SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Giants manage to punch their ticket for the postseason, Kevin Gausman should be an easy choice to start the opening game of their first playoff series in four years. The harder part will be actually getting there.
Gausman continued to build his case to be San Francisco’s potential Game 1 starter by striking out nine over six innings of two-run ball on Thursday against the Rockies, but the Giants squandered his effort after blowing a three-run lead in a stinging 5-4 loss in 11 innings at Oracle Park.
After Rockies shortstop Trevor Story made an incredible play to foil a bases-loaded scoring opportunity for the Giants in the 10th, Raimel Tapia drove in the decisive run with a sacrifice fly to left field off Trevor Cahill in the 11th. San Francisco put runners on the corners with one out in the bottom half of the inning, but Austin Slater grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the game.
“We had some opportunities early in that game to blow it open, to deliver a knockout punch, and we weren’t able to do it,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think that’s the most important story from the game to me, personally.”
The disappointing loss, which sealed a split of this four-game series, dropped the Giants (28-28) to the eighth and final National League playoff spot, a half-game ahead of the Phillies, who were idle, and a game ahead of the Brewers, who lost to the Cardinals.
“That's definitely a tough loss right there,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “Especially thinking that we had that one in the bag -- we let up a little bit too early. We needed to keep pushing as an offense, and we didn't. We ended up paying for it.”
Belt tied the game, 4-4, with his 1,000th career hit, a solo shot to the opposite field off Colorado reliever Mychal Givens in the eighth, but the Giants couldn’t cash in for the remainder of the game. The dugout erupted after Wilmer Flores led off the bottom of the 10th with a fly ball to deep left field, but it died at the warning track and was caught by Tapia.
Alex Dickerson, who opened the inning at second as the automatic runner, advanced to third on the play, prompting Rockies manager Bud Black to order back-to-back intentional walks of Belt and Brandon Crawford to load the bases. Black then deployed a five-man infield against Evan Longoria, who hit a 104 mph shot to the left side that was stopped on an unbelievable backhanded grab by Story.
Story, throwing from his knees, quickly fired to catcher Tony Wolters to nab Dickerson and complete a game-saving play for the Rockies. Mauricio Dubón subsequently popped out to end the inning.
“I definitely think they were going to do everything they possibly could do to win that baseball game,” Kapler said. “It wasn't a defeated team. They got the job done, and you have to kind of tip your cap to them. They did pull out all the stops.”
Only a four-game series with the talented Padres remains for the Giants, who are 1-5 against the Friars this year and have been outscored, 38-19, in their matchups. They are scheduled to play a doubleheader on Friday to make up the second game that was postponed during their coronavirus scare in San Diego two weeks ago.
San Francisco plans to start lefty Tyler Anderson in one of the two seven-inning games on Friday, but its second starter has yet to be announced. Veteran Jeff Samardzija, who has not pitched since Aug. 7 due to a right shoulder injury, has been mentioned as a candidate, but the Giants could also use an opener or try to piece together a bullpen game. Johnny Cueto and Drew Smyly are lined up to pitch the final two games on Saturday and Sunday.
The Giants could get creative and use other starters such as Logan Webb and Gausman out of the bullpen on the final weekend, but if they sneak into the playoffs, they’d ideally save Gausman for Game 1 of their three-game NL Wild Card Series, which would begin on Wednesday.
“That'd be awesome,” Gausman said of a potential Game 1 nod. “Obviously, I wish it was a normal postseason where there’d be 45,000-plus fans and really be the playoff atmosphere that you dream of. It would be an honor to take the ball in Game 1, but we also have a lot of really good pitchers on this team, so you know we'll see the way it lines up. But most importantly, we got to get there first.”
Gausman emerged as the Giants’ best starter this year, logging a 3.68 ERA over 11 appearances after signing a one-year deal over the offseason. He’s one of the most electric arms on the pitching staff, pairing a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with a devastating splitter.
Gausman scattered eight hits and departed with a 3-2 lead on Thursday, but the Rockies rallied to score two runs in the seventh off reliever Sam Coonrod to saddle Gausman with a no-decision. The 29-year-old right-hander will be eligible for free agency this offseason, but he’s optimistic he hasn’t made his final appearance for San Francisco.
Regardless of what happens this year, Gausman has expressed a desire to re-sign with the Giants, who helped him rebuild his value as a starter after he recorded a 5.72 ERA with the Braves and Reds in 2019. The interest will likely be mutual given San Francisco's lack of established rotation options heading into next season. Cueto, Webb and Anderson are currently the only starters who will be under team control in '21, as Gausman, Smyly and Samardzija are pending free agents.
Gausman said an added incentive for him to return will be the opportunity to work with catcher Buster Posey, who elected not to play this season but is expected to be back in the fold next year.
“I would love to come back,” Gausman said. “I think I've made it pretty open that I feel good here. I really liked this club. I really liked the team. More than anything, I really liked the guys.
“A big part of that, a guy that's not here, is Buster, so hopefully he’s going to be back here next year. He was a big reason why I decided to sign here. Coming back knowing that he’s going to be here next year definitely adds another element to it.”