DENVER — Breakfast food piled on to plates as players gathered around tables in the visiting clubhouse Saturday morning. It was so early that the televisions were tuned to ESPN, but no college football had kicked off yet. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, eggs, hash browns, bacon, berries. Fuel for a long day at altitude.
For most Giants, their day-night doubleheader Saturday meant more than 12 hours at the ballpark, one that keeps supplemental oxygen canisters in the dugouts for players gasping for air after as little as scoring from second base, due to its mile-high elevation.
“It’s gonna be a pretty big challenge,” manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged of the physical toll of playing 18 innings here, with only a couple hours of intermission in between. “It’ll be a pretty big challenge for the Rockies, too.”
It’s not good, then, that the Giants looked out of gas in the opening game of the taxing twin bill.
Less than 24 hours after being held without a hit for eight innings, one of only 28 teams to ever finish a game at Coors Field with two or fewer, the Giants’ offense was nearly as futile in a 9-5 loss. Four of their runs, like the two they scored Friday night, were a product of Colorado’s miscues than anything else. Facing an opener and a bulk reliever with an 8.42 ERA, they worked seven walks but managed just three hits from anyone besides Thairo Estrada.
Meanwhile, Giants pitchers were uncharacteristically wild, and the Rockies were able to turn their seven walks into runs. Whereas San Francisco bounced into three double plays, Ezequiel Tovar tripled home two free passes in the third inning and another scored in the fifth, when two other runs were forced in by bases-loaded ball fours.
“We haven’t been cashing in on those enough,” Kapler said. “That’s the biggest issue we have right now. We’re having opportunities with runners in scoring position, we’re getting runners on base with no outs, sometimes first and second with no outs, and we’re just not able to come up with the big blow.”
Estrada made sure there would no flirtation with history Saturday, giving the Giants their first hit in the second at-bat of the game. He accounted for four of the Giants’ seven hits and scored in the third inning after bunting himself on base and advancing all the way around on three pitches that got past Austin Wynns — two classified as passed balls and one wild pitch credited to Karl Kauffman, the aforementioned bulk guy, who lowered his ERA to 7.28 with four scoreless innings.
Besides a well-timed flare into shallow left field from Blake Sabol, which drove in a pair in the second inning and opened a 2-0 lead, and an infield single from Austin Slater, LaMonte Wade Jr.’s solo home run into the Rockies’ bullpen in the top of the eighth amounted to their only other hit. They went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base.
“Today was a huge game,” Kapler said, “and we just weren’t able to convert.”
This is the same team that San Francisco swept at Oracle Park last week while scoring 24 runs in three games. They were set up for a scoring explosion in the majors’ venue most synonymous with offense, against a team they had beaten 16 of 17 times before Friday. But their road woes prevailed instead.
The loss was the Giants’ eighth in a row away from Oracle Park, dropping them to 4-22 on the road since winning their first five games out of the All-Star break.
The Rockies’ nine runs were evenly distributed between the Giants’ three pitchers: Keaton Winn, Ryan Walker and Ross Stripling. The one silver lining, Kapler said, was that they would have their full complement of relievers for the nightcap.
In his last outing, also against the Rockies, Winn threw 77.5% of his pitches for strikes and generated 22 swings and misses, the most by any Giants pitcher this season. The young right-hander’s introduction to Coors Field wasn’t quite as precise or efficient, walking two that both came around to score, but his splitter was just as lethal.
He recorded 17 swings and misses on 76 pitches in four innings of work, 10 coming on the splitter, which he also used to finish off four of his five strikeouts. Giants pitchers have generated that many whiffs on only three other occasions this season, and never with less than 104 pitches.
“The first two innings were awesome,” Kapler said. “The second couple innings, he maybe fell behind a little too much. But certainly, the first couple innings were electric. This is not the easiest environment to pitch in.”
Stripling, making his first appearance since being activated from the injured list, pitched the final 3⅓ innings. He walked the first batter he faced, ending a 42-inning streak without issuing a free pass, which forced in the Rockies’ seventh run. Walker had already walked in one run and left a bases-loaded situation for Stripling to inherit.
“I spoke that into existence, so I kind of jinxed myself,” Stripling said. “It was a big situation to be brought into after a month, so I tried to slow it down and made some good pitches but not enough. … I think (I was) a little bit rusty and needed to log some reps. That ended up being a good situation for it.”
The Giants’ seven walks were tied for the second-most they have issued in a game this season — their most since April. Only the Seattle Mariners issue fewer per nine innings. Four of them on Saturday came against the bottom third of the Rockies’ order.
“One of the calling cards for our pitchers all year has been we avoid the walk. It’s a big part of our structure,” Kapler said. “Our pitchers have done a great job of executing it all year, but you can’t walk anybody in this ballpark. It’s almost always going to come back to bite you.”
The double-header was the first of the season for both teams. They had faced off in three previous ones, all at Coors Field, and split two of them, in 2015 and 2021, while the Giants swept both games in 2019. The Giants fell to 8-3 against Colorado this season, with all three losses coming at Coors.
— The Giants faced a quick turnaround from a devastating loss in the first game of this series. They led most of the way, despite being no-hit for eight innings, and retook the lead in the top of the ninth after Colorado tied it with its first run against Logan Webb in the eighth. The outcome might have been different had Camilo Doval been positioned differently while backing up home plate on the Rockies’ walk-off hit. The tying run barely beat Mike Yastrzemski’s throw home, but the winning run only scored when the ball kicked away from Patrick Bailey with Doval too close to provide backup. “We saw it in real time,” Kapler said. “It’s just a little bit too close to the plate and you can probably get into position a little bit sooner. … It’s no guarantee that we win the game, but Camilo can be in a better position to back up the plate there.”