Saturday afternoon, the ballpark by the bay felt a lot like Dodgers Stadium north.
Left-center field was a concentrated sea of blue, and the rest of the stands were only marginally less concentrated with rival fans. Chants of “Let’s go Dodgers” often drowned out hometown fans’ “Beat LA” mantra.
But in the penultimate game of the season, the Giants (73-88) made a game of it for the first time in a while, after going 5-19 coming into Saturday’s matinee.
They played a spirited game of ping-pong with the lead against the Dodgers (90-71) through the first eight innings, but things completely fell apart with two outs in the ninth, and the 6-5 deficit left by Mark Melancon (L, 1-4, 3.23 ERA) after the eighth turned into a 10-6 laugher by the time all was said and done.
In his final outing of the season, Dereck Rodríguez (ND, 6-4, 2.81 ERA) was not at his sharpest. He said:
“I think it was just one of those days, I just didn’t have my stuff. I was just out there grinding it out, battling and they got the better of me, so hats off to them, they can swing it.”
This is the first time in Rodríguez’s pro career that he’s pitched into September, and for his second-straight outing, the extended season looks like it may have caught up with him.
Manager Bruce Bochy, however, doesn’t think fatigue played a part in his last two outings, including a start in St. Louis in which he allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings:
“He’s human, I mean Kershaw gave up five today. He was just a little bit off today, didn’t have his good command and thats a tough lineup when you don’t have your best stuff and command going.”
Rodríguez lasted just three innings Saturday, matching a season-high five runs allowed on seven hits, including another season-high two homers.
As Bochy noted, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (ND, 9-5, 2.73 ERA) certainly wasn’t at his finest, either. Through five innings he allowed five runs — the most he’s allowed all season, and the most he’s ever allowed to the Giants in his career — on eight hits and was pulled after just 79 pitches.
Both teams got offense going early. Los Angeles got on the board immediately on a Joc Pederson rainbow over the wall at Levi’s Landing on an up-and-in, 93-mph fastball for his 11th-career lead-off bomb and the eighth of the season, a Dodgers franchise record. Then, Giants arch-nemesis Yasiel Puig led off the second with a solo shot of his own to put the Dodgers ahead 2-0.
But the change for the Giants Saturday was that they mustered some offense, and most fundamentally, they hit with runners in scoring position, which Bochy said he was very proud of. Coming into Saturday’s game they had four hits in their last 29 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but Saturday they went 3-for-4. Bochy said:
“The guys did a terrific job. We really had some nice at-bats, put some runs on the board and made a couple nice comebacks.”
San Francisco’s first successful at-bat with a runner in scoring position came in the home half of the second when Gorkys Hernández lined a two-out single to left field to plate Brandon Crawford from second. They added on two more in the third when, with runners on second and third, Joe Panik managed another clutch hit, knocking a two-run single to left to give San Francisco a 3-2 lead.
It wouldn’t hold, though, as things fell apart in the fourth. Rodríguez gave up a free pass to Puig to leadoff the inning, a single to Yasmani Grandal, and a two-bagger to Kiké Hernandez, tying it up and prompting Bochy to hook him for Ty Blach at just 69 pitches.
Facing Kershaw, Blach allowed a two-run single to right to give the Dodgers a 5-3 lead, setting Rodríguez up for what seemed like certain loss, based on the Giants recent offensive production, or lack thereof.
But the very next inning the Giants did Rodríguez a favor, tying it up on a Pence double that scored Abiatal Avelino and a Panik sac fly to spare him an additional loss on his record.
“[It was a] hard fought game. The boys really battled hard [and had some] nice comebacks. We haven’t probably [ever] scored that many runs off [Kershaw]…we were determined to try to win a ballgame and it just got away from us late there.”
With that, Rodríguez ends his rookie campaign with an ERA of 2.81, the lowest by a Giants rookie with a minimum of 100 innings pitched since Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm of the New York Giants in 1952 finished with a 2.43 ERA. And Rodríguez said that despite his subpar final two starts, he’s quite proud of the work he’s done this year:
“I really thought I was just gonna be up here for a couple outings out of the bullpen and stuff like that, and I did my thing and changed a lot of people’s mind, so I’m super happy. Now we’re here—[my] last outing of the year, [and] I’m just really happy with the way I threw the ball this year. Everything that I did during the offseason paid off.”
Bochy agreed that Rodríguez’s inaugural season has been an unmitigated success:
“This [game] isn’t one he should think about, he should look at the body of work that he’s done [this season]. I’m sure he’s disappointed that his last start went like this, but this guy’s done an unbelievable job. I mean what a nice year.”
Despite some dramatics, the score remained tied for a couple more innings until Melancon allowed an eighth inning leadoff single to Chris Taylor and a two-out triple off the wall in right field to Manny Machado to give the Dodgers the 6-5 lead.
“I’m sure Mark would tell you he wish he had that pitch back. It got away from him and it looked like it just caught the heart of the plate. He was ahead in the count there and he had some pitches to work with there with the base open, he just made a mistake.”
Nevertheless, Bochy pointed out that it wasn’t insurmountable until Will Smith gave up three straight two-out singles, followed by an intentional walk and a double, making it 9-5:
“Both innings it was the two-out rally that killed us. You keep it one run and we got pressure on them and anything can happen. It’s just tough to lose when you’re tied late in the game.”
Each team would scratch one more across, but it was about as irrelevant as the 2018 Giants season.
Alex Wood (W, 9-7, 3.68 ERA) took the win, and with it, the Dodgers clinched their first series win at AT&T Park since 2015 and, oh yeah, a 2018 playoff berth.
Andy Suárez (7-12, 4.22 ERA) will toe the rubber against Dodgers righty Walker Buehler (7-5, 2.76 ERA) in the season finale as the Giants hold onto hope that even as the champagne soaks into the upholstery of the visiting clubhouse, they can block Los Angeles from winning the West for the first time in five years as the Dodgers continue to trail Colorado by one game.
“You got teams [in September] that are battling — every game that they go out there makes a difference — and watching it it makes me wanna be part of that. Next year [I want to] come in strong and hopefully we make a playoff push and we’ll be celebrating, instead of them.”
Austin Slater left Friday’s game in the fifth inning with a strained right elbow after a throw to the plate from left field. Saturday he underwent an MRI and was examined by team doctors. According to Bochy, Slater is done for 2018 with what he called an elbow strain with a mild sprain. …The Giants designated goofball, Derek Holland, was seen wearing a leprechaun costume in San Francisco’s clubhouse Saturday morning after losing a bet to Jeff Samardzija earlier this month.
“So Michigan and Notre Dame — obviously the Fighting Irish — played [against each other] the first week of college football, which was maybe four weeks ago, and we had our own little side bet, just a friendly wager.”
Holland’s favorite team the Michigan Wolverines fell to Samardzija’s Alma Mater the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 24-17, on September 1.
Gesturing to his costume, Holland added:
“Michigan got beat and this is where we are.”