SAN FRANCISCO — Of all the ways for Nolan Arenado to come up short of a cycle on Sunday, missing the homer might have had the longest odds. In addition to being the National League leader in home runs, Arenado is now the game’s preeminent Giants-killer thanks to a stunning run of homers and big hits when the two teams play.
Move over, Paul Goldschmidt. Wait your turn, Enrique Hernandez. Nobody mashes Giants pitching these days like Arenado, who has 12 homers against the orange and black the past two seasons but needed a 13th to get the quirky milestone. Arenado settled for an RBI triple and a single that set up Colorado’s second run in a 2-0 win at AT&T Park.
A day after the two teams played scoreless ball into extra innings, Arenado made sure Jeff Samardzija’s strong start went to waste. Samardzija gave up two earned in 7 2/3, throwing 123 pitches.
The final one was a 95 mph fastball that Arenado hit for a double, giving him six hits in 15 at-bats in a weekend series that was split. He drove in four runs and has 14 RBI against the Giants this season in seven games. The Giants have four players with 14 RBI, period.
All this comes a year after Arenado hit 10 homers, drove in 24 runs and posted a 1.230 OPS against the Giants.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Arenado, Rockies shut out Samardzija, Giants]
So ... what exactly does Nolan Arenado have against the Giants?
“I don’t know what it is,” he said, shrugging and laughing. “They’re a good team. I feel good coming here, and I enjoy coming here and playing here. Whenever you play the Giants you know there’s going to be a game with a lot of drama. I respect them for their competitiveness, and I definitely respect their pitching.”
Maybe that gets to the heart of this. Arenado is a passionate player and one of the best in baseball, but with the Rockies he rarely gets to play in big games. Against the Giants, the division’s dynasty, Arenado brings his best. He is trying desperately to turn it around in Colorado, and there are positive signs for a team that wasn’t expected to contend. The Rockies have taken four of seven from the Giants this season and they’re a game back of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the co-leaders in the West.
“They’ve got a good team, and it’s nice to know we can compete with them,” Arenado said of the Giants.
To be around all year the Rockies will need better pitching, and they got back-to-back strong starts from young right-handers Jon Gray and Eddie Butler. The latter pitched six shutout innings Sunday, getting the win when the Giants couldn’t rally.
Mac Williamson had a chance to cut the lead in the seventh but he struck out for the third time, stranding his fourth runner of the day.
“He had a rough day,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I’m sure he’s pressing. He’s trying to help the team out.”
Buster Posey came up with two on in the eighth but popped up to right. Posey is hitless in his last 13 at-bats and is 5-for-31 this season with runners in scoring position.
“I think it’s fair to say the last few games he’s been out of sync,” Bochy said. “He was hot there and he’s just not seeing the ball as well. On days like this you need a timely hit and we couldn’t get it.”
The final two outs came on a double play in the ninth from Brandon Crawford, a decent bet to start next to Arenado in the All-Star Game this summer. That clinched a tough loss for Samardzija, who tied Madison Bumgarner for the most pitches thrown by a Giants starter since Tim Lincecum’s 148-pitch no-hitter in 2013.
“He’s tough, he’s really tough,” Arenado said. “He has a lot of movement and he’s a competitor. To come back out there for the eighth with (that many) pitches, he’s a horse.”
The admiration between the two is mutual. Samardzija said he loves facing Colorado’s “tough lineup,” and noted that Arenado stands up on the plate and can hit any type of pitch you throw at him.
“He’s a tough hitter, man,” Samardzija said. “Take your pick with what you want to do.”
He has seemingly hit all types the last two years, repeatedly bashing a franchise that knows the Arenado family well. The Giants took Jonah Arenado, a 21-year-old infielder, in the 2013 draft. He’s currently playing for the San Jose Giants, and Nolan said coaches occasionally give Jonah grief for the damage big brother is doing at AT&T Park.
The younger Arenado surely would have heard about it had his brother hit for the cycle at AT&T Park. Instead, the NL home run leader came up a bomb short.
“I guess it’s a little weird, but that’s okay,” Arenado said.
With the way Arenado hits here, it might not be long before he gets another shot at it.