Jorge L. Ortiz.
SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Giants have set such a high standard for celebrating their collection of championships, team President Larry Baer acknowledged the huge expectations’ placed on those in charge of organizing the ceremony to raise the team’s third World Series flag in five years.
Fulfilling the wishes of many fans, not to mention their staff ace, the Giants had postseason hero Madison Bumgarner – an experienced rancher – ride a police horse along the warning track from left to center field while carrying the newest banner, which he handed off to six fellow veteran pitchers to run up the pole.
It was a fitting way to commemorate the exploits that culminated with Bumgarner earning World Series MVP honors.
But as opposed to last October, the Giants won’t be able to jump on Bumgarner’s back all season, and they might not have the horses to put up a hearty defense of their title.
For only the fourth time since moving to their bayside ballpark in 2000, the Giants dropped their home opener Monday, enduring a frustrating 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Rockies to extend San Francisco’s losing streak to four games as it fell to 3-5.
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“You hate to lose your opener. Big day with the ceremonies,” manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, making them 13-for-68 (.191) for the season. “We just couldn’t get a timely hit.”.
Even while enjoying a stretch of success unprecedented in franchise history, Giants fans have grown used to the idea that the odds don’t favor them in odd-numbered years. San Francisco missed the playoffs in the seasons after the 2010 and 2012 championships, and ominous signs loom this year.
High-energy right fielder Hunter Pence’s forearm was broken by a pitch in spring training, and he might not return until May. In addition, first baseman/outfielder Travis Ishikawa has been sidelined by a lower-back strain, and Brandon Belt and Casey McGehee have missed time early on with injuries.
Combined with the free agent departures of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, their absence has considerably weakened the Giants lineup, which currently mostly consists of singles hitters. Monday, they got eight runners on base in the first three innings against Rockies rookie Eddie Butler and stranded them all on the way to leaving 12 on base.
“We got guys on. We just didn’t get that key hit to draw blood,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “Once you get that one, it seems to open up. We just didn’t get that one.”.
An even bigger concern is the pitching staff, the backbone of the first two championship runs and a major factor last October, mostly because of Bumgarner and a sturdy bullpen.
Aware that their rotation needed a boost, the Giants went hard after left-hander Jon Lester in the offseason, failed to land him, then pursued fellow free agent James Shields, also fruitlessly. They settled for bringing back Jake Peavy, which left them with the same group that ranked 10th in the NL last season in starters’ ERA.
Some of the expected improvement was based on the expectation that erstwhile ace Matt Cain would return to his previous form after he went 2-7 last season and was sidelined from mid-July on because of bone spurs in his elbow that required surgery. But Cain struggled through four spring appearances and is back on the disabled list with a flexor tendon sprain.
His spot in the rotation has been taken up by Chris Heston, one of San Francisco’s few bright spots so far. The 27-year-old rookie pitched six strong innings in Cain’s stead to notch his first major league victory Wednesday at the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he was sharp again Monday, allowing two runs – one earned – in seven innings against the league’s most prolific offense. He’s the first Giants pitcher this season to deliver two quality starts.
However, Heston would not be rewarded for his efforts, as the club was shut out in its home opener for just the third time since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
Even Bumgarner couldn’t ride to the rescue, though he did get a kick out of his 100-yard trot atop the horse.
“I can probably say I’ll never get a chance to do that again,” Bumgarner said. “It was something fun to do for the fans. They seemed to enjoy it.”.
They better get their jollies where they can this season.
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