Giants

Will Smith gives up first homer in two years, Giants lose heartbreaker

Will Smith gives up first homer in two years, Giants lose heartbreaker

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.”

Brawl notes: Giants confused by Hundley's ejection, umpire explanation

Brawl notes: Giants confused by Hundley's ejection, umpire explanation

LOS ANGELES — When Major League Baseball eventually comes for the umpires, replacing them with pitch-tracking technology, perhaps they’ll explain the switch with a simple phrase.

“Watch the tape.”

That’s about all Eric Cooper had to say late Tuesday night when a pool reporter asked why Nick Hundley had been ejected despite not throwing any punches at Yasiel Puig. 

“Watch the tape,” Cooper said. “You’ll see why he had to be ejected.”

Well, not really. First of all, Hundley was wearing a catcher’s mask, so it was hard to tell what he was saying to Puig. Hundley and Puig went face-to-face, but it was Puig who twice shoved Hundley, with the catcher reaching out both times to block the move. The Giants were baffled that Hundley was ejected after a long conversation between the umpires. 

“I don’t get it, either, to be honest,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’ll see what the (umpires) report says. You’re going to defend yourself.”

Hundley said he’s not concerned about any discipline from the league.

“I was defending myself. He was defending himself. I don’t see why it should go any further than that,” he said. 

--- This fight escalated quickly but there wasn’t actually much action, with one exception. As Hundley was being held back, Puig ran back in, threw a few teammates out of the way, and tried to punch Hundley. He ended up slapping his mask with an open hand as Hundley was being held back. 

“I saw him coming,” Hundley said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to defend myself in that spot, being tangled up with someone else. The league will look at that. That’s something that’s up to the league to discipline somebody. That’s not my job to enforce any behavioral things.”

--- Hundley was held back, and essentially tackled, by first base coach George Lombard. He later came out onto the top step of the dugout and had a brief conversation with Lombard. Hundley said he was checking to make sure Lombard didn’t get hurt in the altercation. 

--- Lost in all that, Andrew Suarez had his best start in over a month. Suarez gave up some loud contact, but threw six shutout innings. He got all four strikeouts with his fastball and said that was the plan. 

“I’ve noticed a lot of teams are spitting on my sliders lately,” he said. 

Suarez went heavy with the heater in two-strike counts and had a big night. He also won bragging rights. Suarez and Manny Machado have been playing on the same fields since they were eight, and while Machado hit the ball hard twice, he didn’t get a hit off Suarez.

Hundley fights Puig in another heated chapter of Giants-Dodgers rivalry

Hundley fights Puig in another heated chapter of Giants-Dodgers rivalry

LOS ANGELES — About 30 minutes before every game he starts, Nick Hundley goes out onto the field by himself, his uniform already on underneath a black hoodie. He walks out to the nearest foul line and then takes off on a dead sprint, legs and arms pumping as he heads towards the center field wall. 

It’s Hundley’s way of getting the juices flowing, getting his muscles and mind ready for the night ahead. He’s locking in, transforming from the mild-mannered, humorous, humble teammate into the man who will control most of the action. 

On the surface, Hundley is just about the last Giant you would ever expect to get into an on-field altercation. But watch him sprint towards the wall and you’ll see the intensity that has carried him this deep into his career. It takes a special breed to be a catcher, and in the seventh inning Tuesday, Hundley showed that fire that’s so tucked away before and after starts. 

Yasiel Puig fouled a pitch off that he felt he should have crushed. As he does, Puig reacted angrily. He flipped the bat in the air and grabbed it emphatically, showing all 46,000 at Dodger Stadium that he felt he should have tied the game. Hundley wasn’t pleased, and let Puig know that he should dig back into the box. The two came face-to-face, and then shoves were exchanged. This rivalry had another heated chapter, with both benches and bullpens clearing and Puig getting in one open-handed shot to Hundley’s mask before order was restored. 

Afterward, in a clubhouse buzzing over the mini-brawl and 2-1 win over the Dodgers, Hundley was as calm as could be. He said it was a good game between rivals, one chasing the other in the standings. He said it was not a big deal. He would not say what he said to set Puig off. 

"That's stuff that's said on the field and that'll be left out there,” Hundley said. 

Here, once again, Puig disagreed with the Giants. It was not hard to see that Hundley took offense to Puig’s reaction to missing a Tony Watson pitch down the middle. Puig confirmed it.

“I knew that was the best pitch that Watson was going to throw me, so I was a little upset,” he told reporters. “He told me to stop complaining and get back in the box. When I got in his face, he told me to get out of his face, so that’s when I got upset with him. I didn’t like that he was telling me what to do, and then he said some words to me in English that I really can’t repeat.”

This is not the first time the Giants and Puig have gotten into it. It likely won’t be the last. But this disagreement came with a twist. Puig and Hundley were ejected, setting off a chain of events that helped the Giants win the game after Sam Dyson gave a run back in the eighth. 

Buster Posey moved from first to catcher to replace Hundley. Brandon Belt, fresh off the disabled list, took Posey’s spot at first. Two innings later, Belt singled off Kenta Maeda and came around on Alen Hanson’s single, scoring the winning run.

Fifty-five minutes after Puig shoved Hundley, the Giants streamed out onto the field for handshakes. A few minutes later, they were celebrating in the clubhouse. This was as loud as it’s been after a game all season long for a team that improved to 61-60, got within three of the Dodgers, and stayed five back of the Diamondbacks. 

“That should bring us even closer together,” Hundley said. “This is a tight-knit group. We’ll feed off that. What a great win.”

It started with six strong innings from rookie Andrew Suarez. When the field cleared and Hundley and Puig headed back to their respective clubhouses, the Dodgers rallied and tied it on Manny Machado’s single. For a second straight night, the Giants beat a Dodgers reliever in the ninth. This time it was Kenta Maeda, supposedly the solution for the Dodgers’ woes. Hanson smoked a single up the middle and Belt, who just missed 17 games with a hyperextended knee, rumbled home. Kiké Hernandez has a strong arm in center, and Hanson admitted later that he was worried when he saw Hernandez scoop the ball on one bounce. 

“I noticed Belt rounding third when the throw was coming in,” Hanson said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “Luckily for us, he made a bad throw.”

The throw was high and Yasmani Grandal couldn’t glove it. Belt slid in safely. He said later that he felt like he was running underwater in his first game back. He also insisted that his knee feels fine. 

“I wasn’t moving fast enough to make it hurt anyway,” Belt said. 

With that, he headed for the bus. The clubhouse was still energetic and players smiled as they walked past Hundley’s locker. The Giants came here with a very realistic shot of being permanently banished from the NL West race. Instead, they’re right back within striking distance, and they got to get their juices flowing, too. 

“Two very good games, great games, to come in here and get a couple of wins,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”