Pit a visiting team with a road record of 23-18 against a host that’s 24-13 at home. What do you get? A pitchers’ duel that goes to the wire.
In what came down to a game of inches in relief, the Giants (41-39) recaptured the lead that would deliver victory with a Gorkys Hernandez bases-loaded, eighth inning walk on Tony Watson‘s (W, 2-2, 1.73 ERA) watch to take the first of three against the Rockies (38-41) by a score of 3-2.
Derek Holland (ND, 5-7, 6-2/3 IP, 8 K, 4.24 ERA) tossed one of his best games of the season at AT&T Park Tuesday night, and Chad Bettis (ND, 5-1, 5.07 ERA) matched him, with each starter reaching the seventh inning allowing just one run on six hits before leaving it to their bullpens.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.
The Rockies scored their only run off Holland when Ian Desmond — tied for fourth in home runs in the National League — got Colorado on the board with a solo homer (16) in the second. But Hernández grabbed the run right back the next inning with a solo homer of his own (10).
Hernández isn’t busting into the top 10 of any league-wide power numbers, though he does have 10 more homers in the first three months of this season than he did in all of 2017. He’s also tripled his career number in home runs over those three months.
He insists that home runs are not a part of “his game”:
“It feels great [to be hitting home runs this year]. I mean last year I had nothing this year I have 10, but thats not my game. I try to hit the ball hard and see what happens —if the ball is gone, it’s gone. I keep doing the same thing I do: working every day [to stay] in the lineup every day. It feels great to see that kind of power in myself, but I try to be on base to score a run that’s what I’m looking for.”
But home runs are a part of his game now. Hernández is tied with Evan Longoria for the second-most on the team behind only Brandon Belt, who has 12.
He believes being in the lineup every day has helped his confidence and contributed to his dark horse success this season.
Manager Bruce Bochy, has delighted in seeing the center fielder’s blossoming success in 2018, and before Tuesday’s game he, too, mentioned that playing every day has probably helped.
He, for one, sees the possibility in Hernández:
“He’s got power, you can see it in batting practice. You knew he had more than what he showed last year and now he’s got some confidence going so once we started getting everyday duties I’m not surprised he’s hit a few home runs.”
Hernández admits that he did work on increasing his power in the offseason and in Spring Training, including working on strength training to gain some extra weight and working with hitting coach Alonzo Powell to integrate his hips and legs more into his swing.
“He just gives you good at bats you know, he’s shown power this year. We needed a bunt down [tonight] and he executed perfectly there, then played off some good pitches to get a walk [later in the game]. That’s what he’s been doing all year, that’s why he’s out there every day. He’s really made himself into a really good all-around player. He’s a threat up there he’s had a good eye at the plate.”
Holland too had nothing but effusive praise for Hernández:
“We’re gonna be talking about him for a while. He’s been doing outstanding this year he’s been a huge part of this team. …This guy has stepped up from the very beginning and continues to keep doing it each day. I can’t say enough about him. It’s just fun to watch what he’s doing. He’s a big part of this team and I love having him out there.”
Holland’s performance represented a season-high in innings pitched for him with 6-2/3, and he matched his season-high in strikeouts with eight.
Of his performance, he said:
“We’re getting closer and closer, we keep improving each time out there. That’s the key thing. I started off [the season], I felt, not as good as I should have, but I’ve continued to keep improving each time out there, and that’s what it really comes down to is keep working and everything is gonna come through.”
He pitched through trouble in the fifth and sixth but escaped each time without allowing a run. Carlos González led off the fifth with a line drive single to center before Tom Murphy dropped a bloop into almost the same spot for another single, moving González to third.
But Holland calmly struck out the next two batters on seven pitches and elicited a deep fly ball to left center from LeMahieu to get out of the inning unscathed.
Bochy glowed with praise for the veteran southpaw:
“He was outstanding. He was really good. [He] gave up the home run, but what was impressive is he got in some tight jams and he pitched out of it, kept his poise [and] made some great pitches. It’s probably his experience [that] he’s drawing on, but he’s been throwing the ball well [and] he’s been giving us some nice starts, quality starts.”
