Like barbecuing ribs and sizzling onions on a summer day, the aroma of a late inning loss was in the air.
Santiago Casilla took the mound with one out, one on in the ninth inning. The crowd greeted him with an uncharacteristically robust round of boos, the kind of greeting usually reserved for someone Chase Utley.
But the crowd knew what was coming. They’d seen enough one-run leads turned to miserable mulch, and Saturday night they got to see one more. Casilla walked Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk tied the game with a dribbly ground ball past the typically unconquerable Brandon Crawford. The boos got louder.
In any other inning Saturday night, it would have been a double play. But the ninth inning is cursed, said Bochy:
“We were a few outs away from winning a ball game. … that’s been our issue.”
Casilla left the game tied up, but Kolten Wong‘s sac fly against Matt Reynolds gave the Cardinals a 3-2 come back win over the Giants. The collapse was complete, and the Giants notched a franchise-high 28th blown saves.
Casilla owns nine of them this season, and is the league leader.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.
Why, Bruce Bochy, would you entrust your quasi closer to close out a one-run game in the ninth inning?
“We huddled up and said ‘if it gets to Molina’… he’s had success against Romo.”
The fans wanted Romo to stay. He’d given up a single and notched one out already. But Molina holds a career .500 average against Romo and was hitting .200 against Casilla.
The numbers added up, but this time it spelled disaster. Casilla got the catcher to 3-2, but couldn’t finish, said Bochy:
“Walking him, that’s what hurt us.”
The Giants have a ninth inning problem, yes, but the lead was again much too fragile.
Crawford and the Giants’ infield helped Jeff Samardzija soar through a clean 6-2/3 innings, blemished only when Brandon Moss reached for a fastball in the first inning and sent it out of the park.
Samardzija kept the Cardinals honest otherwise. He drew soft contact all night and pumped his fastball up to 97 miles per hour on four big strikeouts, said Bochy:
“He got better as he went, he did a great job and gave us all we needed.”
The Cardinals managed just one run on five hits, Samardzija couldn’t take all the credit. The Giants’ were soaring through the first eight innings on defense, too, he noted:
“That’s part of the game plan. … If it happens to go to Crawford, then it was a good day.”
Crawford and the Giants turned three rally-stopping double plays, smothering the Cardinal’s scrappy attempts to reach base. They were in their element, playing it close and holding the line.
The Cardinals looked almost befuddled by Crawford’s effortless defense at one point; Kolten Wong drew a walk and reached third on a pair of productive outs and Aledmys Diaz sent a sharp ground ball up the middle. Crawford snatched it up into his glove and, in one motion, threw Diaz out at first to end the threat.
An RBI double from Brandon Belt and sac fly from Samardzija himself should have been enough to work with, given the defensive effort. They needed more.
Base-running bloopers in previous innings proved to be costlier than they seemed at the time. Eduardo Nuñez tried to extend a scoring rally after reaching on a fielding error, but Denard Span‘s line drive couldn’t break beyond Matt Adams at first and Nuñez was doubled off.
Nuñez started the fifth inning with a single and stole second, but got caught up on an attempted steal when Span sent a line drive that, this time, landed for a single.
Those opportunities to add on were far and few between against former Giant Mike Leake, anyway, who dealt six innings and gave up the mere two runs. He had the loss in hand until Casilla robbed it.
Bochy made no declarative decisions about Casilla’s future as the closer, and the Giants could hit the season’s home stretch with a full-blown closing committee. He played the matchup game today, Bochy’s strength.
This one just didn’t work out.
The Giants lost ground in the NL West, falling five behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Wild Card with a Mets walk-off win earlier in the evening.
They’ll get another chance at the series win Sunday afternoon.
Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.