SAN FRANCISCO — Nothing went right for the Pirates in their 6-3 road loss to the San Francisco Giants, not even the good parts.
Pittsburgh’s best starting pitcher this season, Francisco Liriano, was far from his sharpest. He allowed four runs in the first inning and could only pitch four frames. An offense that collected 20 hits the last two nights against the Giants could manage only three against starter Tim Lincecum.
The night’s lone bright spot was Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez hitting his first Major League home run off the former Cy Young Award winner. That too was marred by the fact that Sanchez does not have the baseball he clubbed deep over AT&T Park’s left-field wall on a full count. A ball was thrown from the crowd onto the field, but it was a Pony League ball and not the MLB ball Sanchez had deposited into the seats.
“I guess that’s my home run ball,” Sanchez said. “I drew up first home runs for the past month that I’ve been here. Every day you think about it.”
That story does not have a happy ending — yet. Fans in Wrigley Field’s outfield bleachers are known for throwing phony home-run balls back while keeping the Real McCoy, now the trend has spread West. Sanchez is offering cash and bats for the genuine first-homer baseball.
Liriano Labors Through “Street Fight”
Though Sanchez picked up Major League Home Run No. 1, his night at catcher was a rough one. Liriano gave up hits to his first three batters and five in all over the 1st inning as the Giants leaped to a 4-0 lead.
“He was through the stretch through the entire first inning,” Sanchez said. “Tough for him to get into a rhythm of things, kind of left a couple sliders up… If a guy doesn’t have an outing like he’s supposed to have, I take that personally.”
It was a bad luck inning, certainly. Marco Scutaro’s leadoff single grounded through the middle of the infield. Joaquin Arias’ double was just barely inside the left-field line, if it was even fair. Buster Posey’s RBI broke his bat. Brett Pill picked up an RBI on an half-swing that dribbled the ball down into the Bermuda Triangle of the mound, home plate and third base.
“Ground-ball single, check-swing hit, it’s part of the game,” Liriano said. “It’s one of those nights that no matter what you throw, they’re gonna hit it.”
But Liriano’s struggles were not simply being slapped by Lady Luck. Though baseball’s best swing-and-miss starter generated 11 whiffs over his 102 pitches, three of those came with Lincecum at the plate, who had two of the three Liriano strikeouts.
“It was a battle for me the whole night,” Liriano said. “Guys deep into counts, 3-2 counts a lot. Every time I make some good pitches, they fouled them off. They found a way to put it into play.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle cited inconsistent command from Liriano and had to pull the starter before the 5th inning.
“It was a street fight out there for him for four innings,” Hurdle said. “We don’t overcook things. He didn’t have it tonight.”
Lincecum Rolls Through Bucs Lineup
Prior to Sanchez’s home run in the 5th, Lincecum looked dominant in front of an adoring sold-out crowd of 42,059 fans, striking out 7 of his first 14 batters.
Even when he walked his first two batters to start the 4th, Lincecum retired the next three, including strikeouts of middle-of-the-order hitters Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones for the second time each.
“We had a couple openings. We weren’t able to capitalize,” Hurdle said. “We weren’t able to click a ball when we needed to off him.”
Alvarez smacked a double down the right-field line to put two runners in scoring position in the 6th, causing Lincecum to exit to a hearty standing ovation from the crowd of orange and black.
Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez hit the second pitch from reliever Jose Mijares up the middle for an RBI. Then Jean Machi gave up a first-pitch single to Sanchez, who drove in another run and represented the potential tying run.
However, Machi struck out Andrew Lambo swinging (though Lambo, in his first game back with the Pirates tried to argue he had tipped the ball into the dirt). Clint Barmes laced a sharp ground-ball down the third-base line, but Pablo Sandoval snared it and threw on to first to extinguish the rally.
While the Giants bullpen closed out the victory on 3.2 scoreless innings, Jared Hughes and Vin Mazzaro each allowed a run to let San Francisco add to their lead. The Pirates’ loss sends them into a first-place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
And a home-run ball is still at large.