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.