Sunday was supposed to be about a lot of things at AT&T Park: appreciation for Hunter Pence in his final appearance as a Giant after just over six seasons and two World Series victories in orange and black, Fan Appreciation Day and maybe even blocking the Dodgers from their sixth consecutive Division Title.
But all that crumbled to ashes amid the smoldering wreckage of a dismal season as the 21st sellout crowd of the year watched the wheels come off a pitching staff that was running on fumes. The end result was a 15-0 clobbering that Manager Bruce Bochy hopes will spur the team to do better in 2019.
Andy Suárez (L, 7-13, 4.49 ERA) lasted just 2-1/3 innings, and by the fifth inning four Giants pitchers had combined to throw 124 pitches and allow 14 runs, next to the 54-pitch shutout Rich Hill had going at that point.
One thing the Giants (73-89) could rely on this season was solid pitching. The offense could be counted on to do its best imitation of a wet blanket on a regular basis, but pitching pretty consistently kept the team in games. Coming into the season finale the Giants had the third best ERA since June 1 (3.51).
But Suárez just didn’t have his best stuff Sunday. Like yesterday’s starter and fellow-rookie, Dereck Rodríguez, he’s not used to pitching in September as the minor league season ends after August. And both had starts they’d rather forget to cap their season. Sunday Suárez allowed more than five runs for just the third time in 29 starts, allowing six on six hits and two walks.
Said Manager Bruce Bochy:
“I feel bad for Rodriguez and Suárez because I don’t want this to be the last taste they get going into the offseason. I’ll talked to both of ’em to make sure they realize how good of a job they did [this season].”
Suárez tossed more innings —160-1/3 — than any other rookie in 2018, and his 7-13 record belies the fact that he received an average of just 3.41 runs per start in 2018.
“[The high inning-count] is definitely something to be proud of. It just shows how much trust ‘Boch’ has in me to let me go deep in games.”
When the rookie was removed the score was 4-0 with runners at first and second and one out. After his departure Hunter Strickland and Chris Stratton would combine to allow eight more runs over just 1-2/3 innings, plus allowing two inherited runners to score.
Strickland immediately allowed three consecutive hits — a bases-clearing double to Matt Kemp, a single to Yasmani Grandal and a Brian Dozier home run (21), before finally recording an out. In just the third inning the Giants were down 9-0. After Strickland allowed another double he was hooked for Pierce Johnson who got out of the inning
Stratton’s fourth inning was marred by a walk, two singles, a double and a sac fly as the Dodgers tacked on three more, and before he could record an out in the fifth the Dodgers made it 14-0 on a two-run shot from Max Muncy.
Stratton may have just been out of gas after a grueling season, but Bochy thought Strickland could have been experiencing some ill effects from the fractured pinky knuckle he sustained earlier this season punching a door after a blown save.
“He never really got in synch when he came back. His delivery, his release you saw a couple times today how much he was missing his target and I don’t know if there was still some side effects from the hand. You’re throwing with a lot of velocity and there’s something there that he’s not seeing but it’s obvious he’s not the same.”
Meanwhile Rich Hill (W, 11-5, 3.66 ERA) tossed seven innings of two-hit dominance, striking out seven. The sleepy offense from the Giants was really more of an afterthought because that’s been standard operating procedure for most of the 161 other games the team has played. More noticeable were the two homers, five walks and 16 hits allowed by Giants pitchers.
But there was a bright spot Sunday afternoon by the Bay. The Giants gave Pence a sendoff worthy of the impactful player he’s been to the organization and the City.
“From the moment he put on orange and black we all could see how much this man truly loves the game and each and every one of the 772 games he played here, this man was full throttle.”
When it was time to take the field just after noon, his teammates stood clapping in front of the home dugout as the lanky man made the long jog out to right field on his own. He doffed his cap to fans who stood in admiration of the beloved Giant who’s been integral to so much of what the Giants have done since he came to San Francisco in 2012.
“I definitely didn’t expect a lot of the things that happened today. I didn’t expect to run out to the field alone and everyone kind of waiting for me, it was kind of crazy. … I’m glad I didn’t know because it made for a special moment and I feel very fortunate to get all of the love from everyone.”
When he came to bat in the bottom of the first he again doffed his cap, pointing at fans and touching his heart as the applause rang out at AT&T Park and fans waved signs that read #Gr8ful in a nod to his jersey No. 8.
Hill, Los Angeles catcher Yasmani Grandal and home plate umpire Todd Tichenor found other things to do in the background stepping aside as Pence took in the moment.
Though he went 0-4 with a golden sombrero (three strikeouts) he walked off the field Sunday with the adoration of a fanbase that will never forget what he helped bring to their City.
And after the game the Giants presented a brief ceremony in appreciation of Pence in which he and Bochy addressed fans. In typical Pence-form he spent more time taking about the resilience and future of the Giants team than himself during the moment the organization set aside for him.
“I’m definitely optimistic but these are some negative times. And there’s some great gifts in negativity. I love the scientific fact that it takes a positive ion and a negative ion to create a light. That light is on its way with the likes of the young Dereck Rodríguez, Andrew Suarez and Steven Duggar—who got hurt playing his heart out—these guys have been working their tails off and I promise you these guys are creating the next group of great Giants baseball.”
The Forever Giant was presented with an orange and black scooter, which he rode around the field as he bid adieu to a fanbase and a City that loves him so much.
And after the game he offered assurances that the has no plans to hang up his cleats any time soon. He expects to play winter ball and begin work on reinventing his swing again. Whether he ends up back in San Francisco or elsewhere he just hopes to contribute to another playoff run somewhere.
“I have the strength, my body’s healthy and I absolutely have the love and the joy for the game so I’m gonna try to [come back somewhere].”
With the Rockies Sunday victory over the Nats, the Dodgers and Rox will play a sudden death tiebreaker in LA Monday. … The Giants 15-0 loss in game 162 was the worst season finale deficit they’ve ever suffered. In second comes their 12-1 loss on October 3, 1996, to none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.