Giants

Nolan Arenado walks it off for cycle, hands Giants toughest loss in season full of them

Nolan Arenado walks it off for cycle, hands Giants toughest loss in season full of them

DENVER — In a somber visiting clubhouse at Coors Field, a veteran position player shook his head as he slowly peeled off his jersey. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “Do you think someone put a voodoo curse on us?”

That might be the best explanation at this point. Sure, the Giants are bad in a traditional way, and they’re outmatched talent-wise against most of the teams in the National League at this point, but losses like Sunday’s almost defy description.

Losers of 14 of their previous 18, the Giants appeared to have avoided their first ever four-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies when Hunter Pence hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the top of the ninth. Twenty-eight minutes later, they suffered the worst of their 45 losses to date. 

Nolan Arenado hit a three-run, walk-off homer off Mark Melancon to give the Rockies a 7-5 win. The blast, his 21st in just 80 career games against the Giants, clinched the cycle. Arenado became the 31st player in MLB history to hit a walk-off homer to complete the cycle, and afterward, he called it the best moment of his career. 

The mood was much different down the hallway.

Melancon has two save opportunities in the last 22 days and he has blown them both. In the first season of a four-year, $62 million deal, he has a 5.06 ERA and four blown saves in 14 chances. 

“My performance has been absolutely terrible,” Melancon said. “I need to be better. That’s it.”

Melancon, who spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a right pronator strain, said he is fine physically. Some others in the organization believe he is not 100 percent, though, and his usage backs that up. The Giants aren’t giving their closer save opportunities, but Bochy also is not using him in non-save situations. Melancon has pitched just four times in June. 

Asked about the situation, Bochy backed up his closer. 

“Mark could have come out better. I mean, look at those hits,” Bochy said. “A blooper in center field, another one we couldn’t quite get to in center field, an eight-hopper between first and second. Of course their guy (Arenado) came through but he should have fared a lot better than what happened. He made great pitches. I mean, sure, there’s the home run at the end, but the first hit the ball was on the dirt. He jammed (Charlie) Blackmon there and then made great pitches on (DJ) LeMahieu. They just put it in play.”

There’s an alternative path, of course. Most of the game’s dominant closers get through the ninth on strikeouts, but that has never been Melancon’s calling card. For years, his method has worked beautifully, but in a park like Coors Field, relying on the BABIP Gods is a recipe for disaster. All five Rockies who came to the plate in the ninth put the ball in play. While the hits were relatively soft until Arenado’s, Melancon tipped his cap, saying Colorado’s lineup “has all the tools.”

“I didn’t execute as good as I wanted to,” he said. “That’s why they were able to make contact.”

Three straight singles with one out put one run across, cutting into a two-run lead the Giants had built in the top of the inning. Pence’s blast got Ty Blach off the hook for a loss on a day when he pitched well and got burned by two solo shots in his final inning. Brandon Crawford, who had homered early in the game, added an insurance run with a double. It wasn’t enough. 

Melancon said he was trying to go in on Arenado, who already had a triple, single, and RBI double. The world’s preeminent Giant-killer came up with runners on the corners. 

“I was hoping to get a ground ball to short,” Melancon said. 

The first pitch wasn’t in far enough and Arenado knocked it into the first row of the seats. He raised his arms as the sold-out park shook and chanted “M-V-P.”

“It’s a dream come true,” Arenado said in an on-field interview. “My whole goal was to get the ball in the outfield. We had a chance to tie the game, but thank God the ball went out.”

Arenado thanked the fans as he was showered with ice water. “It’s fun to be in Denver right now,” he said. 

The Giants couldn’t get to the airport fast enough. 

Andrew Suarez has quality start in return, will stay in Giants rotation

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USATSI

Andrew Suarez has quality start in return, will stay in Giants rotation

SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Suarez's return to the big leagues was very nearly overshadowed on a national scale. 