The sixth inning struggle began when Giant-killer Nolan Arenado drew a one-out walk and Trevor Story hit a ground ball to left field for a single, moving Arenado to second. But Holland struck out Desmond for the second time since his second-innning homer, and got González to ground to short to escape the jam.
Arenado is tied for the second-most RBI against the Giants among active players. In 95 games against the Giants he has 85 RBI compared with Adrián González, who also has 85 RBI but spread out over 178 games, and behind Matt Kemp who has 93 RBI in 188 games. But Tuesday the Giants hog-tied the Rockies three-time Silver Slugger with the National League-leading .997 OPS, handing him an 0-3, with the one walk.
Holland and Bettis left Tuesday night’s tilt under different circumstances. Holland put reliever Reyes Moronta in a better position to keep the Rockies off the board when he bequeathed Moronta with a man on second and two outs.
Moronta struck DJ LeMahieu out to end the inning. But Adam Ottavino took the mound in relief of Bettis with the bases loaded just one out and Andrew McCutchen due up. McCutchen was able to knock a sac fly to left-center that was almost too shallow to get the job done. But Austin Slater — in his first start since being called up Saturday — kicked into gear and employed a perfect slide to get in ahead of the tag and snap Ottavino’s streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
The Rockies fought back in the eighth with Mark Melancon (BS, 2.89 ERA) on the mound, tying it at 2-2. Melancon allowed a two-out single from Trevor Story, and a rocket to right that ricocheted off McCutchen’s glove as he dove to catch it. It would have been an incredible play if he’d managed to snare it, but as it was, Desmond took responsibility for yet another Rockies run on a double.
Desmond is inexplicably batting .367 against the Giants in eight games this year while managing a paltry .198 against the rest of the league.
Watson came in to get the Giants out of the inning without further damage, and they were back to square one going into the home-half of the eighth.
With Ottavino still on the mound the Giants went back into attack mode, managing to load the bases again on a Brandon Crawford single, and two walks, one intentional, to bring up Hernández. The opportunity was not wasted, and Hernández drew a third walk to get San Francisco back ahead.
Things got dicey in the ninth when Murphy led off against new Giants closer Sam Dyson (S 3, 2.95 ERA) with a popup to shallow center that bounced off Hernández’s glove as he tried to make the tough play. The middle infielders had run toward him to back up the play, so when the ball unexpectedly rolled back into the middle infield, there was no one there, allowing Murphy to take second.
Dyson then walked Chris Iannetta and what remained of the 36,070 at the yard were getting antsy. Dyson found a way, though, inducing a ground ball to Joe Panik who, despite bobbling the ball, regained control and flicked it to Crawford at second.
Colorado requested a replay to review the play at first as Belt fell off the bag after taking the throw. But New York ruled he stayed on the bag long enough to record the final out.
The one run turned out to be enough.
The Giants will try to build upon Madison Bumgarner‘s stellar start last week against the Padres in game two of three Wednesday. The start against San Diego was his fourth after coming back from a fractured left pinkie knuckle, and he threw eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out eight. Bumgarner will face lefty Kyle Freeland (7-6, 3.55 ERA) who has claimed victory over the Giants both times he’s faced them this season.
Jeff Samardzija (right shoulder tightness) threw his third rehab game with the River Cats Tuesday night, this one in Albuquerque against Rockies Triple-A affiliate the Isotopes. He threw 88 pitches over four innings allowing six runs on seven hits and two homers with six strikeouts and two walks. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, with this third rehab appearance complete Samardzija is expected to rejoin the rotation, but the Giants have yet to announce whose spot he will be taking in the starting rotation or how they plan to adjust the roster to make room for him.… Johnny Cueto (right elbow inflammation) is scheduled to pitch in Sacramento on Friday and the Giants plan to extend his pitch count to 70 for this, his second rehab start. He is expected to make at least one more rehab appearance after this one before returning to the Giants rotation and forcing yet another tough decision for the Giants front office….With Tuesday’s win the Giants will finish June with a winning record ,the first month they’ve done so in two years.
Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.