ATLANTA – Oh, how the Giants could have wailed over the injustice in the second inning Monday night.
Brandon Belt slid into second base one full beat ahead of the ball. Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson held the tag, as infielders are taught to do now that the camera angles matter. Even when Belt’s front foot popped up, his back knee and cleat held fast to the dirt-covered base. Umpire Brian O’Nora peered in and pumped an out call. A replay review did not overturn it, citing a lack of conclusive evidence.
Instant replay both created a problem and then inexplicably failed to remedy it.
But what is the point? Why complain about the brandy selection while the luxury liner is listing? The Giants offense returned to sea level and took underwater swings at R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, and even if they had managed to grab a lead, the bullpen appeared ill equipped to hold it while splintering apart in the eighth inning of a 9-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
It was the Giants’ first game in the suburban sprawl at Sun Trust Park. Maybe next time they will score their first run.
The Giants have lost seven consecutive games and at 26-46, they have matched their worst record through 72 games in the club’s San Francisco era. The 1985 and 1973 teams also won just 26 of their first 72 games.
If these Giants were to scrimmage Jimmy Davenport’s squad or that Charlie Fox-managed team, here’s guessing it wouldn’t go well for them.
The Braves scored the only one they would require in the third inning, when Ender Inciarte doubled home Johan Camargo from first base. It would have taken a perfect relay to get him. The Giants did not make a perfect relay.
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Manager Bruce Bochy and the players talk of turning around their season by playing cleaner, more fundamentally sound games. It’s the little things, you know.
Their lack of offense is a big thing. It is blotting out everything else.
Dickey gave up hits to the first two batters he faced. The Giants had runners at the corners with no outs. Their middle-of-the-order hitters followed with this: Brandon Crawford popped to short, Buster Posey struck out and Hunter Pence popped to short.
Dickey gave up just one other hit in seven shutout innings, and Belt recorded it before he was thrown out trying to stretch his single in the second.
Dickey retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced. The only exception came when a knuckler fluttered Posey’s jersey.
Johnny Cueto had no shot to win despite one of his finest outings of the season, not that the final score would indicate it. He held the Braves to two runs on five hits in seven innings.
The Braves sent Camargo to the plate on Inciarte’s double even though center fielder Denard Span was able to cut it off in the right-center gap. Span put all of his arm into a throw that reached Crawford, the cutoff man, on a fly. Crawford took an extra moment to set his feet and give himself the best chance to make a strong throw to the plate. But it was ever so slightly up the third base line, and Posey couldn’t handle it on one hop.
Matt Adams added a run in the fourth when he pounded his 11th home run of the season.
The Giants were in St. Louis when the Cardinals traded Adams to the Braves in May. They caught a break by not having to face him then. But baseball has a way of evening things out. The breaks and the small stuff tend to come back around.
When you don’t score, though, what does any of it matter?
Dickey, the only healthy active knuckleball pitcher in the big leagues, has a way of disrupting a hitter’s timing. Bochy shielded rookie Austin Slater from facing him, instead giving a start to Gorkys Hernandez, who had four hits in 10 at-bats against the knuckler practitioners.
Hernandez contributed a leaping catch in left field that might have made the difference, had the Giants been seeking to protect a one-run lead.
Belt couldn’t have had an unluckier day if he had been literally snakebit and then the ambulance caught a flat tire on the way to the hospital. In addition to the botched replay decision that robbed him of a double, the Braves also made diving plays to take away a bloop hit in left field and another on a hard grounder to the right side.
The Braves, even with a 32-37 record, lead the major leagues with 11 victories in their final at-bat. Brandon Phillips collected walk-off hits Saturday and Sunday.
They required no comeback in this series opener, but they did take advantage when the Giants bullpen once again failed to stanch the bleeding.
Josh Osich issued a leadoff walk that started a seven-run bludgeoning. Six of the runs scored after Derek Law entered the game and … well, also issued a leadoff walk. He didn’t retire any of the six batters he faced and left-handed hitters pummeled him, with Danny Santana launching a three-run pinch homer.
Left-handed hitters have 12 hits in their last 21 at-bats against Law.
The relievers were frustrated by Bochy’s matchup-based strategy last year, and asked that they be trusted to pitch full innings this season. Bochy complied. The relievers have not delivered on their end.