Mike Soroka, the 21-year-old right-hander on the other side, had a perfect game going before Brandon Crawford launched a solo shot in sixth just as it was getting interesting. Suarez, on the other hand, gave up a solo homer to Ronald Acuña Jr. on his first pitch back in the Majors.

But the 26-year-old settled in, showing the kind of stuff that made him so dependable for long stretches of his rookie year. Against Soroka, it wasn't nearly enough. The Giants lost 4-1 in their first meeting of the year with the Braves. But Suarez did show enough that manager Bruce Bochy said he'll be in the rotation for now. 

"After that (homer) he really pitched great," Bochy said. "He did what we were hoping, kept us in the game and gave us a chance. He was a strike away from a great start."

Suarez was working quickly, sometimes in and out of trouble, through five. After the solo shot in the first, he didn't allow another run until the sixth, when he walked Nick Markakis with two outs and then hung a curve that rookie Austin Riley blasted to center. Suarez was trying to bury it in the dirt but left it up. 

"I wish I got that one back," he said. "I just left it down the middle."

Suarez was charged with three earned in six innings, walking four and striking out five. In recent weeks the standard hasn't been that high for Giants starters, though, and Suarez gave the staff just the 11th quality start in 46 games. Madison Bumgarner has six of the other 10, and no starter other than Bumgarner had thrown a quality start since April 24. 

Suarez said he did not view this as an audition, but if it was, he passed. At the moment, he is in the rotation with fellow young starter Shaun Anderson and veterans Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Drew Pomeranz. That could leave the Giants with a fascinating decision to make before Tuesday's game. They do not intend to carry 14 pitchers as they did Monday, and they may have to dump a veteran to add another infielder before Anderson takes the mound Tuesday night. 

Dusty Baker recalls Hank Aaron's mentorship, how high five was created

Dusty Baker recalls Hank Aaron's mentorship, how high five was created

Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G,” presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. We head back into the dugout with Dusty Baker, the former Giants manager, in the second installment of a two-part interview.

When I recently talked to Dusty Baker, we covered so much ground that we had to split the interview into two parts. In Part 1, we discussed his life after playing baseball, his transition into managing and the Giants' 2002 World Series loss.

There's so much more to hear from Baker, particularly from his playing days, but let’s start Part 2 of this special "As Told to Amy G" with his name, because it’s not Dusty. Enjoy!

“Well, yeah, everybody in my family has always called me Dusty. I’m Johnnie B. Baker Jr., but I used to play in the dirt all the time, and my mom didn't want to call me ‘Dirty,’ so she called me ‘Dusty.’ The only people that ever called me Johnnie are guys that I went to elementary school with, and the elementary school teacher wouldn’t call you by your nickname.

“I got to the big leagues, and I’d be in various towns and somebody would say, ‘Hey, Dusty,’ and I’d just wave and go on about my business. They’d say, ‘Hey, Johnnie,’ then you know they really knew me for a long time.”

Even though Dusty is a product of Northern California, growing up in Sacramento and attending Del Campo High School, the Giants were not the team he admired as a kid. Ironically -- and I admit it’s difficult to type this -- it was the Dodgers who captured his attention as a child. It wasn’t until a certain first baseman came to the Bay that Dusty’s allegiance began to align with the men in orange and black.

“I grew up a Dodgers fan, and that might not sound right around here. My hero was Tommy Davis, and he wore No. 12. Then when I got to meet him when I signed with the Braves -- and very rarely is your hero the kind that you envision him to be, and he was exactly that. He's still one of my closest friends.

“But I worked out with Bobby Bonds in, I think, 1964, and Bobby called me and he said, ‘Want to come work out with us? The Giants might sign me, and we need shaggers.’ I think I was about 13 or 14, and I went out there, I was running them down, and at the end of the day, I said, ‘Hey man, you want to see me hit?’ And he said, ‘Nah, son, it’s too dark. We gotta go.’ And then I became a Giants fan.

