The Giants’ starting middle infield Saturday featured two players who have spent the majority of this season in the minors. Their starting center fielder was their regular fourth outfielder. Working with starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was their backup catcher.
Vogelsong said he paid little attention to the names missing from the Giants’ lineup, and that: “I’ll play with any of our guys any day.” But he also acknowledged that, facing a St. Louis Cardinals team with the majors’ best record, “You gotta be pretty close to perfect to beat them.” And in a 6-0 loss at AT&T Park, the Giants fell far short of perfection.
The loss was just the Giants’ fourth in their last 20 games at home, and meant they would lose a game in either the wild-card or division race with the Cubs and Dodgers playing each other Saturday evening. A lineup missing several regulars generated no offense against Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn, but the Giants also played some loose defense behind Vogelsong in St. Louis’ four-run fifth inning.
Having held the Cardinals down for four innings despite throwing 73 pitches, Vogelsong started the fifth by leaving a pitch up to Brandon Moss, who drove it high off the brick in right-center. New Giants right fielder Marlon Byrd chased it to the wall, then watched as the ball ricocheted past him toward the infield while Moss sprinted for a triple.
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Byrd is playing his first week of home games in the Giants’ unique right field, and said earlier in the week that reading caroms off the arcade would be biggest challenge. But Bochy said Saturday’s read was “a tough play for anybody. It’s hard to tell which way that ball is going to come off the wall, and it kicked really hard back. Not much Marlon can do.”
After Vogelsong struck out Lynn, the Giants brought their infield in for Matt Carpenter. It’s a move Bochy said he doesn’t like to make often, but he felt preventing that first run on Saturday would be critical given the Giants’ short-handed lineup and the way Lynn was throwing.
It didn’t work. Carpenter hit a sharp grounder under the glove of second baseman Kelby Tomlinson into right field for an RBI single, touching off a four-run inning. Tomlinson later said a similar grounder Friday night had bounced up on him, but this time, “It just didn’t hop.”
“(First baseman Brandon) Belt said he saw it hit right on the lip of the grass and the dirt and that’s why it hugged the ground like that,” Tomlinson said. “It’s frustrating, because you want to make that play for (Vogelsong), he’s working so hard on the mound.”
Vogelsong then induced two ground balls that he was looking for, but Stephen Piscotty’s eluded the dive of third baseman Matt Duffy and Jhonny Peralta’s to Ehire Adrianza was too slow for the shortstop to turn a double play. With two on and two out, Vogelsong pitched carefully to Cardinals cleanup hitter Jason Heyward, walking him on four pitches for his final batter.
George Kontos entered and let one run in with a wild pitch before Yadier Molina hit a soft liner over Tomlinson for a two-run single. After stranding the first 26 runners he inherited this season, Kontos has allowed eight of his last 14 inherited runners to score.
“You can’t go against (Bochy’s) judgment there,” said Vogelsong, who threw 94 pitches. “George has been really good all year, especially coming in with guys on base. … Just the Cardinals are a tough team. They have the record they have for a reason.”
Part of the reason is St. Louis’ pitching staff, which has the majors’ lowest ERA at 2.63, and Lynn stymied the Giants until spraining his ankle and exiting in the eighth. The Giants advanced just one runner past second base and Justin Maxwell’s infield single was their lone hit with a man in scoring position.
Bochy rested Buster Posey after the catcher was hit by a pitch on his elbow Friday night, which left an already depleted lineup without its regular cleanup hitter. Posey, though, was on-deck to pinch-hit in the seventh and is expected to catch Chris Heston on Sunday. The Giants also remain optimistic that shortstop Brandon Crawford, who has missed three games with an oblique injury, will return Monday in Los Angeles. Crawford took swings indoors Saturday and “felt pretty good,” Bochy said.