Give Hunter Strickland credit for this: he put the competitive zest back in the World Series even as he was taking it out of Game 2 Wednesday night.
In the span of six pitches, the Giants reliever threw a two-run double, two-run home run, a wild pitch and a tantrum that transcended two languages. Not a lot of waste in that evening.
Strickland is one of the most fascinating figures in this postseason, having teased Giants manager Bruce Bochy with his 100 mph fastball and let him down with five home runs allowed in 5.1 postseason innings. That’s just 1.2 innings less than the seven he pitched for the Giants in September, the sum of his major league experience.
First it was Bryce Harper who was Strickland’s home run culprit, hitting two of the first three. Then it was left-handed hitters (the first four). Wednesday it was light-slugging Omar Infante, who hit four homers in 390 at-bats vs. righties this year, and who last did so on June 27, almost four months ago (Matt Shoemaker). Strickland has been the best thing for the home run since PEDs.
It’s as easy to mock Strickland for Wednesday’s road rage as it apparently is to homer off him. Why would he get so upset at giving up a homer, when he should be so used to it by now?
It’s harder to remember, and note, that the Giants might not have made it out of the NLDS without Strickland’s contributions. Instead of meltdowns he twice provided shutdowns when the Giants most needed them: he fanned Ian Desmond with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of Game 1, and he saved Game 2 with a scoreless 18th inning after Brandon Belt homered.
But those two successes are now the exceptions. An ESPN.com columnist used a chess analogy to opine that Bochy had been out-managed Wednesday by Ned Yost, because Kelvin Herrera got the Royals out of trouble in the sixth and the Giants needed five pitchers to get three outs.
But the sixth inning was more about Yost having better pieces, which won’t change if the game is tied then. Even Garry Kasparov can’t take rooks with pawns, which was the board Bochy was looking at.
Hia bullpen is thinning so fast a combover won’t save it. Strickland is unreliable, and Jean Machi (a 2.58 regular-season ERA but four hits and Strickland-light two homers in 2.1 postseason innings) isn’t much more so. Tim Lincecum didn’t pitch for three weeks and then pulled his back out when he finally did so. The very effective Yusmeiro Petit (nine two-hit innings in two appearances) typically is saved for the fusion role of long relief — Bochy may not have that luxury if he needs a righty the next time in the sixth inning.
Bochy’s options are down to the two lefties (Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez), the long reliever (Petit), and the eighth- and ninth-inning folks (Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla).
Which means the Series offers a sharp contrast as it enters Game 3: the Giants, who have the better starting pitching, need it to go longer than the Royals, who are secure once the game hits the sixth inning tied or better.
If you see Hunter Strickland again in this Series, that’s probably not good for the Giants.