SAN FRANCISCO — The standing ovation and chants that filled Oracle Park during Bruce Bochy’s tribute video marking his return to San Francisco were the only sounds to cut through an otherwise quiet first five innings. Game 1 of this Texas Rangers and Giants series was off to a quiet start.
Then two loud pops came in the sixth inning. Back-to-back home runs from Nathaniel Lowe and Mitch Garver off an otherwise steady Ross Stripling gave the Rangers a 2-1 win on Friday night at Oracle Park.
“Ross is the type of guy where in-count leverage will be a key to his success,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “From time to time he’s going to miss with a pitch more in the middle of the plate and hitters have punished him for being up in the zone. Overall, though, that was as good an outing as we could have hoped from Ross.”
Stripling’s back-to-back hanging breaking balls to Lowe and Garver were the blemishes on a five-inning outing in which he allowed five hits, no walks and struck out three as the featured pitcher. Stripling hasn’t been able to shed those few mistakes since his return from the injured list on June 28, but the mechanical tweaks he made during his rehab are paying off with honed command.
“I think we kind of fixed it,” he said. “I was just kind of hunched over when I picked up my leg and historically I would stay taller. So through that injury rehabbing in Arizona we were able to address it and since then it’s been all good. Back to my normal self, which I think you’re seeing in terms of command and using my pitches anytime in any count.”
The mechanical tweaks helped him to a 3.38 ERA over his last nine appearances compared to a 7.24 ERA in his first nine appearances of the season. Improved command has helped him keep advantages in counts, and he’s been bit when he falls behind. His breaking ball to Lowe came in a 2-1 count. His pitch to Garver was the first pitch.
“You could see from that Lowe at-bat, I just don’t really have the stuff where I can afford to get behind,” he said. “I have to get ahead. That’s priority one. First-pitch strikes is something I track, I can’t afford to be throwing things over the plate behind in the count.”
Stripling’s performance and opener Scott Alexander’s scoreless first inning set the tone for a near pristine Giants pitching performance. Ryan Walker, Taylor Rogers and Luke Jackson pitched three scoreless innings for a bullpen that’s held this team afloat all year.
The Giants returned home from a 1-4 road trip with series losses to the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels needing desperately for their anemic offense to rise from the ashes against the first-place Rangers. But they remained quiet against Jon Gray, who plowed through the lineup.
Since Joc Pederson’s single in he second inning, Gray had retired 11 straight batters until Patrick Bailey’s two-out single in the fifth inning. He retired the next seven, too, to finish seven scoreless innings with two hits, seven strikeouts and no walks.
“When we knock starters out of the game, we’re especially good when we grind pitchers down,” Kapler said. “And Gray just filled up the zone with all of his pitches and didn’t give us a chance to go deep into counts. And he went deep into the game and got to their leverage relievers.”
The Rangers’ leverage relievers had a few more leaks. A wild-throwing Aroldis Chapman who walked Patrick Bailey and let him advance to third base on a pair of wild pitches against Mark Mathias, pinch-hitting as a right handed bat against lefty Chapman in place of Brandon Crawford. Mathais went on to strike out along with rookie Luis Matos to follow to end the threat.
Off closer Will Smith, recently recalled Heliot Ramos — replacing injured AJ Pollock — got a leadoff hit that came off his bat at 112 miles per hour and reached third on an error, eventually scoring on Thairo Estrada’s ground ball. Ramos noted a mechanical tweak in Triple-A to move his hands less in the load up of his swing unlocked some consistency.
“This is the first time we brought up Ramos in the middle of a hot streak,” Kapler said.
Ramos was the only Giant to cross home, though. Smith, a former Giant and one of the game’s top closers, finished the job to preserve a Rangers win.
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