Hunter Strickland blows two-run lead in 'unacceptable' ninth inning

Hunter Strickland blows two-run lead in 'unacceptable' ninth inning

SAN FRANCISCO — The life of a closer is a brutal one. No matter how many games you save, no matter how many scoreless appearances you pile up, the bullseye will be squarely on your back when you falter and cost the team a game. 

For Hunter Strickland, there was always going to be an added degree of difficulty. Strickland has been one of the most durable and reliable relievers in the National League since a rough 2014 postseason, and he entered Monday’s game with a 2.01 ERA and 13 saves in 16 chances. He had converted 11 of his previous 12 chances, and the one misstep was more about the defense behind him. 

But many Giants fans have never forgotten 2014, or gotten over a fight with Bryce Harper. So when Strickland gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning and then exchanged words with the runner on third, the boos cascaded from the few left watching a Giants-Marlins game on a Monday night. Strickland, after a 5-4 loss was complete, was a harsher critic. 

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “(Andrew) Suarez went out and did a heck of a job. Sammy (Dyson) picked him up and obviously I let them down.”

A minute later, Strickland was more succinct. 

“It sucked in general,” he said. 

This was not the way the Giants wanted to return home. They spent three days in Los Angeles talking about how difficult the road schedule has been, but they did not take advantage of a cupcake on their first night back. Suarez was good, opposing lefty Caleb Smith lasted just four rough innings, and the Marlins kicked the ball around AT&T Park. But still, they were handed a win, once again coming back against the Giants, as they did all series last week while taking three of four in Miami. 

Strickland opened the ninth by walking Brian Anderson, a sin for a relief pitcher. 

“Can’t have that. That’s unacceptable,” he said. 

He hung a slider to J.T. Realmuto and the double cut a 4-2 lead in half. Justin Bour was walked and Reyes Moronta and Tony Watson started getting loose in a hurry. But Bruce Bochy stuck with Strickland, who had some easier matchups ahead of him. After a groundout, Lewis Brinson — hitting .179 at the time — lined a game-tying single into right. Miguel Rojas, another light hitter, curled the go-ahead hit down the line. 

Strickland’s night was done, but he was not. The first pitch to Brinson had been a heater up and in, and when the rookie responded with a base hit later, he joyously jumped his way down the line. Strickland took exception, and he chirped at Brinson, standing on third, as he walked toward the dugout. Strickland said he was just “in the moment.”

“I was not real happy with myself,” he said. 

The moment did not help Strickland’s cause, but he’s had them before, and he has pushed past them before. His job is to close, and for most of this season, he has done it very well. The Giants had been 31-0 when leading after eight. Bochy scoffed when asked if a change is needed in the ninth.

“You look at the job he’s done, there’s no reason to have a leash on him,” he said. “He’s really pitched well. The numbers show that.”

Giants see plenty of positives from two rookies against rebuilding Padres

Giants see plenty of positives from two rookies against rebuilding Padres

SAN DIEGO — Petco Park has been a house of horrors during much of the last two seasons, but for two Giants rookies, the first visit here was a positive one. 

Left fielder Chris Shaw reached base seven times in the three-game series, continuing a mini surge. First baseman Aramis Garcia hit a solo homer in Wednesday’s 8-4 loss to the Padres, his third in 30 big league at-bats. Those would have been positive developments at any time of the year, but against the rebuilding Padres, they perhaps gave the Giants a bit more hope going forward. 

For two consecutive seasons, they have finished behind the Dodgers, Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Dodgers look poised for a sixth consecutive NL West crown and have the farm system and financial power to keep a contender on the field for years to come, but the other two will face difficult decisions in future winters as Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and other contributors hit free agency. The general consensus around the game, though, is that the NL West won’t necessarily get weaker. The Padres are viewed as having the best farm system in baseball, and they could become interesting as soon as next season. 

The Giants got their first look at the latest star Padres prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia. The 22-year-old didn’t do much damage against Giants pitching, but he has three homers in his first month in the big leagues and is touted as a future star. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego’s top prospect, is injured but should be up early next season. Luis Urias, also listed on the top 30 on many prospect lists, came up this month but was injured and didn’t face the Giants. Those are three of nine Padres prospects listed on many top 100 charts. 

This is a group that appears at least a year away, mostly because the pitching depth the Padres have is at the lower levels of the minors. But at some point, likely 2020, the Giants will have another significant road bump in the division, and they’ll need their own youth to compete. 

Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos and others should be here or getting close in a couple of years, but the class that went through Triple-A this season is the first line of defense. 

The Giants would have loved to watch Steven Duggar patrol the massive center field here for three days, but Shaw and Garcia did just fine with their own defensive challenges. If a fan had not interfered Tuesday, Shaw likely would have robbed Franmil Reyes, another young Padre, of a two-run shot. Garcia saved Evan Longoria from an error Wednesday with a nifty scoop. 

“He did a nice job, didn’t he?” manager Bruce Bochy said of his catcher-turned-first baseman. “To go oppo here, that’s impressive off a tough pitcher. He did a nice job for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience at first base. He threw out pretty good at-bats, too. He looks comfortable.”

Both Shaw and Garcia do at the moment, and while they’re almost certainly ticketed for Triple-A at the start of next season, they’re showing that they’re capable of contributing at this level, a nice boost late in a lost year. The Padres are coming, and the Giants will need their own young standouts to avoid getting passed.

Giants fail to sweep Padres after Chris Stratton's strange second inning

Giants fail to sweep Padres after Chris Stratton's strange second inning


SAN DIEGO — This was not your normal Giants-Padres game. It wasn't a good night for the visiting team, either. 

The Giants gave up a pair of big homers and lost 8-4 at Petco Park. Giants starting pitcher Chris Stratton allowed five early runs and the Padres put it away when Freddy Galvis crushed a Ray Black fastball for a three-run homer in the eighth. 

The Giants failed to get a sweep after two good performances here the first two nights. Before they head to St. Louis, here’s what else you need to know about the last night in the Gaslamp District … 

— The second inning was a strange one for Stratton. He picked up his first career extra-base hit in the top of the inning, lining a double over right fielder Franmil Reyes to clear the loaded bases. But in the bottom of the inning, the wheels came off. Stratton allowed five hits, with much of the damage coming on a homer by Wil Myers. Gorkys Hernandez got him out of the inning with a leaping catch at the wall.

— Giants rookie catcher Aramis Garcia went the opposite way in the eighth and dropped a fly ball right on the padding of the fence for his third homer. Garcia has been a bit of a standout defensively, too. He impressed while catching, and he had a nice scoop at first Wednesday to keep an error off Evan Longoria’s line. With Brandon Belt out for the year, Garcia should see daily at-bats the rest of the way. 

— Chris Shaw, Giants rookie left fielder, continued his breakthrough at the plate. He drew a walk in his second plate appearance against lefty starter Robbie Erlin and then pulled a single to right on a 98.7 mph from right-handed reliever Robert Stock. Shaw reached base multiple times in every game this series. 

— Giants rookie infielder Abiatal Avelino got his third big league at-bat. He grounded out to short as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning.