to AT&T Park for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday. Tim Hudson (0-0, 3.29) will make his first start in the Fall Classic, opposing Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (0-0, 1.80). First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. PDT.