'Very frustrating': Hard luck for SF in opener

August 31st, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- With runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh inning, the Giants were in danger of squandering their best chance of the night. They needed a clutch swing. Darin Ruf provided just that.

Just one problem: Ruf’s screamer, which had an exit velocity of 107.6 mph, was directed right into the glove of left fielder Christian Yelich. Inning over. Rally over. For the Giants, who dropped the first game of a four-game set to the Brewers 3-1 on Monday at Oracle Park, it was one of those nights.

“It could’ve ended with a bang,” said manager Gabe Kapler of the Giants' seventh-inning rally. “That’s the thing that I’ll remember, Darin up there with the chance to put us in a really good spot. I think [if] he turns up on that ball a tiny bit, it’s in the seats.”

The bad news started before the game as Johnny Cueto, who was originally scheduled to start, was placed on the injured list along with Alex Wood. Kapler revealed prior to the game that Wood had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms. Cueto was experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms as well, but did not test positive.

With Cueto unavailable, the onus was on the bullpen.

Given the circumstances, the relief corps did a fine job of keeping the Giants in the ballgame. Jarlin García headlined the bullpen effort, pitching 3 2/3 innings of scoreless ball with four strikeouts and only one hit allowed. For García, it was his first time pitching at least three innings since May 25, 2019, providing San Francisco with the length it needed to get through the night.

“I felt like our bullpen did a great job keeping us in it on short notice,” Kris Bryant said. “Just echoing a lot of my impressions of this team and how impressed I am by guys stepping up, taking over when it’s needed. I know we didn’t get the win today, but that says a lot about the character that we have here, and the next man up attitude.”

While the seven deployed relievers were able to keep San Francisco competitive, the offense, which has only scored one run in its last two games, struggled to get anything going against Brewers starter Corbin Burnes and company.

Burnes had little trouble against San Francisco through the first six innings, but Brandon Belt’s double and Bryant’s single to begin the seventh led to his departure. Brandon Crawford singled home Belt, cutting the deficit to one run, and the Giants had an opportunity to tie.

That didn’t happen. Mike Yastrzemski’s plate appearance ended in a check-swing bunt that advanced Bryant to third, but led to Crawford getting thrown out at second. Alex Dickerson couldn’t get the tying run home as he popped out. That led to Ruf, whose aforementioned line drive was hit right at Yelich to end the threat. To add salt in the wound, Milwaukee turned right around and got that run right back in the top of the eighth.

“Burnes was as good as he normally is; he’s one of the top two or three starting pitchers in baseball. Then we faced three of the better relievers in baseball,” Kapler said. “The bottom line is they just shut us down. We weren’t able to get anything going. And when we were able to get a rally here or there, we weren’t able to capitalize at the end.”

Ruf wasn’t the only Giant who got severely unlucky. LaMonte Wade Jr. struck two balls with exit velocities of 104.7 and 106.5 mph, but both led to outs. Belt also had a well-struck liner that was hit right at second baseman Kolten Wong to end the eighth.

“Very frustrating, especially when you got a guy like Burnes on the mound,” Bryant said. “When you make hard contact off a guy like that, you expect to be rewarded a little bit, but they had the guys right where they needed them.”

With the loss and a Dodgers win over the Braves on Monday, the Giants’ lead in the NL West has been cut down to 1 1/2 games. The path doesn’t get any easier for San Francisco in the near future, with three more games against Milwaukee before a crucial three-game set against Los Angeles over the weekend.