Sunday marked the beginning of a new season for the San Francisco Giants, as they opened the 2017 major league baseball season in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. The Giants took the field with relatively the same team as they ended 2016 with, with one exception being their bullpen. The Giants blew save after save in 2016, and in the off-season decided to pay Mark Melancon to come to San Francisco and lock things down in the 9th. With the addition of Melancon, the Giants didn’t feel the need to retain Santiago Casilla, who made the trek across the Bay Bridge and will suit up for the Oakland A’s this season. Javier Lopez retired and Sergio Romo took his talents to the city of angels, thus marking the official end of the “Core Four” in Giants’ history (Jeremy Affeldt retired following the 2015 season). San Francisco was looking to start the season with Cory Gearrin, George Kontos, Derek Law, and Hunter Strickland acting as stop gaps to Melancon, with lefties Will Smith and Josh Osich battling for the lefty specialist role. Unfortunately, Will Smith suffered an injury in Spring Training and will miss the entire 2017 campaign while he undergoes Tommy John surgery. Josh Osich was anything but spectacular in his Spring outings, and manager Bruce Bochy opted to use 6th starter Ty Blach as the left handed reliever to begin the season. Neil Ramirez gained the other spot.
The one other question mark in 2016 was left field for the Giants. Last year the Giants fielded Angel Pagan out there for most of the season, but he had been declining since an injury kept him out a significant part of 2015, and he was headed for free agency after the year. With his contract up, the Giants decided to go in a different direction than the one they’ve taken the previous decade, and try to build from within at that position. Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson were the favorites for the job at the beginning of Spring Training, but Chris Marrero and Gorkys Hernandez played their way into the conversation, and due to an injury that landed Williamson on the 10-day DL, the other three all made the Opening Day roster.
Against Arizona, Jarrett Parker got the call in left field, but the rest of the lineup was pretty much the same we’d seen last season. Things started off rather blandly, with both teams going down quietly in the first, although the Giants did make D’backs starter Zack Greinke throw quite a few pitches. In the 2nd, the Giants scored their first run of 2017, when Joe Panik crushed a ball to center, just to see A.J. Pollock run it down; luckily it was plenty deep enough for Eduardo Nunez to score, and the Giants were up 1-0. Bumgarner was able to set the Arizona hitters down in order in the 2nd, and things remained scoreless until the top of the 5th, when Bumgarner took matters into his own hands and drilled a line drive home run to give his team a 2-0 lead. He then set down Arizona in order in the 5th…for the 5th inning in a row. In the top of the 6th, Eduardo Nunez picked up his first RBI of the new season, driving in Crawford and giving Bumgarner a 3-0 lead.
Having not allowed a base runner through the first five, it seemed Bumgarner had things well under control with a three run lead. Bochy lifted left fielder Parker for Gorkys Hernandez and the first of the 2016 demons made its appearance at Chase Field. In the bottom of the 6th Jeff Mathis drilled a ball down the left field line for the Diamondbacks’ first hit (and base runner) of the game. After the ball kicked around the corner, Hernandez kicked it toward center and then failed to pick up the ball twice before finally relaying it back to the infield as Mathis was pulling up at third base for what would be credited as a triple. Nick Ahmed was next up and lined a ball to right, allowing Mathis to score and putting Arizona on the board, still down 3-1. Next up was A.J. Pollock. He hit a high fly ball to deep left center that both Hernandez and Denard Span gave chase. At the wall, Gorkys Hernandez leaped and came up inches short of robbing a home run and just like that Arizona had tied the game at 3. Madison Bumgarner had a perfect game to start the inning, and three batters later it was tied.
In the top of the 7th, Bumgarner hit a bomb that might still be in the air somewhere in Arizona, giving the Giants the lead back at 4-3. With that home run, “MadBum” put himself atop the list of home runs hit by a pitcher in Giants’ history, and became the first starting pitcher in major league history to hit 2 home runs on Opening Day. After pitching through a quiet 7th, Bochy decided Bumgarner had done enough and opted to go to the bullpen.
In the bottom of the 8th, Bochy summoned Derek Law to attempt to get three outs and get it to new Giants closer, Mark Melancon. Law was a rare bright spot in a shaky ‘pen last season, although had notable issues when pitching later than the 7th. Those issues forgot that it’s a new season apparently and Law was not even able to get an out. Pollock and Chris Owings both singled, before Paul Goldschmidt was able to hit another single and drive in Pollock, tying the game again. That would be the end of the day for Law, who was lifted for Ty Blach. Blach was able to get a double play, then gave way to Strickland who got the final out keeping things even going to the 9th.
Panik started things off nicely for the Giants, as he tripled off new D’backs pitcher Fernando Rodney to open the frame. Then pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie was able to hit a fly ball to center deep enough for Panik to score, and the Giants were up again 5-4, this time with an all-star level closer warming up in the bullpen. The next three batters all reached base, just to see Buster Posey pop out, and Brandon Crawford ground out, leaving the bases loaded, and the Giants clinging to a one run lead.
Game 1 was the first time Mark Melancon would take the mound for the Giants, attempting to calm the nerves all Giants fans have grown accustomed to in the 9th inning. Things started off well enough. Brandon Drury struck out. David Peralta grounded out. 2 outs, nobody on. Then Jeff Mathis hit a line drive to left center, that Gorkys Hernandez kicked to Denard Span, resulting in a double for Mathis. With the tying run on, Jeremy Hazelbaker came in to give the D’backs more speed on the base paths. Pinch hitter Daniel Descalso was able to line a pitch back up the middle, allowing Hazelbaker to score and the game was tied again. Pollock then singled himself, allowing Descalso to take 3rd. After Pollock took 2nd on a defensive indifference, Chris Owings lined a base hit to right, and the Diamondbacks had stunned the Giants, defeating them 6-5.
And just like that, doubt crept back into every Giants fan’s mind. We all flashed back to Game 4 of the NLDS last year, where the bullpen had blown a 3 run lead in the 9th. We all remembered all off season, the topics of how they needed to find a left fielder. Then we remembered how Melancon, the guy standing on the field as the D’backs walked off, was supposed to be the answer. How Gorkys Hernandez’s glove made up for what his bat lacked. And it all seemed so….familiar.
You can’t take anything away from one game, and there will be at least 161 more for things to settle down. But to see the exact things that plagued the Giants in 2016, pop up in the first game of 2017, was unnerving, to say the least. Let’s hope the day off that everyone hated, is exactly what the San Francisco Giants needed. Let’s call this one a mulligan. Sunday was the final exclamation point for the 2016 woes. Tuesday sparks the beginning of the 2017 Giants season. Let’s hope anyway.