Last time Brandon Crawford had batted with the bases loaded against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his dramatic grand slam had quieted PNC Park, propelled the Giants to a win in last year’s N.L. Wild Card game and jump-started their run to a World Series title.
Monday against the Pirates, Crawford came up in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and the Giants trailing by two -- but there would be no repeat heroics. On the heels of a Brandon Belt strikeout, Crawford bounced into an inning-ending double play. Pittsburgh preserved its lead and parlayed it into a 4-3 win over the Giants at AT&T Park.
There was some irony in that it was Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole who induced the double-play grounder from Crawford -- and not only because Cole is a fellow UCLA alum who happens to date Crawford’s sister. Last year, the Pirates chose to start Cole on the final day of the regular season with an outside chance at winning the division, rather than saving Cole for the wild-card game.
Pittsburgh ended up in the wild-card game anyway and started Edinson Volquez, who gave up five runs in five innings -- including Crawford’s back-breaking grand slam -- in the Giants’ 8-0 win. It might not have made much difference who started for the Pirates given Madison Bumgarner’s complete-game performance, but Monday’s result might still have had Pirates fans wondering what-if.
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The Giants loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on two singles and a walk. But Belt, after fouling off a two-strike fastball at 96 mph and a slider at 89 mph, couldn’t check his swing on another 89 mph slider. And Crawford bounced into a 4-6-3 double play on a fastball clocked at 98 mph.
“That hurt us, we couldn’t get a run in there,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Those guys, the good ones, especially with that kind of stuff, they find a way to get out of it. (Cole) did. That was, I think, pretty much our undoing.”
Crawford had faced Cole six times in the majors before Monday night, and said that Cole appeared to have more movement on his top fastball compared to previous seasons.
“I remember there was some arm-side run in the past, but it was usually 93, 94 (mph), or something like that, kind of on the lower end of his fastball,” Crawford said. “But I mean the ball I grounded into the double play was 98 with sink, which I don’t remember him having in the past. So he was making some tough pitches on us.”
Not only on the Giants. Cole is now 8-2, tied for the most wins in the majors, with a 1.90 ERA. He has allowed just six earned runs in 35 1/3 innings over his last five starts, good for a 1.53 ERA.
The Giants did capitalize on a scoring chance in the first inning, when Nori Aoki led off with a single and Hunter Pence reached on a throwing error by shortstop Jung Ho Kang. With two outs, Belt fisted a broken-bat liner down the right-field for a two-run double. It was the Giants’ only extra-base hit off Cole, whose pitches appeared to gain velocity as the game went on. His 100th and final pitch of the night registered at 97 mph.
Still, the Giants had their chance in the sixth. Asked whether they tip their cap to Cole for escaping that jam, Bochy said: “Yes and no. He’s got great stuff, he’s having a great year. He’s got the stuff to pitch out of that jam.”
Stalking off the mound after Crawford’s double play, Cole seemed to scream all the way back to the Pirates’ dugout. He finished with nine strikeouts, and with Belt’s first-inning double the only hit he allowed in seven at-bats with men in scoring position.
“He’s tough, man,” opposing starter Ryan Vogelsong said. “We had him on the ropes there, bases loaded and nobody out, and he made some big pitches there to get out of it. He threw the ball well.”
* Vogelsong, meanwhile, was left regretting a handful of mistakes in the fifth, when the Pirates scored three runs to take a 4-2 lead. After Chris Stewart’s leadoff double, Buster Posey made a sharp play on Cole’s sacrifice attempt to throw Stewart out at third. But in a 1-2 count, Vogelsong hit Josh Harrison with an inside pitch and then walked Gregory Polanco to load the bases.
Andrew McCutchen tied the game with a sacrifice fly -- a sliding catch by Hunter Pence in right-center field prevented more -- and Neil Walker followed with a two-run double.
“I just put us in a real bad situation,” Vogelsong said. He said he had Harrison set up to go inside with two strikes, but the pitch “just got away from me a little bit … Then I end up walking Polanco -- on a pretty close pitch, but still a walk. That kind of set everything else up.”
The Pirates scored as many runs off Vogelsong on Monday (four) as the right-hander had allowed in five starts in May, when he went 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA.
“I thought I threw the ball really well,” Vogelsong said. “Just made too many mistakes in that fifth inning, and it ended up costing us the game.”
* Vogelsong’s line could have looked worse, but for two excellent plays by his outfield. In the third inning, McCutchen came up with the bases loaded and one out and crushed a ball into the left-center field gap. Angel Pagan ran it down, making a tumbling catch with the ball inches above the ground, limiting the damage to a sacrifice fly.
McCutchen’s very next at-bat resulted in Pence’s sliding catch in the other gap, and the Pirates’ center fielder could only smile as he returned to the dugout with no hits and two RBIs from two at-bats that could have produced much more.
“We’re used to seeing it, but that doesn’t make ’em any easier,” Vogelsong said of the defense. “Those were great plays.”
Asked if he thought either ball was catchable, Vogelsong said: “The first one, no. That was an unbelievable play.” He said McCutchen got jammed in the second at-bat but “got enough of it to get it out there, and Hunter makes a great play.”
“Our defense saved us from letting that game get away,” Bochy said. “And the bullpen did too, kept it close. We just came up short.”
* The Giants pulled within one run in the eighth when Aoki doubled, advanced on a Joe Panik flyout and scored on a Pence groundout. But the inning ended when Posey hit a fly ball down the right-field line and was called out on fan interference, after a fan wearing a Pirates hat and a Barry Bonds Pirates jersey reached over the wall as Gregory Polanco was trying to make the catch.
Umpires originally ruled no play, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle challenged and the replay crew in New York overturned the call. Bochy said he hadn’t watched the replay but “wasn’t surprised” by the ruling.
“It looked like the fan was in fair territory a little bit,” he said. “If he wouldn’t have been there, I don’t know if (Polanco) would’ve caught the ball. It looked like it hit his glove, he just missed it, then the fan hit him. But you’re not going to get that call once the fan reaches in fair territory.”
* The Pirates have won nine of 11 games. The Giants start June with their third straight loss, the first time that’s happened since April 15-17.
Game two of the series has Chris Heston (5-3, 3.82) facing Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (5-1, 1.81). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.