Giants fight but fail to measure up in 10-inning loss to Dodgers

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Los Angeles Dodgers arrived at their archrivals’ waterfront ballpark for the first time this season Monday night. They had the full billion on display.

Shohei Ohtani at designated hitter. Yoshinobu Yamamoto on the mound.

Picture that neighbor on your street who rubs you the wrong way. Imagine they roll up one day in a new Bentley. Now picture them rolling up with another, and parking one so haphazardly that it blocks your driveway. And to make matters worse, imagine that the spiffy little import you recently purchased, the one you were really growing to like, was in the body shop after you crashed it into a tree.

Jealousy is a wasted emotion but sports rivalries are driven by petty sentiments. The Giants tried to sign Ohtani and then Yamamoto over the winter. They matched every penny of the $700 million that Ohtani accepted from the Dodgers. They catered Michelin-starred sushi and invited Yamamoto to shoot hoops at Chase Center. They tried to make the two Japanese megastars feel at home in San Francisco, calling in every favor short of rerouting the Lefty O’Doul Bridge so that traffic would flow on the left. They tried to sell Ohtani, and later Yamamoto, on the groundbreaking opportunity to revitalize a city and a franchise.

That is not the opportunity that either player desired, though. They didn’t want to revitalize a franchise. They wanted to join a franchise that already had a dominant, winning identity.

“I’m very grateful that they chose the Dodgers,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said Monday afternoon from the shade of the visiting dugout. “Because having those two guys in orange and black would change the landscape. But I do think they look better in Dodger blue.”

The timing of their arrival in San Francisco was like salt to a very wounded home team. The Giants couldn’t even counter with most of their $400 million Plan B. Left-hander Blake Snell, the 2023 NL Cy Young Award winner and certifiable Dodger killer who got a late start after signing toward the end of spring training, has contributed three non-competitive outings thus far and is on the injured list with a groin injury. Former home run champ Jorge Soler had fizzled as a run producer before a sore shoulder sent him to the IL. Most dismally, the Giants are still working through the earliest stages of grief after Jung Hoo Lee, arguably the most significant free-agent signing in six years under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, dislocated his shoulder Sunday afternoon when he crashed into the center-field fence.

The Giants could not stage the highly anticipated theater of Lee against Yamamoto; the contact-hitting savant stung Yamamoto with a pair of line drives in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It’s likely to be a long while before the curtain parts on Lee’s next confrontation with any major-league pitcher.

Lee went for an MRI and was examined by Dr. Ken Akizuki; results weren’t immediately available. But surgery to stabilize the shoulder capsule, which usually involves a six-month recovery time, tends to be more common than not in these cases to minimize the risk of a reoccurrence. Lee is 25 and in the first season of a six-year, $113 million contract. Players and teams tend to take the long view under these circumstances.

The long view? The short view? The medium term? It’s the same no matter how you consider the Dodgers’ hegemony in the National League West. An out-of-nowhere season like 2021 aside, when can the Giants possibly hope to be on equal footing year in and year out with their staunchest rival? When will the sellout crowds return and when will the encroachment of blue-shirted fans be abated on the shores of McCovey Cove? When can the Giants possibly feel like they have the upper hand again? And what major shakeups, either to the roster or front office or otherwise, must happen to precipitate that sea change?

The Giants did not have any valid excuses for entering this series four games under .500. They couldn’t blame misfortune for playing nearly a quarter of their season without putting together a three-game win streak. But those excuses, should they care to employ them, are built in now. That tends to be the case when you lose seven of your 13 position players to the injured list over an eight-day span.

So the Dodgers arrived with Ohtani and Yamamoto’s star power to go along with the globular cluster of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and the rest. And the Giants countered with a lineup that included four players who were starting in the Pacific Coast League a week ago.

Here’s the thing. The Giants received enough contributions from that group, and from their most successful free-agent addition from this past winter, right-hander Jordan Hicks, to win the game.

Luis Matos pelted Yamamoto’s first-pitch curveball into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run in the second inning. The Giants chased Yamamoto in the sixth after scoring their fourth run of the game — the most earned runs he’s allowed since his major-league debut in the Korea series against the San Diego Padres in March. Hicks and company mostly contained Ohtani, holding him to a pair of singles while striking him out twice. Mike Yastrzemski made a full-extension dive in right field to take an extra-base hit away from Betts and limit the damage in the fifth inning.

The Dodgers tied it on Kiké Hernández’s solo homer in the seventh, but Giants closer Camilo Doval entered to his club-scene fanfare in the ninth and dominated his three batters to give the home team a freeroll to win the game. With the imploring crowd channeling the energy of October baseball, Wilmer Flores drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the inning.

Then rookie Tyler Fitzgerald pinch-ran for Flores. And he was promptly picked off.

That freeroll? It wasn’t entirely free. That’s because the Dodgers had Ohtani, Freeman and Smith due up in the 10th with Betts as the automatic runner at second base. And countering with Doval for another inning wasn’t an option after he contributed four high-leverage outs the previous day. So after striking out Ohtani, left-hander Taylor Rogers tiptoed around Freeman while issuing a walk, then Smith crushed a two-run double that bounced on the track in center field as the Dodgers won 6-4 in 10 innings.

“It was their big boys at the end,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s tough to navigate around. They’ve got their lefties and Smith sitting in the middle of it. He’s the guy who got the big hit. You do the best you can to manage it. We got a couple opportunities offensively but it came down to that one inning and it was one big swing.”

It came down to the 10th, but the Giants effectively lost the game in the ninth. There were other loose threads — catcher Blake Sabol couldn’t block a pair of wild pitches that led to two runs, Jakson Reetz struck out twice in non-competitive fashion after coming off the bench, Thairo Estrada grounded into a double play with the tying run at first base in the 10th — but the Giants’ win expectancy stood at 70.8 percent when Flores walked to lead off the ninth. And that win expectancy plummeted to just better than a coin flip after Fitzgerald was picked off.

“We’re going to have some mistakes from time to time,” Melvin said. “We are making some mistakes still. That’s going to come with youth sometimes. You want them to be aggressive. Sometimes (it’s too much).”

Young or not, injured or not, the Giants’ performance on the bases through 43 games has been utterly indefensible. They’ve stolen 14 bases and been caught 10 times. Consider that the strategic break-even point for stolen-base attempts is generally held to be between 73 and 75 percent. Last year’s rule changes — bigger bases, limits on pickoff throws, etc. — have had the desired impact to incentivize risk-taking. Entering Monday, 24 of 30 teams had a stolen-base success rate of 74 percent or better. Five more teams were between 70-72 percent. Then you have the Giants at 58.3 percent.

Given their season-long inefficiency on the bases, the pickoff in the ninth should serve as a wakeup call for a coaching staff that has stressed accountability but perhaps hasn’t drilled down on the minutiae as well as their predecessors did.

“(Blake) Treinen is really slow to the plate, but you can’t get picked off there,” Melvin said. “He knows that. He ended up getting too big a lead and they ended up getting him. Obviously, we’ll talk about that a little later.”

Along with other topics. The Giants optioned right-hander Mason Black to Sacramento just prior to the first pitch on Monday and called up Nick Avila to serve as a fresh bullpen arm — a move that signifies that they either intend to use days off Thursday and Monday to skip the No. 5 starter or that they plan to fold in Snell without an additional Triple-A rehab start. They’re expected to provide a firmer picture on Lee as well, which likely won’t be encouraging.

Until then, there’s always faint hope. It might be little more than a conceit. But there are times when you have to cling to something.

(Photo of Luis Matos: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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