“My dad was always a Willie Mays fan and a big [Willie] McCovey fan. I liked that rivalry. But when Bobby signed with the Giants, that's when I became a Giants fan.”

Sometimes we choose our path, and sometimes the path chooses us. The latter was the case for Baker.

A star four-sport athlete in high school, Dusty had his pick when it came to college. But college wasn’t in his plans, nor was baseball. His parents pushed college, but Dusty was looking for a more diverse crowd than the almost entirely Caucasian crew he grew up with.

That's when a man saw something in Dusty that he hadn’t yet see in himself -- a future big leaguer. And a certain home run king stepped up to take Dusty under his wing, in the game of baseball and in life.

“Actually, I wanted to be a basketball or football player. I was all this and all that in the state with basketball and football. Went to the state track meet like Bobby Bonds. I wanted to be like Bobby Bonds. I played all four sports, like Bobby Bonds. and then my parents got divorced. My dad had signed me to go to Santa Clara, which was fine. They had a good basketball program, but I didn’t want to go to a predominately white, rich school, like my high school. There were only two blacks in my high school -- me and my brother.

“So, I wanted to study less and play ball more. My dad wasn't going for it. But the Braves drafted me, they took a chance, and said, ‘Hey man, if we can get this kid to concentrate on one sport versus four sports, put all his energies into baseball, he’s got a chance.’ A long-shot scout, Bill White, came over to my house almost every day. He had signed Joe Morgan before me with Houston, and he signed Keith Hernandez after me. He had faith in me.

“The Braves treated me great right away. I went to LA to meet with them in Dodger Stadium. They knew I was a Dodgers fan, so they flew me and my mom to LA. I got to hang around Hank Aaron -- I was 18 years old, and Hank Aaron promised my mom that he would take care of me like I was his son, and he did.

“I signed with the Braves, and I was in the big leagues the next year in the September call-ups, and Hank took care of me. Made me and Ralph [Garr] get up, eat breakfast, go to church. He made us come in from staying out late. And that famous, ‘I’m 18 now. I can do what i want,’ it didn’t fly with him or my dad. So, it was like having a dad away from home.”

“That’s how my road started, and it was a little bit different. Going to an all-white school to the South, where there’s segregation in ’67, ’68. On the bus, and all the Braves teams are in the South -- North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, that was kind of a rude awakening, but I learned a lot. There’s good people everywhere, and there’s bad people everywhere, and that was a valuable lesson.

“Vietnam was hot, and the Braves were tired of me missing the season. I’d come out half way to go to school, and if you didn’t have 15 passable units the first semester, you were drafted in between semesters, so I ended up joining the Marine Reserves at the encouragement of the Braves. But they wanted me to join the National Guard, but I didn’t want to join the National Guard because the Guard was being called out on riots. That was the time of non-conformity, especially in the Bay Area -- Berkeley, Sacramento, San Jose, everywhere. That was a very tumultuous time, but I’m glad I came through that time.”


Dusty Baker (left), shown in 2009 alongside son Darren Baker (center), was mentored by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron when he started his baseball career in Atlanta (Photo by The Associated Press)

I quickly realized I was sitting next to a living historical source who was delivering a testimonial of perseverance through segregation as an African American man in the South. During all of this, his “father figure,” Aaron, broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, and it wasn’t the celebrated event we like to paint it as today.

“It wasn’t a very pleasant time for him. I used to read a few of the letters, saw some of the hate mail that he got, which I ended up getting later, which prepared me when I went to Chicago [as the Cubs' manager in 2003], because I got similar hate mail. So, I was like OK, I’ve seen this act before. But it made Hank more driven, made him concentrate more.

“It hurt him, big time, because not only was he going for the record, he was also getting divorced at the same time. We were there for him the way he was there for us. He was a great man, and everyone was trying to meet Hank at that time, especially being in Atlanta. All the civic leaders at that time were centered in and around Atlanta.

