San Francisco baseball fans were treated to a pitcher’s duel Sunday as Ty Blach went toe-to-toe with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in a re-match of a 1-0 Giants Opening Day win in southern California last Thursday.
After Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts‘ decision to pull Kershaw with a 1-0 lead just 7 innings and 92 pitches into his Sunday afternoon, the Giants (4-4) tied it up, forcing extra innings for a second-straight day. Los Angeles (3-6) cut this one short, however, winning 2-1 in a 10-inning contest brought to a close with a questionable called strike three on pinch-hitter Brandon Belt.
Blach (ND, 1-1, 4.11 ERA) lasted six innings giving up just four hits and one run. That one run came in the fourth when Yasiel Puig opened the inning hacking and lined the first pitch he saw to center for a single. Kiké Hernández then drew a walk but Blach got Yasmani Grandal to strike out.
Of his starter’s performance Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said:
“Once again, he just gives us a great chance to win the ballgame. … [He pitched] six solid innings and held ’em to one run. He’s doing a nice job filling in for Madison [Bumgarner.]“
Matt Kemp, newly returned to the Dodger blue, followed by knocking an RBI single to right to plate Puig. Blach quickly doused the rally, though, inducing a Logan Forsythe double play to end the inning.
Kershaw (ND, 0-2, 1.89 ERA) flashed his trademark dominance Sunday, striking out six Giants over the course of seven innings, allowing six hits and just one run. But he was also the beneficiary of some stellar defense. Chris Taylor robbed Kelby Tomlinson of extra bases on a ball tattooed to center field in the third, and Kemp snared balls smoked to left by Pablo Sandoval in the second and Andrew McCutchen in the seventh.
In the eighth inning, Roberts, embarking on his third year managing the Dodgers, removed Kershaw. The Cy Young and MVP winning lefty gave up a line drive single to Hunter Pence, which Tomlinson, who was in at shortstop Sunday to give Brandon Crawford the day off, followed with a bunt single. When Bochy sent Buster Posey up to the plate in place of reliever Josh Osich, Roberts pulled the trigger and removed Kershaw.
Posey instead faced Dodger’s reliever JT Chargois and promptly rocketed a single into right field to score Pence and tie the ballgame. The Giants were unable to take further advantage of the inning despite having two men on and no outs, though. Austin Jackson grounded into a double play and Joe Panik flied out to left.
Hunter Strickland kept the Dodgers scoreless through the ninth and Los Angeles reliever Josh Fields (W, 1-0, 0.00 ERA) matched the frame, so for the second day in a row the rival teams entered into extra innings.
Rookie Giants reliever Pierce Johnson (L, 0-1 1.50 ERA) came in to pitch the tenth inning, also for the second day in a row, and while Saturday’s tenth went 1-2-3 for him, Sunday was a different story.
Cody Bellinger, who was reported to be among three Dodgers suffering the effects of food poisoning, entered into the game at first base in the eighth inning but had his first at-bat to open the tenth against Johnson. The 2017 NL Rookie of the Year, apparently feeling better, launched a 92-mph fastball down the left field line for a double.
Johnson induced Taylor to line out to Panik, then intentionally walked Corey Seager to get to Puig who flied out. With two outs Johnson almost made it out of the inning with the tie in tact, but he instead gave up a line drive double to right field to rookie catcher Kyle Farmer, which scored Bellinger making the score 2-1.
After Johnson struck the next batter out to get off the field, it seemed possible that Sunday could echo Saturday’s extra innings game, in which Roberto Gòmez gave up one run in the top of the 14th inning to give the Dodgers the lead, only for the Giants to return with a vengeance in their half of the inning to take the walk-off win on the back of an Andrew McCutchen three-run bomb.
The Dodgers put in Kenley Jansen (S, 1, 9.00 ERA), who has struggled in his four appearances this season giving up five hits, four earned runs and two home runs, and the stage was set for a dramatic finish. Jansen struck out Pablo Sandoval to open the inning. He allowed a Pence single to follow, but then struck out Brandon Crawford as well.
During Crawford’s at-bat, Pence stole second base, and it looked like the Dodgers might be in trouble. Brandon Belt came off the bench to bat for Johnson and after working the count to 2-2, Belt took a pitch that according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s pitch zone was above the strike zone, but home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman disagreed. It was called strike three, giving Jansen his first save of the year, and the ballgame was over.
Belt is known for having an exceptional grasp of the strike zone, and he said this of his brief conversation with Dreckman after the botched call:
“I said [to Dreckman], ‘It wasn’t close.’ He said, ‘It was close.’ [But] even if it was close — close is not a strike. It’s just close.”
As the subject of the deep divide in Giants fandom known as the “Belt Wars,” Belt knows his decision not to swing at the “close” 2-2 pitch will be picked apart, but he stands by it.
“A ball is a ball. I’m not gonna swing at a ball right there. Everyone is gonna be a lot more mad that I swung at a ball and missed it so, it just is what it is.”
Bochy sided with his first baseman, agreeing that the pitch was definitely out of the zone, but he had a more philosophical, and very month-of-April take on the call:
“That’s the way the game goes some times. The call goes against you, the ball doesn’t bounce your way, [but] that certainly was not a strike.”
The Arizona Diamondbacks come to San Francisco for Monday’s 7:15 p.m. game. Starting pitching probabales are Derek Holland (0-1 5.40 ERA) and Zack Godley (1-0, 1.29 ERA).
In the fourth inning while taking practice swings in the on-deck circle during Grandal’s at-bat, Kemp attempted to toss a Grandal foul ball to fans through the AT&T Park’s newly installed protective net not once, not twice but three times. Each time the ball lithely bounced back at him, but each time he persevered. If a major league starting left fielder can’t tell there’s a net there even after repeated negative feedback, it’s safe to say field level fans are not visually impeded by the new protective measures this season. … Evan Longoria, who has struggled so far in 2018, quietly hit 2-4 Sunday with two doubles which makes him 4-29 on the season (.138).