PHOENIX — Bruce Bochy’s head dropped into his right palm and he stared out at the mound with a familiar look on his face. He had seen this game before, many times over the second half of last season. He did not expect to see it on the first day of the Mark Melancon Era.
The Giants blew 32 saves last season and flamed out in the NLDS because of a leaky bullpen, but the group was overhauled. Melancon got four years and $62 million to fix the ninth. The eighth was handed over to promising youngsters.
The Giants believe in this group, and they believe they have the makings of a very good bullpen, but the first time out was the same flavor of disaster. Derek Law gave up the lead in the eighth. Melancon gave up four straight two-out hits in the ninth, blowing his first save opportunity with the Giants. The Giants lost 6-5 to the Diamondbacks, wasting a historic day from Madison Bumgarner and standout performances from Eduardo Nuñez and Joe Panik.
In a quiet clubhouse, Bochy said he’s not concerned about a group that’s lost this way before.
“They’re men in there,” he said. “You’ve seen how they’ve handled things. It’s one game and we’ve got 161 (left). If we start thinking about this too much, that compounds things. I don’t worry about Mark or anybody. They’re pros and part of that is being resilient.”
The 1-of-162 theme flowed throughout the clubhouse, and it’s completely true. Still, it was hard not to feel like the Giants let one hell of a kickoff party slip through their fingers. Bumgarner went seven strong and became the first pitcher in MLB history to hit two homers on Opening Day. After the second one, a blast to deep left, teammates simply stared at him in the dugout and laughed. An hour later, the Giants were trying to come to grips with a walk-off loss.
“In a way I think it’s my fault,” Law said. “I think if I get it to (Melancon) earlier, maybe it’s a different ending. I kind of feel like, how hitting is contagious, pitching is the same way. If I would have kept going the way Bumgarner was going, maybe it ends the way we want it.”
The Giants learned last season that, as little sense as it might make, blowing saves can feel contagious. Santiago Casilla was the main culprit, but his replacements in September didn’t fare much better. Casilla wasn’t part of the collapse in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Melancon’s blown save happened in an odd way. He got two quick outs, but a double and three straight singles ended the game. He said he made two execution mistakes, to Daniel Descalso and Jeff Mathis.
“You tip your hat to those guys,” Melancon said. “They executed. They did what they wanted to do. It happened quickly. It's never fun to process, but it’s part of the job. You have to have a short-term memory.”
The schedule will make that a bit more difficult. Because the NCAA basketball title game is in nearby Glendale, the Giants won’t play again until Tuesday night. Bochy said that game, and all other ones, will be about more than bullpen arms. The Giants went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, although one of the wasted rallies included a foul tip straight off the plate that wasn’t reviewable. Players who watched the video in the clubhouse said the ball, hit by Brandon Crawford in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, was indeed foul.
“Craw thought it was foul. (Phil) Nevin thought it was foul,” Bochy said. “That’s a big call at that point.”
The Giants never pulled away on a day when their No. 9 hitter carried a heavy load, and it cost them. They’ve blown a lot of games at Chase Field over the years. They know how it goes.
“We don’t expect anything negative to happen with Mark out there, but hey, it happens,” Bochy said. “You’re not going to be perfect. We had a chance to put the game away a couple of times. We just couldn’t do it. In this ballpark, anything can happen.”