In a pitching matchup between two of the most imposing starting pitchers in the National League, the team with the better bullpen prevailed in an Opening Day matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, clearly the more credentialed of the two starters, stands at 6’5” and weighs 235 pounds, but Arizona starter Brandon McCarthy, himself a 6’7”, 200-pound giant, proved to be no slouch on the mound either.
Indeed, McCarthy finished off the 2013 season with a 2.94 ERA over his last seven starts, and on Monday, he picked up right where he left off. The right-hander started his evening well, consistently pounding the inside corner from the get-go. He struck out the side in order in his first inning of work, then induced three straight groundouts in the second.
Bumgarner didn’t dominate over the first few innings to the same degree as his counterpart, but he put up zeroes on the scoreboard over the first three innings. The left-hander did surrender a pair of hits and walks in the first two innings, but he got some timely assistance from his right fielder, Hunter Pence.
After Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero singled sharply to right with nobody out in the second inning, Mark Trumbo, who was on first to begin the play, decided to test Pence’s arm. The latter gunned down Trumbo with a throw that hardly could have been more perfect, erasing a potential first-and-third-with-nobody-out situation.
Few players in the majors have a more unconventional throwing motion than Pence, who whips the ball with an awkward short-arm rotation. But as Trumbo can attest, it gets the job done—Pence ranks ninth among active outfielders in assists.
The key throw just might have given the Giants the spark they needed. After being shut down early on, San Francisco made some noise in the top of the third inning, jumping ahead behind an Angel Pagan single for the first run of the 2014 campaign.
After striking out Pagan looking with an inside fastball in the first, McCarthy tried to sneak one-too-many inside pitches by the Giants center fielder the second time around. Pagan then smacked a single through the right side of the infield, plating Brandon Crawford from second base after Arizona right fielder Gerardo Parra’s throw went too far up the third-base line.
After that, the Giants weren’t on top for long. Bumgarner’s luck ran out in the bottom of the fourth, when his defense failed him after bailing him out two innings earlier. The first two runners of the inning reached base via errors by Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, at which point the wheels really came off.
The DBacks followed the defensive mishaps with back-to-back singles. After Bumgarner got a groundout and a strikeout, Arizona’s underrated, steady-hitting second baseman, Aaron Hill, stepped to the plate with runners on second and third and two outs in the inning.
With slugger Paul Goldschmidt looming on deck, Bumgarner couldn’t afford to pitch around Hill, resulting in a misplaced curveball that Hill hit into the right-center field gap for a clutch two-bagger.
In the blink of an eye, the Diamondbacks had plated four runs.
From there, the Giants made a few attempts to get back into the game that never quite materialized—until the seventh inning. In the top of the frame, pinch hitter Ehire Adrianza chased McCarthy from the game with an RBI double, the first of five straight Giants hits. A walk to Pence ultimately tied the score at seven, which is how the game remained until the ninth inning.
Then, after going quiet since their offensive explosion, the Giants used a little help from their MVP catcher to finish off the comeback. With Belt on first base following a single, Buster Posey stepped to the plate and promptly crushed a gargantuan two-run homer than put the Giants ahead, for good.
Closer Sergio Romo came in to close the door, and while he surrendered a leadoff homer to Montero, Posey’s homer provided enough of a cushion to secure the 9-8 victory.
The roller coaster of a game resulted in a few positive takeaways for the Giants. Most notably, Crawford started off his season on a high note. After news surfaced earlier this week that he would platoon with Joaquin Arias to begin the season, the shortstop knocked an opposite-field single in his first at-bat, then followed that up with a double high off the center field wall.
In more than a few parks, Crawford’s double would have gone for a homer, staying in the yard only because of Chase Field’s cavernous dimensions. We’ve heard this story before, but Crawford looks good early on for the second straight season.
Belt also redeemed himself a bit after his error, hitting a long home run over the right field wall, the first of his three hits. Even so, the offensive performance wasn’t much of a surprise, given the first baseman’s success against the DBacks last season: .345/.371/.569 slash line with four homers. His contributions made the difference in a tight, one-run game.
On Tuesday, the Giants will send Matt Cain to the mound, while the Diamondbacks will counter with Wade Miley.