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.”