OAKLAND -- Game two of this Bay Bridge series between the A’s and Giants, won by the A’s 6-1 on Tuesday night, could have been subtitled: "Variations on a bloop."
That bloop was Jed Lowrie’s single off of Madison Bumgarner leading off the bottom of the third inning. For the A’s, it began a four-run rally that included a couple of RBI hits that were likewise softly struck. The Giants, meanwhile, later held it up as an example of the type of hit they’re just not getting in their current offensive funk.
It also helped lend some spice to this series between the cross-bay neighbors. Giants right fielder Hunter Pence had a shot at catching the ball, but had to peel away to avoid second baseman Joe Panik and caught some razzing from the fans in the right-field bleachers as a result. Pence then made a sliding catch on Alberto Callaspo’s shallow fly ball and retook his position cupping his ear toward the bleachers and motioning the fans to get louder.
First, the effect on the game. Bumgarner had cruised through the first two innings on 18 pitches. He needed 32 to get through the third as the A’s batted around and four different players drove in a run with RBI hits.
"We have the ability, if our big boys in the middle (of the lineup) aren’t doing it, to do it around them," said A’s manager Bob Melvin, whose team had six different players drive in runs in the game. "It doesn’t have to be the three guys we have with over 50 RBIs."
The inning included a bloop RBI single by Yoenis Cespedes and a chopper through the infield by Derek Norris that also went for an RBI single. On Norris’, a clearly frustrated Bumgarner failed to back up home plate, allowing two A’s runners to move up as Tyler Colvin’s throw from left field got past Buster Posey.
"It sucks," Bumgarner said. "I felt like I threw the ball pretty good tonight, really. The line says different, but honestly I felt like I had good command and made a lot of good pitches. I don’t know, it just happened to find holes, and they hit it where we wasn’t."
Those were the type of hits, meanwhile, that the Giants could not get. The Giants went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and were only spared a second consecutive shutout by Colvin’s home run leading off the seventh inning against Sonny Gray.
In Bumgarner’s eyes, it wasn’t for lack of hard contact on the Giants’ part.
"It’s hard to watch other teams, seems like they can break their bat and get a hit -- they’re hitting balls hard too, doubles and all that -- and then our guys, everybody’s crushing the ball and it just seems like it’s always right at somebody.
"It’s the way the game goes. But man, it’s a frustrating time."
The Giants had a man on second with one out in both the first and second innings, but in four at-bats struck out four times. Again with runners on first and second and one out in the fifth, Pence struck out on three pitches and Brandon Belt grounded out to first base. And Pence afterward wasn’t blaming the Giants’ struggles on luck.
"They did get some timely hits and some timely bloops," Pence said of the A’s. "(But) I had two bloop hits today. Buster hit three balls hard right at people. So you can’t totally quantify bloops vs. solid hits.
"You’ve just got to play the game and make sure we’re locked into playing solid defense and running the bases well and making good pitches. That’s baseball, and they did that."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he thought his team "had some better at-bats to create those opportunities," and that "they could use a break." But of the 0-for-9 line with men in scoring position, he said: "That’s not going to work."
"We created some pretty good chances," he said. "We had our chances. We couldn’t get somebody to come through and get a base hit."
Not even a bloop.
* Tomorrow’s print story covers the divergent paths taken by the Bay Area’s two teams since mid-June. But here’s the striking number: The teams had the same record of 43-28 on June 17. Since then, the A’s are 14-5 and the Giants are 6-13.
The A’s are now a season-high 24 games over .500, and their 57 wins are their most ever before the All-Star break -- and they still have five games to play.
The Giants are 7-20 since June 9, baseball’s worst record in that stretch, and have scored 18 runs in their last nine games.
* As for Pence’s interaction with the right-field fans: After Pence cupped his ear toward the bleachers and motioned for more noise, the fans rained down chants of "Pence, you suck," which continued sporadically throughout the game.
"They were a lot of fun out there, man," Pence said. "They’re creative. They’re rowdy, they’re loud. It’s a baseball atmosphere that’s fun to play in. They were razzing me a little bit, I went and kind of made a play, just a little fired up. I just made the play and I was kind of in the moment and having fun with it."
Melvin was asked if the A’s took any note of the run-in and shook his head. "That’s more for the fans," he said. "They were giving him the business a little out there in right field. It has nothing to do with how we play."
* Gray, who struck out six of the first 10 hitters he faced and finished one short of his career high with eight, continued the A’s remarkable run of starting pitching during their six-game homestand. The starters combined to throw 40 innings, allow four earned runs on 25 hits and strike out 41 batters. In all six, the A’s starter went at least six innings and allowed no more than one run -- the longest such stretch in team history since at least 1914.
"Once starters get on a roll like that, they’re really kind of competing with each other and pushing each other," Melvin said. "Next guy wants to be the guy to go out there and do just as well, if not better. So it becomes kind of a fraternal thing."
In total, A’s pitching allowed five runs in 57 innings on the homestand.
* The Giants spent much of the night clearly frustrated with home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Bumgarner was miffed by a full-count pitch to Josh Donaldson in the third that was called ball four, while several Giants hitters reacted in disbelief to called strikes. The frustration boiled over in the eighth after Hernandez called reliever Jean Machi for a balk. Machi argued, Bochy came out to argue, and after Machi got out of the inning he continued talking to Hernandez on his way to the dugout and was ejected.
Bochy was asked about the frustration with the strike zone and said it’s something that "can compound the damage. Now you’re not only competing against the pitcher, you’re thinking about calls. I know it’s frustrating for them, but you can dwell on that a little too much."
Bumgarner agreed that getting too worked up over the zone can be counterproductive.
"It’s just, we’re frustrated right now," he said. "We’re not playing the kind of ball we know we can play, and you know, tempers flare a little bit.
"That’s good. It means our guys got a lot of heart. They care. Nobody wants to go out there and just get beat all the time. So we’re working on it, and it’s just a tough time. I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s just not going our way, that’s for sure."
* The series now shifts to San Francisco, and we’ll see if the change in venue has any impact on what happens on the field. The Pence stuff aside, the A’s always seem to get a lift from playing at home, and Melvin acknowledged as much when asked about the A’s winning all six games on their short homestand after being swept in Detroit.
"It seems like we’ve gotten swept a couple times on the road at the end of a long road trip and come back here and the fans get us going, they’re into it, it’s a completely different atmosphere and you forget all about what happened previous," Melvin said. "It kind of had that feeling again today, and we put some distance between the Detroit series."
The Giants, though, haven’t enjoyed the kind of home-field advantage one might expect at AT&T Park during their recent slide. They’re 3-14 in their last 17 games at home, and now play their remaining five games before the All-Star break there.
That starts Wednesday night, with Jason Hammel making his A’s debut against Giants right-hander Matt Cain (1-7, 4.27). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.