Zito struggles early, Giants can't recover

Zito struggles early, Giants can't recover

Zito struggles early, Giants can't recover
MILWAUKEE -- Shrugging off Wednesday's 8-5 loss to the Brewers would be so convenient for the Giants. After all, they'd already made their visit here a success by winning the series' first two games. They could rationalize away their shortcomings in this one by blaming the umpires or Miller Park's retractable roof.

But that would be delusional.

The Giants defeated themselves with the mistakes they committed during the Brewers' six-run first inning. The two errors that increased their Major League-high total to 46 stained the mostly clean, even admirable effort they sustained through the rest of the game.

Though the Giants have captured or split their last five series and won eight of their last 12 games, they should be heading for their challenging four-game series in Miami with the conviction that repeating this performance too often will finish them as contenders.

San Francisco trailed, 8-0, after two innings, with Jonathan Lucroy's two-run homer sweetening the Brewers' big first frame. While amassing its six first-inning runs, Milwaukee recorded just two hits: Aramis Ramirez's bases-loaded, three-run double and opposing pitcher Marco Estrada's two-run double. Estrada injured his right hip flexor as he rounded first base and left the game.

The Giants filled in the gaps with sub-.500 baseball. Barry Zito walked three batters during that first inning, and all of them scored. Zito also committed an error when he threw high to first base after pouncing on Norichika Aoki's bunt attempt and double-clutching the ball. Three batters later, shortstop Brandon Crawford mishandled Lucroy's sharp grounder for another error.

Manager Bruce Bochy began his postgame comments by citing Zito's poor toss.

"That's why we gave up six runs. When they give you an out -- early in the game, particularly -- get the out," Bochy said. "We battled back, but we dug ourselves such a deep hole. Between the walks and not getting the out when he needed, that's what opens the floodgates. I think everybody in the ballpark knew [Aoki] was bunting. And it wasn't a good bunt."

Zito acknowledged his lapse.

"I threw on my off-step," Zito said. "Looking back on it, I should have run over and underhanded it."

Crawford attributed his error, which helped reload the bases after Ramirez had cleared them, to the contrast between light and shade that often makes Miller Park a harrowing site for day games. The Brewers partially close the retractable roof for day games so that pitchers and hitters are operating under the same conditions, but not all fielders have the same protection.

"I picked [the ball] up kind of late," said Crawford, who was charged with his 10th error of the season. "It was hit hard."

Third baseman Joaquin Arias experienced a similar struggle with Estrada's hit.

"I didn't see the ball," said Arias.

Despite Crawford's error total, Bochy reaffirmed that both he and general manager Brian Sabean, who's been scrutinizing the team during this seven-game trip, have no immediate plans to find a new primary shortstop.

"He's had his rough days, but he's bouncing back well," Bochy said. "That's what you need from the kid. He's done that with the bat; he's done it defensively."

And make no mistake -- Bochy didn't let the Giants entirely off the hook.

"There's no question -- we have to pick it up here defensively," he said. "That's what killed us in the first inning. When pitching's your strength, you need to catch the ball, and it's come back to haunt us at times."

Zito (3-2) has felt more haunted than strong at Miller Park, where he's 0-4 with a 7.67 ERA in seven career starts.

"It's been weird with this yard," he said. "I haven't had many games at all where I felt like I was on my game. I don't think it has too much to do with the park, but when you look at it from that perspective ..."

Said Lucroy of Zito, who worked a season-low three innings: "We were able to get to him early, which I think is pretty fortunate, considering our starter went down."

Hector Sanchez's bases-loaded, three-run double lifted San Francisco's hopes in the third inning, which began with Angel Pagan diving headfirst into first base to beat out an infield hit. Pagan obviously didn't care about the Giants' eight-run deficit.

"You expect it," Bochy said of Pagan's superior effort. "That's how you play the game. Those guys weren't quitting."

No, but they were complaining. Several Giants griped about the roof; others groused about the strike zone established by home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. Emmanuel Burriss was called out on strikes in the eighth inning on a 3-2 pitch from Francisco Rodriguez that appeared to have required a shovel to hit.

"A lot of frustration today," Bochy said, summarizing the afternoon. "We didn't play well, but a couple of calls at first went against us, too. You add that up, and they were frustrated at the plate. It was one of those days where there were a lot of borderline calls. The guys were more frustrated than I've seen, ever, this year, with some calls."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.