San Francisco Giants

Rare blown lead in ninth results in Giants’ 7-5 loss

Giants second baseman Joe Panik (12) can't make the catch in front of right fielder Hunter Pence on a hit by Atlanta’s A.J. Pierzynski during the ninth inning, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in San Francisco.
Giants second baseman Joe Panik (12) can't make the catch in front of right fielder Hunter Pence on a hit by Atlanta’s A.J. Pierzynski during the ninth inning, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in San Francisco. AP

Before Sunday, no one had more than one career home run off Giants closer Santiago Casilla.

That changed when Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman hit a 1-0 fastball over the center-field wall at AT&T Park in the ninth inning. It was Freeman’s second homer off Casilla, who has pitched regularly in the majors since 2007, in three days.

“Same pitch,” Casilla said later, shaking his head.

The ninth inning only got stranger for the Giants, who gave a two-run lead to their closer only to see it disappear. Freeman’s homer cut that lead to one. Sure-handed shortstop Brandon Crawford mishandled a potential double-play grounder that would have ended the game. Former Giant A.J. Pierzynski loaded the bases with a bloop single. And Jace Peterson’s three-run triple handed the Giants a 7-5 defeat, a downbeat coda in an otherwise uplifting month.

The loss was the Giants’ first this season when taking a lead into the ninth inning. They had been 25-0, and their two blown saves entering Sunday were the fewest in the majors.

Casilla retired Juan Uribe on a groundout to start the ninth inning before Freeman homered off him for the second time in three career at-bats (Freeman also has a double). As he did Friday night, when Freeman hit a home run that proved futile in a 4-2 Giants win, Casilla said he “tried for location away; it was middle-up.”

Casilla then walked Andrelton Simmons and induced a routine grounder from Christian Bethancourt to Crawford, one of the league’s best defensive shortstops. Crawford let the ball kick out of his glove, leaving both runners safe.

“It wasn’t hit real hard, so I came to get it,” Crawford said. “It took a little funny hop off of the grass, but I just came at it too hard, and I was trying to get two before I ever caught the ball.”

Pierzynski then hit a flare to shallow right field, just out of the reach of second baseman Joe Panik, and Peterson laced a 1-0 pitch from Casilla into the gap in right-center field. Though only three of the runs were earned, it was the first time Casilla has been charged with four runs in an outing since 2009, before he ever put on a Giants uniform. Casilla hadn’t allowed a run all month, in 12 outings, before this series against the Braves.

After the walk to Simmons, left-hander Javier Lopez started to warm up in the Giants’ bullpen. But manager Bruce Bochy later said he was not going to be quick to bring in Lopez. Bochy already had used relievers George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt and Hunter Strickland after starter Madison Bumgarner departed in the seventh inning, and Sergio Romo was unavailable because he was sick. And the Braves still had a right-hander and two switch hitters on their bench to counter Lopez.

“I’ve got my closer out there,” Bochy said. “He got the ground ball. There’s nothing he can do. He made a great pitch to get the ground ball.”

Bochy described the inning, and the loss, as “a tough one. A lot of good things happened (in the game).”

Bumgarner had been perfect through four innings but left the game with San Francisco trailing 3-2. The Giants regained the lead in the seventh on a two-run home run from Panik. It was their third homer of the game, after Brandon Belt and Crawford hit back-to-back shots off Julio Teheran in the second inning.

“It’s disappointing with the comeback that we had, with Joe’s home run,” Crawford said. “And having it end like that, it’s disappointing.”

Crawford might have been talking about the month. The Giants started May four games under .500 and 41/2 out of first place in the National League West. But they ran off 21 wins in May, including eight shutouts, and needed one more to record their most wins in a month since the 1954 team went 24-4 in June. They settled for closing the month with a 13-4 stretch and a half-game behind the Dodgers in the division.

“Good month,” Bochy said. “Would’ve been nice to get this one, but it’s baseball, and you’ve got to deal with something like this occasionally, hopefully not very often. But guys played great this month. Hopefully we’ll carry that momentum into June.”