San Francisco Giants

S.F. bullpen melts down in game two loss

Brandon Belt and fellow infielders Pablo Sandoval, left, Brandon Crawford (35) and Joe Panik wait during a pitching change in the sixth inning, when the Royals pulled away with five runs.
Brandon Belt and fellow infielders Pablo Sandoval, left, Brandon Crawford (35) and Joe Panik wait during a pitching change in the sixth inning, when the Royals pulled away with five runs. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

With two runners on in the sixth inning of a tie game, Royals manager Ned Yost went to his bullpen, replacing starter Yordano Ventura with right-handed flamethrower Kelvin Herrera. Herrera, whose first pitch was a 101-mph fastball that Brandon Belt swung at and missed, got out of the inning with the tie intact.

With two men on in the bottom of the inning, Giants manager Bruce Bochy also went to his bullpen, summoning Jean Machi to relieve Jake Peavy. Machi started 2-0 to Royals designated hitter Billy Butler before throwing a fastball that Butler lined into left field for a go-ahead single, igniting a five-run rally.

This World Series was billed partly as a matchup of two of baseball’s best bullpens, and Round 1 on Wednesday night went decidedly to the blue corner. Doing most of their damage against right-hander Hunter Strickland, the Royals broke Game 2 open in the sixth en route to a 7-2 win, evening the Series 1-1 before it shifts to AT&T Park.

The Giants lost for the first time in eight World Series games and also saw right-hander Tim Lincecum exit in the eighth because of back tightness. Lincecum was the sixth pitcher for the Giants, who burned through five pitchers in the sixth, when the Royals capitalized on five hits and a walk.

Peavy allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain and a walk to Eric Hosmer before Bochy made his first move, going to Machi to “give Butler a little different look.”

“Those are the matchups that we were trying to get,” Bochy said of how the rest of the inning unfolded. “It just didn’t work out.”

Butler’s single gave the Royals a 3-2 lead and left men on first and second with one out. Javier Lopez entered and got Alex Gordon to fly out, but Bochy brought in Strickland to face the right-handed Salvador Perez, and the move backfired.

Strickland bounced his 0-2 pitch to Perez, allowing both runners to move up 90 feet, and threw a 97-mph fastball that Perez stroked into the left-center field gap for a two-run double. Two pitches later, Royals second baseman Omar Infante hit a Strickland fastball over the left-field wall for his first postseason home run in 145 career at-bats.

“Perez went out and got that one; it really wasn’t too bad of a pitch,” catcher Buster Posey said. “And then really I think the one mistake was probably to Infante. The ball just ran back middle-in.”

It was the fifth homer Strickland has allowed in six appearances in the playoffs and it also touched off a brief altercation. As Perez crossed home, he and Strickland exchanged words. Members of both benches jogged onto the field along with several members of the Kansas City bullpen, while umpires stepped in to separate Strickland and Perez.

“I don’t know if he thought I was yelling at him or not,” Strickland said later. “I was just frustrated with myself. I hadn’t done my job to the best of my ability. So it was a miscommunication, I guess, on my part.”

Perez gave a different version of the events, saying that after his double, Strickland had “started looking at me on second base.”

“After Omar hit the bomb and I get close to home plate, he (started) to look at me,” Perez said. “So I asked him, like, ‘Hey, why you look at me?’ So he was telling me, ‘Get out of here, whatever.’”

Strickland said he couldn’t tell what Perez was saying, but he thought the Royals’ catcher was yelling at him.

“That’s what I initially assumed, and that’s my fault for assuming,” Strickland said. “No hard feelings towards anything. It’s just my emotions got to me.”

No punches were thrown, but Infante’s home run knocked Strickland out of the game and gave the Royals a five-run lead, sending a jolt through the Kauffman Stadium crowd that had been so quiet in the late innings a night before. It also allowed Yost to deploy his late game 1-2-3 punch of Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who combined to throw the final 32/3 scoreless innings in relief of Ventura.

The Giants took an immediate lead Wednesday when Gregor Blanco hit Ventura’s eighth pitch into the visiting bullpen for the first World Series leadoff homer in Giants history. It was the 19th time a World Series game had begun with a homer.

But the lead was short-lived. Peavy allowed an RBI single to Butler in the first inning and doubles by Infante and Alcides Escobar in the second as the Royals took their first lead of the Series, 2-1. The Giants tied the score in the fourth when Pablo Sandoval doubled and scored on a double by Brandon Belt. But the threat ended when Belt hesitated tagging up on Michael Morse’s flyout to right and got caught diving back to second base.

Peavy had retired 10 hitters in a row entering the sixth, but he faced just two batters in that inning and still has not made it out of the sixth in eight career postseason starts.

It was just the beginning of a nightmarish inning for the Giants and their relief corps. But aside from evening the Series, Bochy said he didn’t expect any residual effects from the inning.

“I don’t see any issues from this point on,” Bochy said. “I just had to calm Strickland down. It’s a big stage. A lot of emotions are going to be shown in these games, and the kid was frustrated. He’ll be back out there.”

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