SAN FRANCISCO -- The ball beat Jason Heyward to the plate by a good 15 feet. Buster Posey went to apply the tag. And Heyward, ducking his left shoulder and reaching for the plate with his hand, somehow managed to avoid the jab of Posey’s glove, drawing a safe call from home plate umpire Ed Hickox as the AT&T Park crowd reacted with disbelief.
What looked to surely be a crucial out in what was then a 1-0 game instead gave Atlanta a 2-0 lead, and the Braves tacked on two more runs in that sixth inning off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, who had mostly cruised through the first five. As it turned out, one run would have been enough for Atlanta in the Giants’ 5-0 loss, but talk afterward focused mostly on the bizarre play at the plate.
The Giants did challenge the play, but the call was upheld after just 35 seconds of review. Posey’s body language gave a hint that the challenge was futile -- he offered no protest of the call, simply returning to his crouch.
"He just missed the tag," manager Bruce Bochy said. "These guys are getting pretty creative on their slides now and it’s just a case where he just missed him."
"I thought I was in the right position, didn’t think there was really a way for him to get around me," said Posey, who added that he hadn’t yet seen a replay of the play. "It’s a shame I missed him, because that would have been a big out in the game, and it kind of flip-flopped the momentum a little bit."
Bochy said he opted to challenge because the Giants’ replay booth "had, I guess, a view that looked like he might’ve barely touched him, and at that point in the game, like last night, we had nothing to lose. That’s a big run." Posey said he hoped replay might show he had nicked Heyward’s jersey, but he wasn’t confident about it.
"I caught the ball and saw him in front of me and went to make the tag," Posey said. "If I could go back I probably would’ve just jabbed out a little bit more. But it is what it is."
Plays at the plate this season have the added wrinkle of new rules governing collisions, and catchers have to be mindful of where they’re positioned when a runner is coming in. But the rules do allow blocking of the plate as long as the catcher has the ball.
While the ball arrived well before Heyward in this case, Bochy said the fact that it came from right field -- with an angle requiring the catcher to first receive the throw, then turn and locate the runner -- may have played into Posey thinking Heyward had less of a lane to the plate than he did.
Bochy said it looked like Posey "was in a pretty good position. And it looked like he had two hands going at (Heyward), which probably caused a little bit of his reach being short there."
"It’s one of those plays where I think he thought he had him easily," Bochy said. "Heyward, you have to give him credit, did a good job of avoiding the tag.
"We learn from this. Maybe take a little bit more away or (make) sure we have the coverage, so we do apply the tag before he hits home plate."
Posey struck a similar note when asked what he’ll take away from the play: "Probably to try to be a little more aggressive with the tag. You don’t expect a big guy like that to be able to move as well as he did. So I think that’s it, probably just be a little more aggressive with the tag and make sure I really leave no question."
To Posey’s credit, he ducked no questions about the play, which contributed to the inning spiraling. After Heyward scored, Vogelsong walked Evan Gattis -- his only walk all night -- and after Chris Johnson reached on a fielder’s choice, B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons each hit RBI singles to give the Braves a 4-0 lead.
The ducking, rather, was performed by Heyward, who gets credit for a game-altering play in this one. "We learn from it," Bochy said. "That’s what you’ve got to do."
* Despite how the rest of the inning played out, Vogelsong denied that he was affected by not getting the out at home.
"He was safe," Vogelsong said. "It’s my job to make pitches after that to get us out of it and I didn’t do it."
To that point, though, Vogelsong had pitched as well as he has all season. Through five innings he had equaled his regular-season career-high with eight strikeouts while giving up one run in the fourth, when Freeman singled and scored on Gattis’ triple into the gap in right-center.
"He threw the ball well," Bochy said. "He should’ve fared better than what happened. Even at the end (in the sixth), they tacked on with those ground balls that got through."
Outside of the loss, the encouraging thing for Vogelsong was that Tuesday night seemed to mostly be a continuation of his previous three outings. After recording a 7.71 ERA in his first four starts this season, he’d allowed just two runs in 20 1/3 innings in three starts coming into Tuesday, and said he felt he "threw the ball better (Tuesday) in the first five innings than I did the past three, actually."
"I’m throwing the ball the way I want to," Vogelsong said. "Just need to get some better results."
* Another odd moment from this game, courtesy of replay: In the top of the seventh, the Giants appeared to turn a 3-6-1 inning-ending double play, and the PA system started to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" only to fade out mid-verse as the Braves challenged the call at first.
Review showed that Giants reliever David Huff hadn’t stepped on the bag at first, and the inning resumed.
* Angel Pagan was removed from the game in the eighth inning after Bochy said his knee started "barking." Bochy had said he planned on getting Pagan a day off in Wednesday’s finale, and that will definitely be the case now. Expect Gregor Blanco in center.
* Blanco entered for Pagan and doubled in his lone at-bat in the bottom of the eighth. It was the first hit for Blanco since April 26. Since then he’d had just nine at-bats -- an indication of how little playing time there has been for the fourth outfielder.
* Making the Posey play a little less consequential was the outing by Braves starter Mike Minor, who held the Giants scoreless over 6 2/3 innings before turning things over to the Atlanta bullpen. Minor allowed a one-out double in the first to Hunter Pence, then retired the next 16 hitters before Pagan walked with two outs in the sixth.
"He pitched well to both sides of the plate, had a good two-seamer going, better than I remember in the past," Posey said. "He used it not only away to us righties, but also used it on the inside part of the plate."
The Giants did put seven runners on in the last four innings but cashed in none of them. They went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position Tuesday and, in five games against the Braves this season, have gone 2-for-27 in those at-bats. That’s an average of .074 -- and yet they’re 4-1 in the five games.
* The Giants can make it 5-1 in the finale behind left-hander Madison Bumgarner (4-3, 2.83). He’ll face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (2-2, 1.71). First pitch scheduled for 12:45 p.m.