San Francisco Giants

Nori Aoki’s aggressiveness burns Giants in loss as Pirates earn sweep

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson stands on the mound after giving up a home run to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jordy Mercer during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in San Francisco. Pittsburgh won 5-2.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson stands on the mound after giving up a home run to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jordy Mercer during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in San Francisco. Pittsburgh won 5-2. AP

Much of Nori Aoki’s impact on his new team this season has stemmed from his ability to reach base and make things happen when he gets there. Aoki owns the Giants’ highest on-base percentage, and he already has 12 steals for a team whose leaders in that category last year, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco, finished with 16.

In Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, though, the sometimes costly effect of that aggressiveness was on display.

In the third inning, following an RBI single by Joe Panik that gave the Giants a 1-0 lead, Aoki was thrown out trying to steal third base with two outs, negating a chance for the Giants to prolong the rally. With the Giants down by a run in the eighth, Aoki and Panik led off with consecutive singles. But when Angel Pagan hit a sharp line drive up the middle, Aoki broke for third instead of waiting to see if the ball would get through to the outfield, and was doubled up easily when shortstop Jordy Mercer caught the ball.

The impact of those plays was lessened somewhat when the Pirates scored three times in the ninth inning to widen their lead. Still, manager Bruce Bochy said half-jokingly about Aoki after the game: “We may have to nail him to the bag.”

“He’s a little aggressive at times,” Bochy said. “I should’ve put the hold on (in the third). I didn’t think he was going to go there with Angel (Pagan) up, two outs. I’ll talk to him about it.”

Bochy’s answer indicated that Aoki has the green light to try to steal (he’s now 12 for 17 on stolen-base attempts this season). But in that situation, Aoki was already in scoring position, and with his speed he likely had a good chance of scoring from second on a Pagan hit to the outfield. Aoki said through interpreter Kosuke Inaji that, “I thought I could get to third. The results obviously show I was out, but I thought I could get to third safely.”

Bochy called the eighth-inning play “a bad break.”

“Angel smoked that ball and (Aoki) got doubled off,” Bochy said. “If he holds his ground and it gets over (Mercer’s) head, he’s still going to score on it. He was just a little too aggressive at times. You don’t want to take that away, but at the same time we have to play a little bit smarter.”

Aoki acknowledged that by not freezing on contact in the eighth, he “kind of gambled a little bit there.”

“I thought it was going to get through – the shortstop ended up having to jump for the ball and he ended up catching it,” he said. “We were trying to gain momentum going into the later innings, and I kind of gambled there and tried to tie the game up there.”

After the play, Aoki walked slowly back to the Giants’ dugout with his head down much of the way. He said after the game that he may have been “a little bit” too aggressive on the bases Wednesday. But he said that won’t change the way he plays – and runs.

“On the other hand, you have to stay aggressive throughout a long season,” Aoki said. “Even after today, I’m still going to stay aggressive. I feel that’s a good way to apply pressure to the other team.”

The Giants, who were swept by the Pirates and have lost five games in a row, put plenty of runners on base in this series but had trouble scoring them. The Giants left 23 runners on base in three games against Pittsburgh and went 5 for 28 with men in scoring position.

After scoring the second-most runs in the majors in May, the Giants had trouble getting timely hits against the Pirates, who threw their top three starters from a pitching staff that owns baseball’s second-best ERA and have now won 11 of their past 13 games.

“That team we just played, they have a very nice starting staff,” Bochy said. “You look at their numbers, you need to play your best ball. I don’t think we did that.”

Too soon to swoon?

A look a the Giants’ five-game losing streak in comparison with their 21-win month of May:

May 1-29 Category May 30-June 3

21-7 Record 0-5

5.1 Runs avg. 2.8

10.2 Hits avg. 8.6

.296 Batting avg. .249

3.27 ERA 5.80

*-Baseball-Reference.com

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