KANSAS CITY – It is not the worst feeling to have in a World Series, shining bus taillights on a hostile ballpark with a two-game split.
It’s the splitting headache the Giants could do without.
If their series-opening victory at Kauffman Stadium was defined by internal noise -- or “It was really loud in my head,” as Hunter Pence put it -- then their 7-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 2 Wednesday night was about the external racket that filled their tympanic membranes.
There was the bass and treble of 40,446 fans renewing their faith, even cheering a curtain call for an RBI single. There was the hiss and roar of Yordano Ventura’s upper 90s fastball, followed by the louder triple-digit backdraft from Kelvin Herrera.
[RELATED: Giants can't handle Herrera's heat]
Most notably, for the Giants, there was the noise in Hunter Strickland’s head that leaked out as if through a cheap hotel room wall. The rookie’s Byung-Hyun Kim postseason continued when he faced two batters in the Royals’ five-run sixth inning, allowed a two-run double and a two-run home run, then had a filter failure between his brain and mouth.
With his voice and his aggressive posturing, he challenged Salvador Perez. He later acknowledged his emotions got the better of him. Manager Bruce Bochy planned to talk to the rookie. So did veteran left-hander Jeremy Affeldt. This is not a team that loses its composure in October, even for those who rode Double-A sleeper buses in August.
The Royals punctured the Giants’ seven-game World Series winning streak, which dated to 2010 – the sixth longest in major league history.
Now the Giants must muffle the noise, and quickly, before Game 3 at AT&T Park on Friday. Bochy must rethink his bullpen selections, too, after Jean Machi provided a one-batter letdown while allowing the tiebreaking single in the sixth, Strickland had to be escorted back to his dugout by an umpire following his fifth home run allowed this postseason and Tim Lincecum, after retiring five consecutive batters to inflate hopes of another resurgence, limped off the mound with a lower back injury.
“We think he'll be fine,” Bochy said. “I'll know more tomorrow, but he just had to come out. I think it's his left side, and he felt it the pitch before. He tried to stay in there, and then the next pitch he just couldn't go anymore.”
Said Lincecum: “It was nice to get out there and compete a little bit. Outside of that, all I can think about is just hurting myself. … I tried to throw another pitch and it didn’t work out so good.”
At risk of a colossal understatement, neither did the sixth inning. Bochy stayed with Jake Peavy, a defensible move given that the emotional right-hander had retired 10 consecutive batters and averaged fewer than a dozen pitches per inning despite flat stuff and two early runs at the outset.
[RELATED: Bochy's decisions give Royals renewed hope]
Bochy trusted Peavy to face the middle of the Royals order for a third time.
“I mean, you’re going to take me out when I retired 10 straight?” Peavy said. “I’d be upset if he didn’t leave me in a tie game.”
Peavy did not retire either of the batters he faced. Lorenzo Cain, who seemingly holds battlefield high ground in every plate appearance this postseason, singled on a 1-1 slider that Peavy placed exactly where he desired. Then Eric Hosmer walked on a competitive miss.
“Buster (Posey) and I were in between pitches there, which is why I called him out,” Peavy said. “He laid off a breaking ball there. It should’ve been more of a strike.”
Two batters, two small fissures. Then the ground opened up: four relief pitchers, six batters, five runs, a tied game detonated and white noise filling this retrofitted Eichler of a ballpark.
Machi gave up the tiebreaking hit to Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler, who exited for a pinch runner and took his curtain call. Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman playing left field, could not artfully charge Butler’s ball and execute a good throw to the plate. It was not the first time Wednesday night that the Royals exploited his poor arm.
“Now it's a one‑run game, and the kid threw very well last night,” said Bochy, explaining how he turned to Strickland to face right-handed batters Perez and Omar Infante. “I like my matchups. … Those are the matchups that we were trying to get. It just didn't work out.”
When this postseason began, it was clear Strickland would be Bochy’s favorite new toy – a Super Soaker in a water gun fight – and the opposition wouldn’t know what hit them. Instead, the opposition keeps hitting back. And Strickland reached a saturation point.
He stared at Perez after his two-run double split the outfielders in left-center. After Infante’s home run, Perez waited at the plate to congratulate his teammate. Strickland stared some more.
“So I asked him like 'Hey, why you look at me?’” Perez said. “So he was telling me 'Get out of here, whatever.’ So I don't know. 'You don't have to treat me like that. Look at Omar. Omar hit a bomb. I didn't hit a bomb. I hit a double.’
“So I don't know what happened with that guy. But the last thing, we don't want to fight on the field. I'm not that kind of person, that kind of player. I just like to play hard, enjoy the game, and try to get a W for my team.”
Strickland stood at his locker after the game, took every question, and while he offered a somewhat flimsy excuse for a “miscommunication” sparking his reaction because Perez was speaking Spanish, in the end the rookie right-hander issued a mea culpa.
“My emotions got the better of me,” Strickland said. “He has pride. I have pride. You can’t take it back.
“To me, personally, it’s frustrating because I feel like I’ve let the team down. But it’s the World Series and you’ve got to have a short memory. I didn’t perform. I didn’t do my job. I’m frustrated with myself and my emotions got the best of me, and I’m not too proud of that.”
Said Bochy: “That's probably an area he's going to have to keep his poise. I mean, this kid came up from Double‑A, but he's a tough kid. He shows his emotions, but it's an area he probably has to work on because you're going to give up a home run occasionally. These are things we'll talk to him about.”
The coaching staff will have more to discuss than one hothead.
“I mean, we're going to need help in the 6th, 7th inning,” said Bochy, asked about Lincecum. “I like the way he threw the ball today. It's been a while since he pitched. But I thought overall he looked good for the long layoff. So he can be in the mix.
“Now I'll have to see how he's doing tomorrow and where we're at, but I was happy for him. He should feel good about how he threw the ball. He's going to be a guy that if he's healthy, we'll probably use in that area.”
The Giants left Kansas City with a bullpen full of burnt ends. Can they use Strickland in any meaningful situation again, especially after his home run disease spread to include a right-handed batter? Will Lincecum be healthy enough to graduate, as Bochy said he would, to a more meaningful role? What if Tim Hudson, 39 years old and pitching this deep into October for the first time, and Ryan Vogelsong, who is coming off a short start, cannot get much deeper than the middle innings? Can the Giants really compete in a bullpen game against the Royals, who follow Herrera with Wade Davis and Greg Holland?
“It's a huge luxury for me,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, whose bullpen has a 1.81 ERA this postseason and owns seven of the club’s nine victories. “After the sixth inning, my thinking is done. I don't have to mix and match.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants' bullpen rocked, Royals win Game 2]
At least there will be no biscuits and sausage gravy in the lineup for the next three games at AT&T Park, all of which will be necessary now. There isn’t a designated hitter, so Butler, a tough out, will stalk the bench. Instead, the pitcher’s spot will provide at least something more for Yost to consider when he arranges his relievers the next time the Royals take a lead. And the Giants, despite scoring just two runs, received a slew of competitive at-bats along with nine hits from nine different players against high-octane pitchers. It’s not as if Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, the Royals’ Game 3 and 4 starters, are Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
But after the way this 2-2 game in the sixth tumbled away, as straight downhill and out of control as rented skis on a black diamond run, there can be little doubt: The Royals bullpen is all check marks, the Giants bullpen studded with question marks.
They might find the answers in time. They did not have them Wednesday night. When your head hurts, how do you begin to think?