Giants right-hander Hunter Strickland stood at his locker in Kansas City late Wednesday night and shouldered responsibility for his role in the sixth-inning incident in Game 2 of the World Series that nearly cleared both benches.
By Thursday afternoon, Strickland had gone over his actions following Omar Infante’s home run – staring down, then exchanging words with Royals catcher Salvador Perez – with Giants manager Bruce Bochy and veteran relievers such as Jeremy Affeldt. Strickland had replayed his emotional response to allowing two costly hits in the Giants’ loss. And his assessment of his conduct had become more incisive.
“I’m embarrassed about it,” said Strickland, a 26-year-old rookie. “I was in the moment, and I took it a little too far. My emotions got to me.
“I’m embarrassed in front of my teammates, in front of the organization and all the fans. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys over there (the Royals). They’re a great team. It happened, and I can’t take it back.”
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What Strickland can do, his manager said before the Giants held an off-day workout at AT&T Park, is move forward.
“I was proud of how he owned his actions after the game,” Bochy said. “He stood up, and he said, ‘Hey, I made a mistake. I let my emotions lead me there.’
“Still, he’s part of this club, and he’s part of this bullpen.”
The question, now, is in what capacity. Bochy professed confidence in his entire bullpen a day after the Royals evened the Series with a 7-2 win, scoring five runs in a sixth inning in which the Giants used five pitchers. But Bochy also said the Giants may need to reassess how they’re trying to bridge the gap between their starting pitchers and late-game specialists, given the recent struggles of some of their relievers.
Infante’s home run was the fifth Strickland has allowed this postseason in five outings. It came after Jean Machi had allowed a go-ahead single to the only batter he faced, Royals designated hitter Billy Butler. Machi was among the Giants’ most reliable relief pitchers for most of the season, with a 1.57 ERA at the end of August, but he allowed nine runs in September and has been scored upon in three of his five outings in the playoffs.
“He faced one hitter, he got behind, and he made a mistake there, but that’s not a large sample,” Bochy said of Machi. “You can’t forget what he did (during the season). But at the same time, you have to go with your hot hands.
“So (pitching coach) Dave Righetti and myself, we’ll talk about how we’ll try to bridge this thing up to the guys that we normally use.”
Another option is Tim Lincecum, who looked sharp in retiring his first five hitters Wednesday night in his first appearance since Sept. 28. Lincecum exited the game in the eighth with back tightness, but an MRI on Thursday showed no damage, and he is expected to be available for Game 3 on Friday night.
One thing that could help mitigate the situation on Friday nightis a long outing by starter Tim Hudson. But Bochy said he didn’t want “to put any added pressure” on Hudson in his first career World Series start, and that in general, “you can’t push your starter past where you think he should be at.”
“We think we’re going to be fine,” Bochy said. “It didn’t go well (Wednesday) night, but that hasn’t happened very often. We try to stay positive here, and I want those guys that were in there to stay positive, too, Machi and Strickland, because they may be needed.”
Strickland, for his part, said he hopes that’s the case.
“You’ve got to have a short memory. It’s the World Series,” he said. “I’m ready to get back out there. I’ll be prepared whenever I need to go.”
Strickland said the issue in all his rough outings has been pitch execution, “Just leaving too many balls over the plate.” That was less the case on the pitch Perez hit into the left-center-field gap for a two-run double Wednesday night – a fastball away that Perez just reached out and laced. But Strickland’s 98-mph fastball to Infante ran back over the middle of the plate, resulting in Infante’s first home run in 40 career playoff games.
The ensuing confrontation made the situation uglier, and Strickland said the combination of events in the sixth led to a poor night’s sleep Wednesday. Affeldt said after the game he planned to talk with Strickland about controlling his emotions and affirmed Thursday that the discussion took place, but that he wanted to keep the specifics “in house.”
“Failure sometimes drives you, and failure can sometimes make you very fearful,” Affeldt said. “I think with Hunter it drives him. He wants to get better.”
Affeldt said that goes for the entire Giants relief corps after rough nights like Game 2.
“I don’t think anybody here panics,” Affeldt said. “I think we just know what we have to do, and that’s eliminate mistakes for the most part.
“I don’t think anybody’s lost faith in (Strickland and Machi). They know what they’re doing. It’s just, it is what it was.”