SAN FRANCISCO — Will Smith is not what we’ve come to expect from a Giants closer. There’s no high-wire act. He doesn’t need 27 pitches to get through the ninth inning. He doesn’t have a signature celebration, or a pitch you’ll remember a decade from now.
Smith, installed as closer after Hunter Strickland punched a door, has simply been drama-free. He has quick ninth innings, rarely putting any stress on his manager or the fanbase. He doesn’t show any extra emotion after the final out, simply turning and waiting until Buster Posey comes out for a handshake.
Smith did end up seeking out a teammate late Monday night. But it wasn’t Posey. He found Dereck Rodriguez in a quiet clubhouse and offered a fist pump to the rookie as he headed for the showers. Smith hadn’t saved Rodriguez’s win. He blew it, and the Giants lost 3-1 after Smith gave up three in the ninth.
“D-Rod pitched his ass off,” Smith said. “Nobody feels worse than me.”
Rodriguez grew up in this game, and he is as unflappable on the mound as any Giants rookie has been in recent memory. He was not stewing over the blown opportunity.
“That’s baseball, you know? That’s baseball,” he said. “Sometimes you dominate and sometimes it’s one bad pitch. Everybody is trying. The great thing about this sport is tomorrow he’ll get the ball again if we have the lead in the ninth inning.”
For the Giants, there was dominance AND that one bad pitch.
Rodriguez edged Charlie Morton, one of the better pitchers in the American League, with seven shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.34. Brandon Crawford’s solo shot in the sixth gave the Giants a 1-0 lead, and Bruce Bochy turned to his best to shut it down. He went away from his normal late-innings playbook, putting Reyes Moronta in the eighth instead of Tony Watson or Sam Dyson. Moronta got the ball to Smith, who had been perfect in seven save opportunities since June 29.
It was clear throughout the inning that Smith was not his normal self. He walked Alex Bregman with one out and then walked Yuli Gurriel on four pitches with two outs. The Astros were playing without their three best hitters, but they still feature plenty of firepower. Marwin Gonzalez hit 23 homers last year, and when Smith laid a 1-0 fastball right in the heart of the strike zone, Gonzalez hit a high shot that went several rows deep in left. It was his 10th of the year.
Several balls died in the thick air on this night. Smith had no such hopes when the ball left the bat.
“He got it good,” he said. “It was right down the middle. As a pitcher, you know that sound. Yeah … homer.”
The home run was the first allowed by Smith since July 30, 2016. He had Tommy John surgery during that run, but his streak of 54 2/3 innings without a homer was still the second-longest in the Majors to Chris Sale of the Red Sox. The end of the streak sent the Giants right back to .500. They were an out away from a 58-56 record and a minor gain in the NL West. Instead, they fell right back to their level.
“He’s been so good, so solid,” Bochy said. “You’re going to have an off night occasionally. That’s a tough night to have it.”