"We’d go to Jesse Jackson’s house, then Maynard Jackson’s house [he was the mayor of Atlanta) ... Ted Abernathy’s place. Andrew Young was always around, and at the same time, Hank was close to Jimmy Carter. He was the governor at the time. Hank would take us over to the State Capitol, which was about a mile from the stadium …. So we’d go by to see Jimmy Carter, and his mama would say, ‘Aw, Dusty is so cute.’ And I’d say, ‘Just don’t touch my afro.' "

After eight seasons with Atlanta, Dusty was traded and donned Dodger blue in 1976. He was able to return to his home state and be closer to his loved ones, but the Los Angeles fans didn’t really love him. Not his first year there, anyway …

“It was pretty cool because I was born in Riverside in Southern California, but my heart was in Northern California, so I was close to a lot of my homeboys and the people I have grown up with. But playing in LA with the Dodgers didn’t start out well. That’s what I tell guys -- sometimes the first year when you get traded is a tough year.

“I hurt my knee playing basketball that winter, I hit a home run my first at-bat, and I didn’t hit another one until July the Fourth. Then I end up on the bench. I was booed every day because I was the focal point of a big, big trade -- they traded some pretty good players for me [Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster and Jim Wynn] But Tommy Lasorda and my trainer who really stuck with me, trained me up every day in the winter after my operation, and I was running up and down Dodger Stadium, and then Tommy Lasorda said, ‘Hey, you’re my left fielder.’ But between you and I, he kind of tampered with me the year before, where he’s like, ‘Hey man, you belong on the Dodgers,’ and I was like, ‘I sure do.’ The Dodgers had the pretty uniforms, the good bodies, pretty good lookin’ guys, and I was like, that’s me.

“It ended up great -- I enjoyed my time in LA, but at the same time, I was ready to leave LA because I like the outdoors, I like fishing and hunting, and I had to go too far to go fishing and hunting, and then when I got there, thousands of people were there. I wasn't used to that, and traffic! I enjoyed my time, but it was time to go.”


Dusty Baker and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates, particularly Glenn Burke, were responsible for the creation and popularization of the high five (Photo by The Associated Press)

One of the coolest things to come out of Dusty’s career, IMHO, is the creation of the high five. I had never really thought of sports existing without the iconic hand slap. It’s such a routine celebratory reaction from my own playing days that when I found out Dusty and Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke “created” it in 1977, I had to ask.

“I was going for my 30th home run, and Reggie Smith already had his. Garvey already had his -- Steve was trying to get two more hits -- and Ron Cey had his. JR [Richard, the Houston Astros ace] is pitching on a four-game series, the last game of the season on a Sunday, and Reggie had told JR on Thursday that “Dusty was going to hit it off of you.” My lifetime [average] is about a buck 50 off him, if that, and I said, ‘Reggie, he don’t need any more motivation.’

“And so first at-bat on the last game, hit a line drive to left. It was a single -- I didn’t get it up. Second time, foul tip went back into the catcher’s glove. Then I came back in, and there was some betting going on above the dugout [by fans]. I could tell they were betting. … So, I came back and sat down, and said, ‘You know, man, I don’t think I’m going to get it.’ I was tired, everybody else was resting, and I was trying to get my 30th, so Lasorda heard me say that, and he goes, ‘Dusty, you gotta have faith. The Red Sea ... the sea parted,’ and I said, ‘Tommy, OK, OK, I believe, please don't do that.’

“So the next at-bat, I went up there, and I saw guys exchanging money. … JR threw me a fastball -- looked like it stopped -- and I hit it over the center-field wall, and that’s when I came around, and Glenn met me, and that’s when he gave me the high five. And you know Tom Lasorda said, ‘I told you, you gotta have faith.'

“First thing I did was I looked at the guys in the stands, and the one guy was wiping out money to the other guy, and I was like, ‘See, that’s what you get.' "

Follow Amy G on Twitter @AmyGGiants, on Instagram @amygon Facebook, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Giants coverage all season.